August 1988

6th World Rally Flying Championship

Held at Northampton, United Kingdom – 7 to 12 August 1988

by Colin Jordaan

1988 South African Rally Team

The Team was met at Heathrow by Adrian Pilling, who then drove us up to Northampton in a small bus. During the drive we were given a very thorough briefing on driving in the UK by Adrian. Flying apparently was no sweat, but roundabouts were a nightmare.

Licence validations were automatic on the grounds of our ICAO acceptable licences and we all dispersed in different directions to fetch our aircraft. Two were at Swansea, two at Granfield (one of which was subsequently grounded) and one at Rochester to the east of London. Cost of hiring a Cessna 172 is between R170 and R210 per hour (dry) with AVGAS costing around R2 a litre. Club Membership was an insurance requirement for some of the aircraft and this was provided free of charge.

Adrian also provided the flying briefings (“Watch out for Tornadoes and Hawks at around 500’AGL”). This advice was much appreciated. After our first encounter with the low-flying Royal Air Force, we realised we had very little say in the encounters. Those guys really move. If I flew VFR in those areas I would paint my plane Day-Glo Orange. In the space of two weeks all of us had at least about a dozen “close encounters”. During Stage 2 of the Rally, John and I were subjected to a head-on horizontal “bomb burst” by a team of four Hawks. One passed below, one left, and one right with the last jet pulling up in front of us not more than a thousand metres away. I hope they enjoyed it. We also came across a few A10 Thunderbolt tankbusters low-level, and Flll’s at about 2 000 feet.

VFR flying is really easy in the UK, with ATC being extremely helpful, friendly and informal while still being totally professional. One obviously has to stay clear of TMA’s and CTR’s but permission to transit is frequently given, particularly at Military Airfields. The standard of radio patter by local pilots is good, but also quite informal. I liked this. In SA we tend to be so rigid about our radio procedures that most low-time (and some not-so-low-time) pilots are scared …..less about using the blooming thing. Normal VFR navigation is done on 1:500 000 maps and two of these cover the whole of the UK. Features are limited to topography and large towns and cities. The level of detail is perfect for flying at around 3 000′ AGL. Everything you need for the flight is printed on the map, tower frequencies, the lot. Cost? Around R30 per map (covered with plastic film).

The weather, of course, is usually lousy. On most days in summer one is, however, able to get in or out of a place, but it takes a lot of patience.

Our practice sessions were rather limited because of finances, so we kept the routes short and sweet with lots of photos and short legs. Five of us also had to practise for the European Precision Championships. Amazingly, the weather held out for practice but Murphy’s legislation was sure to be applied during the competitions.

For once, Murphy struck out and we flew the Precisions in glorious sunshine. As non-Europeans (sic) our scores did not count, but I would have been in twelfth place and Andre Schoeman in twentieth with the other guys trailing not far behind. The Polish team took every single trophy that was to be had.

The question is: are the Poles beatable? I don’t believe they are for a good few years. A combination of their aircraft (the Wilga), their vast experience and of course State sponsorship makes this highly unlikely. Most serious competitors have taken to modifying the doors of their C152’s by putting perspex windows in the lower half to improve visibility. One Austrian even brought along specially blown full perspex doors with bubbles to improve downward visibility. Didn’t help him, though.

Once again we picked up a lot of tips from other competitors, such as marking conspicuous features on photos. The Polish team use a special training method for improving their memory skills (similar to the game of matching cards). It obviously works.

Our own training leaves a lot to be desired and the need for a National Coach (who knows what he’s doing, of course) is very necessary. The psychological aspect of the competition is critical and this is also an area that we can work on. It is extremely interesting to see how the different team members handle pressure, but it is very obvious that exposure to top-class competitions helps enormously. Both Andre Schoeman and Johan Swart flew individually in the Precisions and their steady performance as a Rally team showed competition maturity, despite a few stormy moments.

John Adams and I were really hoping to come in with a chance, seeing our first and third day performance in Spain two years ago had been in the top four. We had flown an old, clapped-out , Musketeer then and surely with a very nicely equipped C172 and two more years of practice we were going to give the Poles a run for their money. Heh heh!

Start on day I was delayed till after lunch due to low cloud and bad vis. This eventually improved to around 1 500 m and Route 3 was flown in place of Route 1. The routes were intended to get more difficult as the competition progressed and so having to start with Route 3 was a real humdinger. It got the better of us at one point and we tracked parallel to course for around ten minutes. By the time we were back on course, four photos had been missed and we were out of it. Our team mates also had their share of problems, except of course for Swart and Schoeman, because when they flew the vis. had improved to a million miles and their tiny little Cessna 152 cockpit wasn’t really so tiny and blah blah blah …..

The pressure is, of course, extremely high and I think all of us felt this to varying degrees. How to combat this without more international exposure is really the biggest challenge facing us right now.

It is extremely important to get to the right level of STRESS in a competition. Performance improves with an increase in stress, up to a point, and then it drops off sharply. Stress consists of Personality Stress, Family Stress, Work Environment Stress and Situational Stress. The trick is to get the combination of Personality, Family and Work Stress to such a position that even severe Situational Stress doesn’t push your performance over the back side of the curve. Lack of stress is just as fatal. Performance suffers badly in people who are understressed and one of the induced causes is, of course, fatigue. I believe these aspects should also be considered in the selection of a team, but the problem is how to measure this.

Our method of team selection relies on the fact that the pilot and navigator know each other well and function as a team. Is this a necessity? Should the selectors be able to select only one half of an existing team and pair individuals up according to some psychological criteria? Interesting questions, but ones that need to be addressed if we want to build up a really effective Springbok squad. For that matter, who selects the selectors?

The World Rally format is becoming a bit of a paper chase and a navigator has to be a total masochist to enjoy this type of event. The four routes were all exactly the same format as well and this actually got monotonous. I hope that the controlling body will take heed of the rumblings in England and work towards introducing a bit of spice.

Our own Rally circuit still needs a lot of building up and 1 believe the Sportsman’s class is going to help a lot. When Rally flying becomes a fun thing again, more competitive people will gravitate back to the sport. We must never discard the family element either.

We discussed holding the next World Rally in SA with many of the team managers and pilots. The reaction was not promising, simply because of the limitations that some governments would put on their teams. The teams themselves would, of course, love to come here. The next idea bandied about was the concept of a World Cup Challenge. This was received with amazing enthusiasm. I think we have a project on our hands.