From Saturday 9 July 2016 the best of the best aerobatic pilots, in South Africa, started converging on the New Tempe airport just to the North-West of Bloemfontein in the Freestate smack bang in the centre of South Africa.
A Total of 26 Pilots, 7 Judges, a Scoring Director, an unknown number of support staff, 21 powered aerobatic aircraft and one glider made up the National Aerobatic Competition that was presented by The Sport Aerobatic Club of South Africa (SAC). One of the aerobatic aircraft, a Slick 360 flown by Conrad Botha, was the only local aircraft and pilot in the competition.
Pilots were allowed to do free practice from Saturday 9th July up to the morning of Wednesday 13th July and from then on it was serious business. Previous years the competition consisted of two known and two unknown programs. This year, however, the format changed and the athletes now have to fly on known and three unknown programs. For the Unlimited competitors there was an added 4 minute Freestyle program that was flown during the air show on Saturday.
The unknown programs were compiled as follows. Each pilot, in the Intermediate, Advanced and Unlimited, had to provide one set of manoeuvres. Naturally each pilot would provide his most difficult set that he has practiced over and over again. These sets would then be combined in a random order and the unknown program would be set. The program will be submitted to the pilots on the day before the program has to be flown. No practice time is allocated for these unknown programs. An average of 14 sets of manoeuvres will be combined in such a program. The unknown program for Sporstman and novice Intermediate pilots was not part of this process and their routine was a fixed routine as supplied by SAC. Here is an example of a program that the pilots have to follow.
Chatting to Neville Ferreira, Unlimited class (Power) and also current Chairman of the Sport Aerobatic Club (SAC) and Elton Bondi, Advanced class (Power), about the unknown program I was told that this year's program might just be the toughest and most challenging that they have ever flown. Elton experienced 11 g's in some parts of the sequence and Neville said that he fluctuated between +8G and -8G. This puts a serious strain on the body and it takes a while to recover from this.
After four days of competition flying the results were released at an awards function on Saturday night 16 July. Thank you to Martin Schulze that sent me the results just after 22:00 that evening.
The first three places in each category (Excluding Glider (which was won by Gary Whitecross by default as he was the only competitor in this class). RV and Graduate) Name and Percentage:
Adam Puc 77.45%
Conrad Botha 73.91%
Roger Deare 66.61%
Cliff Lotter 76.60%
Martin Schulze 71.41%
Jason Beamish 70.71%
Elton Bondi 75.93%
Gary Glasson 75.78%
Eugene du Preez 71.83%
Patrick Davidson 79.64%
Nigel Hopkins 75.72%
Barrie Eeles 69.90%
Unlimited 4 minute Freestyle
Nigel Hopkins 81.14%
Patrick Davidson 77.57%
Barrie Eeles 73.41%
Saturday…. Air Show day
Saturday morning, as I arrived at around 07:00, a Hot Air Baloon from Westline Aviation had taken off and was heading in a westerly direction. The skies were filled with clouds and I started fearing that it would be a very cold day similar to what we experienced in Bethlehem around three years ago. I donned my beany and my gloves and was ready for the show however it wasn't long before the jacket, beany and gloves had to go as the day warmed up and we had glorious weather with very light wind.
My thanks go to the crew of Capital Sounds, that was manning a satellite system, for allowing me to stash my bags in their trailer for a while. Eric Nkomo, Wesley van Zyl and Philip Scott were at this station.
The early morning was allocated to the aerobatic championship with the competitors doing their final programs. Pilots Briefing was around 09:15 and was conducted by Charlie Marais. The title "Airboss" is no longer in use as ASSA is aligning itself with the European format and not the American style. The title is now Flight Display Director (FDD). The FDD for the air show was the current chairman of ASSA Rickus Erasmus. The official kicked off was just after 11:00 with a parachute drop from the Remax sponsored Cessna 206. Ralph Ridge displayed the gigantic South African flag and he was accompanied by skydivers from the local Skydive Central that is based at the airport.
Following them we had Team Raptor in their RV-7's. The team was made up of Pierre Gouws (Lead), Jason Beamish (Right wing) and Nigel Hopkins (Left wing). With their usual flair they enthralled the crowd with precision formation aerobatics and then individual, Torra Torra type, flypasts.
Then the show slowed down as the beautiful vintage Tiger Moth, being put through its paces by H. de Villiers, graced the skies with slow and graceful manoeuvres and flypasts.
