May 2022

A wet and cold PTAR 2022 at New Tempe Bloemfontein


Text by Rob Jonkers. Photos by Rob and Willie Bodenstein

This year’s President’s Trophy Air Race was held at New Tempe Bloemfontein and although traditionally held on the last weekend of May, but with the Botswana Air Show also taking place on the same weekend, it was decided to move it a week earlier. If we all had the perfect hindsight and with that event not happening, we could have held it on its traditional date and subsequently avoided these last few days of the most unseasonal weather that befell the race weekend.

We have had many of the planned aviation events disrupted by wet, cold, windy weather systems with the most bandied about term of “cut-off low” being used to describe the weather situation. This weekend, none the less, had a very large cold front coupled with an intense low-pressure system over the centre of the country which would affect the race.

I arrived on Wednesday in excellent weather conditions and started setting up for the race, mostly the race control room and preparing for test flights as some of the early competitors also started to arrive at the field. Thursday saw most of the aircraft arrive although some of the Cape based teams first had to wait for the front to pass before setting off, arriving just before dark. Most of the day was taken up by flight tests and registrations while also monitoring what the weather would be doing for the next day as the front was approaching.

During the first extensive Thursday afternoon briefing, which also included the SA weather services team being on hand to give us the best outlook, it appeared that there might have been an early morning flyable gap, thus the day was planned with an early 07h30 start. As Friday dawned, it looked promising: – the cloud base was at a reasonable 1000 ft and we proceeded with the pilot’s briefing. We also sent the turn point marshals to their locations, this being particularly important to get weather condition updates from them at the outermost corners of the route. As the morning progressed with a planned 10 am first take-off, the news from the turn points was not good. Light rain started and it was decided to scrub Day 1 with a debrief at 11 am to plan for the next day. The prediction for Saturday would be that the weather would improve from midday onwards. Everybody dispersed for some rest for the day.

Saturday dawned with flyable conditions and in fact, the window opened up from 11h00 onwards and the first take-off was planned for 11h00. The turn point marshals were sent out and who, from the previous day’s rain, had the challenges of negotiating almost impassable roads to get to their intersections. Fortunately, they all sent in confirmation of being in position prior to the first take-off.

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