The South African Precision Flying Team is taking part in the 21st World Precision Flying Championships in Bautzen, Germany.
The SA Precision Team for 2013 was selected from the contestants of a series of pre-determined rallies that were held over the last 12 months. All of the team members have flown at world competition level in the past, either as navigators, precision or rally pilots.
The participants are not sponsored, and therefore they put their heart, souls and wallets into partaking in this competition. The team consists of Frank Eckard (captain), Barry de Groot, Mary de Klerk, Hans Schwebel, Ron Stirk, Henk Koster, Thys van der Merwe, and Cally Eckard (manager).
Jacques Jacobs and Ardyyn Moolman are international judges, specializing in the landing competition aspect of the sport, and Chelsea de Klerk is a judge observer. Supporter Ursula Schwebel is a great asset, as interpreter and assistant.
This year’s competition takes place in Bautzen, Germany. Bautzen is situated East of Dresden, in what was previously the Democratic Republic of East Germany, close to the Polish and Czech borders. The airfield is an old military airfield, and the runway is 2,5km long.
The first week is spent practising, and this is very important for our team, as we do not have the practise and competition opportunities that the Europeans have. We are also disadvantaged by the fact that the European team can fly their own aeroplanes, whereas we have to hire planes from the organisers. Many of the top teams are also heavily sponsored, but it is difficult for the South African team to muster financial support.
The championship week starts with three days of the precision contests, and then a day of landing competition. The precision contest tests pilot’s navigation, observation and timing skills, while the landing competition requires the pilot to land his plane on a line.
21st World Precision Flying Championships – Day 04
Hoping to get an early start to our practise now that all the planes have finally arrived, we were disappointed to see that the entire town was covered in dense fog until about 9 am.
Determinedly we fought our way to the front of the queue to put our names down for landing slots, and each pilot also managed to do one of the practise routes.
Hans and Ron fight on valiantly with the aeroplane that is so unfamiliar to them, and are familiarising themselves with its quirks. The others also did very well today, considering this is the first full day of flying that we have had.
After today’s briefing we attended a presentation on ANR, which is a newly-devised type of rally in which four contestants take off simultaneously; each aeroplane then flies through a “corridor” similar to a normal rally but with much shorter legs, and then they all land at the same time. Apparently this sport would have a much greater spectator value than a traditional rally, and looks quite exciting for the pilot to participate in.
Old-time rally pilot and SAPFA committee member Walter Walle and a friend of his came to visit us to offer their support for a few days. While Walter lives in Bloemfontein, he also has a home near Kassel in Germany.
The airfield is getting much busier, and posters and notice-boards, bunting and signage is making the very dour space look a lot more cheery. With the sun shining, the little seating area outside the catering kiosk has become quite a popular place to be, and although the airfield is far too large to be suitable for spectators, it is close enough to the apron to provide some interest.
A webcam has been situated on top of the kiosk, and from there our supporters, family and friends can see some of the action. It is available on the championship website www.wpfc2013.
Tonight we were treated to a barbecue (yes, a braai!) in one of the hangars on the airfield, where the German sausages and beer were devoured in huge quantities in a very short space of time. Hungry work this flying business!
21st World Precision Flying Championships – Day 05
The team is getting used to their aeroplanes, and to the terrain and maps and therefore the results are improving. The weather is very good today, with clear skies, although the wind whips up a bit in the afternoon.
Walter Walle has joined us for a few days. Walter is a long-time rally pilot and SAPFA committee member, putting many hours and effort into this sport. He lives in South Africa but also has a home in Germany, where he is staying at the moment.
We realised today that, apart from the host country of Germany, we have brought the most pilots. We certainly create the most interest, and have the most team spirit. We are pleased to see that many of the pilots wear SA team shirts and caps from previous years.
Tonight we gathered in the town square for a walking tour of the medieval town, with “Monk Eusebius”, who is a marvellous story teller, and captured our attention with his myths and history of the town. The walk ended with a delicious dinner at a medieval restaurant, with jugs of local draught beer, platters of roast stag, pork knuckles and red onions and sauerkraut.
