Precision Flying

The sport of Precision Flying is a single crew operation comprising three sections:

Sample logger track

Firstly there is a flight planning (theory) test. This is where a route is worked out by the competitor who has to calculate the distance, ground speed, time and heading of each leg of the route based on a constant airspeed and a given wind factor. Remember you old whizz-wheel, well here you get to use it in a practical way, no aviation or scientific calculators allowed here! Penalties are allocated for every incorrect calculation of time or heading. Only very small tolerances are allowed.

Secondly there is the flying section. Now this is the fun part where you fly along your track, accurate to the second – yes I said second!! Now just as you thought this was getting interesting, you also have photographs to identify as well as ground markers. These need to be marked on your map. Penalties are awarded for each second early or late over certain unknown check points and turning points as well as for misidentification / misplacement of the ground markers and photographs.

Thirdly there is the landing section where you have 4 landings to perform from 1000ft on downwind, 2 of the landings are glides (one flapless) and the other 2 are powered approaches (one over a 2 meter barrier). The idea here is to put you main wheels down onto a 2 meter deep stripe painted on the runway. Penalties are awarded for each meter long or short of the line.

That’s Precision Flying in a nutshell, if you can do all this then you will be a better pilot.

History of Precision Flying

Development of Rally and Precision Flying internationally

The concept of Rally and Precision flying started in the Scandinavian countries between the two world wars. The object was to create a set of skills that combined hunting, flying and cross country skiing. So imagine flying to some remote location, landing in the mountains, skiing to a likely spot, shooting some target (animals or enemy) and then flying off to the next spot, to repeat the exercise. This sounded like a good idea at the time and for a few years the concept caught on with the Scandinavian countries, with regular competitions being held.

After the second world war more countries became interested in the concept and over a period of years a set of rules was drawn up that separated out the flying aspects only. Later two disciplines evolved, those of Precision and Rally flying.Sample Logger Track For many years the Scandinavians dominated the sports, but as acceptance was gained and the sports grew in popularity the former eastern block countries came to dominate the scene. Now with the economic changes sweeping Europe, the sports are pretty much open to everyone. The Southern Hemisphere countries are coming into their own and are starting to represent a serious threat to our cousins up north.

Sample Logger Track

With more and more countries joining each year the situation is now such that the two sports have been combined with all aviation sports (aerobatics, parachuting, gliding, aero modeling, ballooning, etc) into a movement that is now asking for Olympic status. To this end the First World Air Games was held in Turkey in 1997. The second was held in Spain in 2001 and a third in Italy in 2009. These special events have been called the Olympics of the air. They are very prestigious and if you get involved now, you could get into the team and represent your country at this amazing event.

Precision Flying in South Africa – The Early Years

Major General James Gilliland

Major General James Gilliland


Through all the years of apartheid the Aero Club of South Africa was able to maintain a presence at FAI, particularly through the influence of Major General James Gilliland, and SAPFA, in turn was represented at the Genereal Aviation Commission of the FAI (the Power Flying side of FAI).

In 1973 GAC decided to take the format of the European Championships and turn it into the format for a new World Competition in Precision Flying and it was decided that this would be held in Sweden in 1975. The SAPFA representative on the Committee at the time was Charles Wotherspoon, and through his efforts we were allowed to send a team to this competition. Mike Hartley, a member of the SAPFA Committee and a flying instructor, was asked by SAPFA to study the rules and to coach a team for the event. Accordingly, the South African Precision Flying Championships were held at Bloemfontein with a view to selecting a team to represent this country and in May 1975 the following team was awarded Springbok colours – the first time that this had happened in aviation!

Auriel was the daughter of Les Millar, the well-known flying instructor from Durban and Robbie and Bryn were businessmen from Johannesburg. The team left a week before the event in order to familiarize themselves with the Swedish terrain and to make sure their aircraft were in order. Auriel, the team’s least experienced pilot, flew a Cessna 152 as recommended by the coach, whilst Robbie hired a C172 and Bryn a brand new Beechcraft Bonanza that he flew up from France.

L to R: Mike Hartley (Coach), Auriel Miller, James Gilliland, (Manager), Robbie Schwartz, Bryn Tuckett and Bennie Coetzee, (non travelling Reserve).

The competition was flown from an airport at Gavle, about 70kms north west of Stockholm, and proved to be a great experience. At the time any sort of bounce in the landing competition carried penalties and the team proved that this can be achieved in a C152 and a Bonanza, but that it virtually impossible to land a C172 without a bounce, however small. Desperate measures were resorted to, such as putting rocks on the back seat of the C172, but to no avail. It will bounce – try it!

