Although a temporary tented city, Sowa had all the amenities to make competitors and visitors stay as pleasant as possible. The tents had electric lights, there were hot water showers with flush toilets and three meals were served daily
The Race for Rhinos, now in its fourth consecutive year was this year again held at Sowa Pan and is now the new world record holders for an air race with the most competitors ever.
Salt of the earth personified-the crew of the Just Love Mission Antonov AN2 "Little Annie" who between and racing and displaying still found time to take the scholars from the local Sowa Pan primary and elementary school for their first flight in an airplane
We arrived midday on Thursday after 3 hours and 40 minutes in the Just Love Mission's Antonov AN2 Little Annie piloted by father and son team Mark and Jon-Marc Hill. It was a brilliant winter day when we departed from Wonderboom for a stop at Pilansberg to clear customs before setting out on our three hour flight to Sowa Island.
Held on the shores of Sowa Pan this year's race at Tshukudu had one again searching for superlatives to describe it. The Sowa Pan, first described to the European world by David Livingstone, is a large natural topographic depression within the Makgadikgadi region of Botswana. Sitting in the giant marquee and enjoying the sunsets over the pan (that alone is enough reason to visit) whilst being entertained with awesome aerial displays made the Race for Rhinos, like Oshkosh, an aviation event that should be on the bucket list of all who has avgas in the their veins.
Contestants hard at work plotting
Race for Rhinos has it's origins in the Race of Champions series, the brain child of Chris Briers, held at various venues across the country for a number years. When it moved to Botswana with sponsorship by that countries Tourism and Nature Conservation and Environmental Affairs departments it was renamed to the Race for Rhinos to publicise the slaughter of these magnificent and by now endangered species.
Chris Briers addressing the contestants during the briefing
Participants during the briefing
The biggest air race to date was the Presidents Trophy Air Race held at New Tempe Airfield in Bloemfontein a number of years ago with 104 entries. The organisers of the Race for Rhinos this year specifically set out to establish a new record and they were successful. One hundred and twenty competitors entered and on day one 114 of those took to the sky.
Some of the participating aircraft
Some rare aircraft were entered, amongst them was a Rockwell Collins 112 possibly an early 70s model as well as a Rockwell Collins 114 Race 105. Both were first timers very rare nowadays to see both a 114 and a 112 together. Another rare aircraft was Race 40, the Dornier DO 27, also a first time at Race for Rhinos was the Harvard and the Navion 1046 race 38. A Stinson and the Antonov AN2 race 65, affectionately known as Little Annie was some of the other notable aircraft.
Race 112, the Cessna 177RGII piloted by Pieter Venter with navigator Franklin Smit was the entry that made the new record for entries in an air navigation race possible
Race 120 the Beech B-60 of John and Gregg Urquhart was the last entry to be received and accepted. They too were excluded from the final results
Race 36 A-2DVT the Cessna T206H of De Vrye van Dyk and Mike Wackril being fuelled. They were 41 overall
Race 23 the Husky of locals Mark Coubrough Barbara Iwins finished in 71st overallÖ.The Cessna race 30 piloted by Phill Wakeley and navigated by Mary de Klerk finished 13th overall
Race 83 the Cessna of Zimbabwians Warwick Broad and Chris Sheppard. They finished 46th overall
Such is the fame of the Race for Rhinos that entries were received from all over Southern Africa, Europe and the Americas.
RB Mosime, Joe Openshaw, DJ de Nysschen, Francois Hanekom, Bogosi Nthobatzsang and Orpeleng Mollwane and others who manned the tower
From left to right Leon du Plessis, Roger Coetzee and Brian Emmenis
Any city needs to have a way to communicate with its residents and that function was fulfilled by Capital Sounds who trucked tons of high tech sound equipment all the way from Welkom in the Free State, a journey that took them 15 hours. The team consisted of Brian Emmenis, Leon du Plessis, Roger Coetzee and Phillip Smith.
Race 74 the Piper Aerostar 600A of JZ and Jannie Moolman was first away on race day one and was the first to arrive back to the finished in 53rd place overall
The Beech 58 of JP Fourie and Stefan Weber of started 4th on day one. They too were excluded from the final results
Race 59 the Piper PA-31-325 flown by Alan Kynoch and Colin Chapman started 3rd on day one and finished 80th overall
Held over two days, 114 competitors took off at 10.00 at 10 second intervals for leg one. All finished the day. However ten were disqualified, all except one for missing turn points and one for dangerous flying.
The Piper PA-22-150 Race 108 of Richard and Timothy Fair was the first to take of in day two. They arrived in 2nd place
Race 85 the Evektor Sport Star of Leon Bouttell and Martin Meyer took off in second spot but were excluded from the final results
The Dornier 27-4 Race 40 of Andries van Tonder and Conraad Underhay started 6th and finished 61st overall
Race 41 the Glasair GS-2 of Peter and Alan Sheppard started the in 21st place and finished 5th overall
Race 25 the KLN/Eveko sr VL-3 flown Michiel and Greyling Jansen started 13th and was the first to arrive back
On day two it was time for the slowest aircraft to lead in the pack and race 104 took to the sky. The route was just as challenging as day one and at race end 94 were placed. The balance was disqualified for various infringements.
On both days of the race Chris Briers flew the news media in a helicopter during the take-off of some of the aircraft. A short video that captured the spirit of the Race for Rhinos to perfection was shown later during the evening at the awards dinner and the comments of some of the crew had those attending in stitches.
Nigel Hopkins in the Extra 330SC
Neville Ferreira in the Slick 540
A mass formation of Vans RV aircraft
Team Extreme and the Raptors Vans RV formation team
Mark Sampson in the Extreme Air
The Puma Energy Flying Lions stole the show
The highlight of every day is probably the impromptu airshow that takes place over the water and has become synonymous with the Race for Rhinos. The banks of the pan come alive as competitors and others gather to watch the spectacular performances of some of the best aerobatic pilots. The dusk show and water-skiing of the Puma Energy Flying Lions left those on the banks of the pan breathless.
By early Saturday evening the marquee was packed to capacity as everyone eagerly awaited the final results. The dress code for the evening was pilots and crew attire of the early fifties and some ladies and gentlemen really went to town to dress the part.
One of three music bands that entertained those present during dinner
His Honourable T. S. Khama
His Honourable T. S. Khama minister of Environment, Conservation, Natural Recourses and Tourism Affairs addressed the crowd that were eagerly awaiting the final result. Minister Khama emphasised the commitment of Botswana to protect its wildlife and to make the country a tourist mecca.
Chris Briers, organisers then took to the stage and thanked all involved, especially the government of Botswana for having the vision to invest in aviation and congratulated them on their efforts of safeguarding their endangered species. Chris also thanked all the sponsors who without their support the event would not have been possible.
Then the moment that all had been waiting for had arrived. The much anticipated announcement of the winners was about to be revealed.
Stephan Fourie and Derek Bird in Race number 99 the Vans Rv 10 finished in third place
Richard and Timothy Fair in Race 108 the Piper PA-22-150 was placed second
And the overall winners were Race 25 Michiel and Greylingh Jansen in the Aveko srVL-3
Pilot's Post has reported on all four races held in Botswana and this year's race was by far the best. We wish to thank firstly Chris Briers for having hosted us yet again, secondly Media Boss Mark Mansfield for having gone above and beyond to assist the media enabling us to report on the event. Thirdly Mark Hill and his team for flying us to Sowa pan and back.
We look forward to the 2019 event as it just gets better every year.
Final Overall Results