21st World Precision Flying Championships – Day 11
An even earlier start to the day, because rain is predicted for the afternoon, so the organisers hoped to get the routes completed before the bad weather arrived. However, the judges had a flight over the route in the morning, and found that the visibility was not good enough, so the first take-off was delayed for an hour. Group 1 then took off, and completed their routes, although there was heavy rain between the Finish Point and the runway. Group 2 was then told to wait, and after a delay of an hour, the organisers announced that the entire day’s flying would be cancelled.
This was really bad news for the South African team, because Frank had done extremely well getting the best results ever, Hans had done exceptionally well.
The remainder of the day was spent debating whether the “rain day” would be used, scouring the skies for signs of the clouds lifting, and searching websites for news of the weather.
The organisers had planned a barbeque for the evening, and we had asked them if we could include what we call “The South African Party”. It started a number of years ago and has evolved into a “national drinks party” where each country brings its own national drinks and snacks. We and the other teams were anticipating a very quiet evening because we expected to be flying the next day.
At the team managers’ meeting just before the event, however, the organisers regretfully announced that they had made the decision to cancel any flying for the rain day because heavy rain and very low cloud was predicted over the area where the route had been planned, namely South of Bautzen, and over parts of Czech Republic. This is a very mountainous and picturesque area, but now conducive to flying when the weather is bad.
This means that the competition is now over, and the results from the First and Second Navigation Tests will be used. Had the Third Navigation Test been used, the pilots would have been able to discard their worst result. All of our pilots had been feeling very confident about flying the Third day, and are terribly disappointed that they will not have the opportunity to improve their scores.
There was nothing to do but accept their decision, and we spent a very good evening spending time with the other teams and the organisers. Team South Africa has a reputation for being friendly and tonight we did not disappoint in that area.
21st World Precision Flying Championships – Day 12
All of the pilots are a bit quiet today, and throughout the day they were commenting about the weather, and wondering whether in fact it was as bad as had been predicted.
The organisers had planned a bus trip to Dresden for us, and two bus-loads of pilots were taken on a guided tour of the beautiful capital of Saxony. Situated on the river Elba, the river valley is fronted by gracious manor houses, a wide green belt with cycle paths where pedestrians, cyclists and dogs mingle.
The public gardens are vast and beautiful, with two kilometre-long pedestrian paths heading in various directions.
Then we were dropped in the centre of the Old City, which is the area that was so heavily bombed during the Second World War. We were astounded to see how the beautiful buildings had been perfectly and lovingly restored to their former glory. There is a maze of palaces, museums, gardens, houses, public buildings and statues.
Facades that miraculously survived the bombing were left, and the remainder of the building built around it, faithfully keeping to the original design. The most beautiful building is the Church of the Virgin Mary, which only recently was completed. Climbing up to the top and seeing the view from there was something that we will always remember.
We were treated to lunch in a very unusual restaurant building under the foundations of one of the old buildings, and we were fascinated by the decor which depicted scenes of a by-gone era.
Hopping back on the bus, we returned to the hotel in Bautzen for the Closing Ceremony and Prize Giving.
I will report on the positions of the various teams, and ours in particular, in the next report.
21st World Precision Flying Championships – Day 13 (Final report)
As Manager for Team South Africa, it has been my pleasure and privilege to serve this group of strongly committed, talented and experienced pilots. Their sportsmanship, dedication, sacrifices and sense of humour combined to form a team of which I was very proud to be a part.
Although we had anticipated to be placed higher, the pilots did their best in every respect to perform to the best of their ability. In spite of many outside obstacles to their success, for a team with very few resources, to gain 6th place among 13 countries, is a magnificent accomplishment.
Considering the fact that our pilots compete against others who are sponsored, are flying aircraft that they are familiar with, in terrain and from maps that they are used to, and have the opportunities to fly many other regional and national competitions throughout the year, they are greatly respected by the other teams for their knowledge, experience and talent.
I am also proud of the camaraderie, humour and friendliness shown by all the members of our team, including the judges, observers and supporters. We are definitely the liveliest group, and other teams look to the South Africans to provide the vibe that makes the World Champs so enjoyable.
We return home in the next few days, weary and proud, with a determination to achieve even better results next year. We thank all of you who have followed our progress, wept with us, laughed with us, and prayed with us. We can assure you that we made South Africa proud, and that we regard ourselves at all times, to be both sportspeople and ambassadors of our country.