July 1998

1998 President’s Trophy Air Race

Tempe, Bloemfontein – July 1998.

Article by Barry de Groot

For many years I have wanted to fly the SP Air Race but have never had the opportunity or the right aircraft, so when Len Alford of Shadow Lite CC suggested that we enter his Jabiru, the factory demo plane, I grabbed the idea with both hands.

To maximise on the exposure that we were looking for, we had to compete in the open section along with the BIG boys. We made some calculations and flew some trial runs to ensure that we could maintain at least the minimum requirement of 100 knots and still have an endurance of 4 hours. The trials prove ZU-JAB more than capable of meeting the criteria, and He (Len insists it be called a He as a She gives nothing but trouble) was duly entered in the race.

Although light winds favoured smaller aircraft, the Cessna 303 flown by Chris Botha and Willem de Klerk came a creditable fourth
Although light winds favoured smaller aircraft, the Cessna 303 flown by Chris Botha and Willem de Klerk came a creditable fourth

When you fly an aeroplane with an A.U.W. of only 430kg then you have to choose your navigator very carefully. He would need to know his way around a map and above all be light in weight. Alex Clegg, an ex jockey, who tips the scales at 50kg, was the obvious choice.

The flight from Cato Ridge to Tempe was done in perfect weather and we covered the distance in 2hrs 40min. We chuckled at the tone of disbelief in the voice of the controller at Bloemfontein who asked us to confirm that were indeed a microlight, with a transponder, and maintaining 102 knots ground speed.

Organisation at Tempe under the direction of Geoff Henschel was once again superb, and in no time all the pre race formalities had been taken care of, including test flying the Jabiru to enable the handicap committee to establish a handicap speed. ZU-JAB was given a handicap speed of 100.9 knots. Nigel Hopkins who weighs in the region of 95kg did the speed trials with me, whether his extra 45kg gave us a more favourable handicap speed or not, I am not saying.

Day one was flown in almost perfect weather with a distance of 349.6 nautical miles to be covered, split into 5 legs. We opted to fly between 1000 and 1500ft. a.g.l. to ensure our navigation was as accurate as it could be, only descending to 250ft on the legs that were into a head wind. This strategy paid off as we were seldom off track by much and made up 7min 06sec on our handicap with an average speed of 104.47 knots.

On day two we were the first aircraft away with the other 82 competitors hot on our heels, with time intervals staggered so that should all things be equal, then we should all reach the finish line together. Well that is the theory. Distance for day two was slightly shorter at 343.70 nautical miles, and again with 5 legs, on which we made up 3min 29sec returning an average speed of 102.64 knots.

Our navigation around the course was again “spot on” with the exception of the final 5 miles, when for the life of me I could not see Tempe airfield. In an attempt to get a better view I climbed 250ft not realising that the second placed was only 30 seconds behind me. A decision that was to cost us first place as the climb caused us to lose speed.

Total distance for both days was 693.30 nautical miles, and our average speed for the entire event was 103.55 knots. Fuel consumption was a mere 112 litres.

The prize-giving banquet was a lavish affair where a number of “nerve tonics” were quaffed in an attempt to settle the adrenaline that was still pumping through the veins in large amounts.

For our two days of labour Alex and I collected a trophy for second aircraft home, one for first Natal aircraft home and a third trophy for the first “homebuilt” home. JAB was referred to as a homebuilt as it was feared that some of the “heavy metal” pilots would have blown a fuse had they known they had been shown round the course by a MICROLIGHT.

Cannot wait till next year when hopefully I will find the finish line.