By Peter Norton
There was thunder and lightning of all types at the recent Precision Flying Nationals held on 23-24 June at Tempe airfield near Bloemfontein. The weather-gods organised an out-of-season thunderstorm, that was matched only in ferocity by the thunder and lightning coming from the debriefing room where the provisional results were being discussed!
For those unfamiliar with power flying competitions, precision flying is for solo pilots with no navigator (as in the rallies). The National Championships consist of two “navexes” and a spot landing competition, with four man teams from each province, as well as last years “invited” winners. The navex consists of accurate flight planning, and then navigating over checkpoints at a nominated ground speed with an allowed margin of error of two seconds either way, while at the same time looking for ground markers and 10 or so photographs along the route. Up to 12 legs are fitted into an hour-and-a-half, with a couple of sneaky secret checkpoints thrown in and, oh yes, you’re still supposed to fly safely! It never fails to amaze me that the better pilots manage to get most of their photos and ground-markers and “bulls” (zero time penalties)for at least half of their checkpoints!
The first day’s rally took us out east of Bloem towards Thaba ‘Nehu chasing roads that no longer existed, and koppies that disappeared in the rain showers. An apparently unmanned checkpoint with a rather familiar looking Kombi lying stuck in the mud a few hundred metres away showed that the ground marshalls were also making heavy weather of it! Local knowledge helped when one of the Free Staters managed to read the name of a railway station on a photograph, and mark it before he even left the briefing room!
A howling 25 knot wind with a strong cross-wind component made for an interesting spot landing competition in the afternoon. Some of the old hands showed their class, but I for one was blown all over the place, and the taildraggers were just glad to be able to get on the ground, let along anywhere near the line! As if to drive home the unfairness of it all, the last few pilots flew in absolute calm. We tried to make them do night landings just to counteract the advantage but, unfortunately, the competition finished just before sunset!
Friday was a perfect day for flying, in all respects. A really memorable moment for me was just after turning at the infamous turning point 3, when a herd of springbok “pronked” in the early morning light in a field below me, bringing home the magic of flying low over the African veld.
The course was generally easier than the previous day, but had lots of timed checkpoints to catch you out and some very difficult photos. As well as turning point 3, which led to most of the fireworks in the debriefing room! Strict application of the international “off-track” rule led to a number of pilots receiving maximum penalties for the checkpoint, and much unhappiness. It is clear that, if the rules are to be applied strictly, some test situations should be accurately described in the rule book. However, the general feeling was that far too much responsibility is put on the shoulders of the volunteer ground marshalls and that, whether the rules are correct or not, they should be modified to take the pressure off these much-needed volunteers.
At a very pleasant prize-giving at the Old Students’ Centre the following results were announced:-
- 1st Adrian Pilling (Natal) 381 – 1989 S.A Precision Flying Champion
- 2nd Geoff Henschel (OFS) 640
- 3rd Pete Norton (OFS) 732
- 4th Colin Jordaan (Tvl) 785
- 5th Dave Pereison (EP) 1 009
- 6th Johan Swart (WP invited) 1 740
- 7th Nico Gordon (OFS) 2 148
- 8th Jake Heese (WP) 2 285
- 9th James Craven (WP) 2 582
- 10th Malcolm Spence (EP) 2 919
The team prize was won by the OFS “home team”, followed by Western Province. A hearty word of thanks to Roy Waldek, Kassie Kasselman and their team of organisers, computer operators, ground marshalls and helpers for an enjoyable, if stormy, competition.