President Lucas Mangope Air Rally – Held in Pilanesburg – 9 March 1985

President Lucas Mangope Air Rally

Held in Pilanesburg – 9 March 1985

Gavin Beck, Chris Kyle, George Zaboroski, Tony Pennell
L to R: The winnning team of Gavin Beck and Chris Kyle, a minister in the Bophuthatswana government and Chairman of the Beauchamp-Proctor Flying Club, George Zaboroski, with co-organiser Tony Pennell at the podium.

It was a very worried group of pilots and officials that gathered in the overcast and hazy conditions early on Saturday morning, 9th March at Lanseria Airport. It certainly seemed to us all that the first President Lucas Mangope Air Rally could be a non-starter, and that the event would not be able to contribute to the Mafikeng Centenary celebrations. However, the clouds started lifting, and taking a signal from Tony Pennell, everyone got airborne, and were soon over the ridge, past the Hartebeespoort Dam, and over the Rustenburg flats – destination, the Pilanesberg airfield near Sun City, and the starting point for the first stage of the Rally.

Two aircraft did not make the start due to technical problems, and so 31 pilots and crew, after attending the customary concise Tony Pennell briefing, set off on the first leg. The course was around the northern edge of the Pilanesberg Game Reserve, and then back in a westerly direction along a long straight track to a turnpoint near Lobatse.

Pilanesburg Airfield
General view of Pilanesburg before the start of the rally.

Those of you who have flown in this area will be familiar with the distinct lack of detail or landmarks in this area, so navigators had to be very attentive. As is his want Tony again placed secret checkpoints along the route to check that all pilots were flying within the 500 m corridor (250m each side of centre line) and that they were on time overhead that point. The main objective of the Rally being a test of pilot’s skill and navigation ability, and co-ordinating these two.

Penalties are calculated at one point for each second early or later than the prescribed time set to be over each checkpoint. One or three minute penalties are given for being right off track, or outside the 500m corridor. Each checkpoint carries a maximum three minute or 180 point penalty.

Colin Jordaan and Mike Seymour
Colin Jordaan (centre) and a side view of Mike Seymour (right).

The first section of the Rally ended in a power on precision landing task at the new international airfield at Mmabatho. Pilots could not stop talking about the huge expanse of tarmac they landed on, and the usual single line to aim for was replaced by the oversized runway markings.

Once all down, the last aircraft being Gary Shield in a Grob 109, the pilots caught a quick lunch, attended the next briefing’and prepared for the second leg of the Rally.

This was a sort of triangular route in the Vryburg area, and included a double S curved track, a very difficult route to navigate and fly on. Unfortunately, a storm cell moved in overhead the airfield checkpoint at the start of the curved track, and Rally co-organiser Don MacKenzie had to hot foot it out of the airfield as he was the marshall there. This caused many pilots to miss several cheek points and complicated the scoring for the officials.

The final second stage checkpoint was overhead the Mafikeng town square where the celebrations were in full swing, and ended with an engine out landing task. Then was the time for talking, joking, pulling legs, and speculation. Pilots and crew set off for their their respective hotels in fine spirits as six balloons took of over the town, in the face of a threatening storm.

Partenavia Observer
The Bop Air Force entered their Partenavia Observer.

That night a grand feast was held at Mmabatho Sun and at the end of the day it was the seemingly invincible tearn of Springboks, Chris Kyle and Gavin Beck (Cessna 172) who walked away with the prize money. A very close second was the team of Erie Stratford and Colin Jordaan (Cessna 182 PG) with a local team from Stelia, T Bothma and M Serfontein in a Cessna 182 in third place. Cessnas seemed to have a field day. The landing competition was won by Roger Bradfield in a Grumman American.