Well, the Swedes proved to be great competition hosts, though they were uncertain about how to treat a team from Apartheid South Africa. The team adopted a low profile and came through the event without attracting too much attention. At the competition, the Swedes erected a large results board on the side of one building and each competitor’s name was painted in order of take-off. The army helped by providing radio communications with each checkpoint round the circuit. Each station was on a different frequency and times and penalties were radioed back to headquarters as the planes flew the course. A sign writer painted up the results as they were recorded and most of the information about each competitor and the penalties he had incurred was written on the board before he landed. Great organization! though rules and facilities have changed somewhat since then. Protests were not permitted so it all went off very well.

Of course, the Poles were the winners and they continued to dominate the sport for a great many years to come. But the South African team did not disgrace itself, with Auriel coming 16th and the other two in the late twenties.

The report back to SAPFA was that the Precision Champs are a great and exciting sport and our participation in this, the first competition, ensured that South Africa would compete again and again! In fact, we have competed in every competition since then except one – and that was only because of our banning because we came from “Apartheid South Africa.”

L to R: Charles Wotherspoon (Manager), Bennie Coetzee, Colin Jordaan and
Kevin Machel-Cox with James Gilliland, Chairman of Aero Club
of South Africa and
Mike Hartley (Team Coach).

The next World Championship was to be held in Wels, Austria and we had no problem entering that country. Again the South African Championships were used as the tool to select a team The team to win their Springbok colours this time was: Colin Jordaan, now a senior captain with SAA, Bennie Coetzee from Bloemfontein and Kevin Machel-Cox from Durban, with Charles Wotherspoon as Team Manager and Mike Hartley again as Coach.

A fatal helicopter crash in front of the assembled teams marred this event just as the opening ceremony was about to start. This put a damper on the opening ceremony, but the competition continued in spite of poor weather on one day. This time the team did not achieve quite what had been hoped for but there enthusiasm could not be faulted.

The green blazers were becoming a part of the World Championships and were again to be seen in 1980 at the 3rd Rally World Championships (Frikkie Moolman and Colin Jordaan) and in 1981 at the 3rd Precision World Championships, this time in Nottingham, England. This time the team comprised Colin Jordaan, Mike Seymour, Mike Basson and Frikkie Moolman. Mike Hartley this time assumed the role of Team Manager as it was no longer thought necessary to have a team coach as the expertise of the team was now outstripping the knowledge of the coach.

We have all heard about “sexy” planes but this is ridiculous!
Colin Jordaan at Nottingham in 1981


GAC was now alternating the Precision Championships on a yearly basis with the Rally Championships and we were able to attend most of the latter. South Africa could not, however compete in Precision competition in Norway in 1983 because of political reasons.

It was in 1984 that tragedy struck! This time the Rally Championships were to held in Italy and during the flight from Milan to the competition venue one of the aircraft struck the side of a mountain in bad weather, killing the pilot, Frikkie Moolman and Lyn Seymour, the wife of Mike Seymour. This was indeed a sad moment for SAPFA and the Aero Club of South Africa. Despite the trauma of the accident Chris Kyle and Gavin Beck still took part and finished a creditable 16th overall, and 2nd in the landings. The SA team was awarded a special trophy for their endurance under such difficult circumstances.

We resumed attendance at the Championships in Florida, USA in 1985. Colin Jordaan and Mike Basson, and Mike Seymour were again part of this team along with a new boy – Adrian Pilling

In 1989 a Springbok team was selected to take part in the Championships in Denmark but the team did not participate as they were refused visas.

But life goes on and we were present at the Precision Championships in Argentina in 1990 and had the ultimate privilege of hosting the World Rally Flying Championships in Stellenbosch in 1991. This extremely well organized event was run under the direction of Colin Jordaan who was now putting back something into the sport he had enjoyed for so many years. That event saw the coming-of-age of SAPFA and led to the hosting later of a GAC meeting at Sun City, followed a year or two later by a Conference of the Fédération Aéronautique Internationale. Our teams have spread their wings in many parts of the world and can look back on the past with pride and to the future with confidence. We have also played host to the world at the 2003 World Rally Flying Championships at Sun City/Rustenburg. This was a memorable event for all who come to our country.

South Africa continues to hold its head high and plays a very active part in the world body, believing that both Precision and Rally flying competitions are good for the soul, stimulating to the mind, and a great way to spread the word that flying is, indeed, the king of sports.