Neville Ferreira, in total contrast to the Tiger Moth, then took to the skies flying Martin Schulze's Yak 55 and doing high energy aerobatics.
The Good Year Eagles was next, to entertain the crowds, with their unique display. The team lead by legendary Dennis Spence from Aerobatics Unlimited and with him he had just as legendary Glen Warden, Johan van Solms and Paul Coetzer.
The final program of the aerobatic championship was then flown by four of the Unlimited competitors. First up was Neville Ferreira in his Slick 540 followed by Barrie Eeles Sbach, Nigel Hopkins Extra 330SC and finally by Patrick Davidson in his Sukoi SU-31.
Things then descended to ground level with a fire fighting demonstration by the local Mangahung fire department. A sponsor's parade was also part of this break in aerial activity. The parade included 50 Harley Davidsons and 5 Ford Mustangs, of which one was a convertible, from Human Auto in Bloemfontein.
Local Radio Flyers then entertained us with, amongst others, a third scale Sbach, a Viper Jet and an EC 145 helicopter.
The second parachute display was next and this time a total of six jumpers exited a perfectly operational aircraft. Ralph Ridge displayed a more moderate pennant style South African Flag.
Cricket legend Boeta Dipenaar, the chief helicopter at Westline Aviation, displayed his skills by flying a Robinson R44 and placing and under slung 210 litre oil barrel inside a large tyre on the ground and then displaying the manoeuvrability of the R44.
Gary Whitecross, currently the only glider display pilot in the country, followed and had an air tug by a Lambada flown by Nigel Hopkins. From release he activated two smoke canisters that were attached to each wingtip and the smoke trails described his display perfectly in the sky. This was the first time that I have seen, where both canisters fired and lasted until he landed. This man is a true entertainer and wowed the crowd with smooth and slick aerobatic manoeuvres.
The Good Year Eagles once again took to the skies and again and the four ship team had another chance to wow the crowd. This was followed by various other displays that included Nigel Hopkins in the T 28 Trojan flying in a formation with Pierre Gouws in the beautiful, Richard Lovitt, L39.
Also on the program was Rulf Palm displaying a Gyrocopter, Team Extreem consisting of Nigel Hopkins in his Cirrus, Porche and Master Power Technologies sponsored Extra 330SC and Jason Beamish in his Absolute Aviation sponsored Extra 300.
Local aerobatic and display pilot, Conrad Botha, displayed his Salleys Yamaha sponsored Slick 360 and Neville Ferreira displayed his, Sandown Commercial Vehicles / Fuso sponsored Slick 540
Andrew Balckwood-Murray, a last minute addition to the program, had the opportunity to display his Nashua sponsored Zlin 50 just before the final event of the day in which we saw, the now familiar or compulsory car - plane race. Nigel Hopkins took on a 2016 model Ford Mustang GT in his Extra 330SC. Amazingly the aircraft won with the Mustang sounding like it lost power.
The team from ATNS had their work cut out for them as they were using both runways to land and depart aircraft. Runway 10/28 was mostly used for take-off and 01/19 for landings. Early morning controllers were Roanda Steyn and Sean England. They were later joined by some of the local controllers from the Bram Fischer airport to the North-East of Bloemfontein.
Brian Emmenis being, very ably, assisted by Charlie (Funny Man) Marais with his immeasurable knowledge of aerobatics, formation and helicopter flying. Rodger Coetzee and Elvis Manene made up the rest of the Capital Sounds Team.
Two very large TV screens were erected to the left and to the right of the air show centre. The sponsor logos were displayed on these screens throughout the day. Multiple cameras were used to display pictures from the happenings on the day and also live cockpit footage was transmitted from various display aircraft.
The show was very well attended with patrons still arriving well after two in the afternoon. Some of the food stalls totally underestimated the amount of visitors to the show and ran out of stock as early as half past one in the afternoon.
Thank you to André and Janine from Westline Aviation for assisting me in getting a Media pass for the day. We also need to thank the sponsors like Westline Aviation, Salleys Yamaha, Twizza, Cell-C and Human Auto for making the day possible.
All in all a fantastic show that was enjoyed by one and all. For many it was their first time to an air show and I spoke to one of these. Laurence Khosi said that although he arrived a bit late, there was still more than enough to make the outing totally worth it.