SAGPA North meets South at Gariep Airfield

By Willie Bodenstein

29 - 04 to 02.05.2021

Just north of the town of Gariep, in the middle of a wide grassy valley, lies one of the best small airfields in the country. Once handling busy traffic during the construction of the dam, Gariep Dam Airfield has two long and wide tarmac runways, taxiways and an apron. With a game reserve on one boundary and the dam only a few kilometres to the east, wild life is plentiful nearby. A high ridge several kilometres away to the north forms a long silhouette and shelter against the northerly winds. To the west, the tree-lined Orange River slowly winds its way and long journey to the Atlantic.

SAGPA, a subsection of the Aeroclub of SA, represents gyroplane pilots and enthusiasts in Southern Africa and share the passion and pleasure of flying one of the most remarkable aircraft ever conceived. SAGPA is dedicated to being the catalyst for the sport of Gyrocopter aviation and growth in South Africa.

This year, the association invited members of all sections to join it for an unforgettable weekend of fun, flying and camaraderie at the wonderful Forever Resort at Gariep Dam on the Orange River and whch forms the border between the Free State and Eastern Cape provinces.

30 Kilometres north of Bloemfontein

20 Kilometres south of Bloemfontein

The weather this time of year, in the transition from summer to autumn, is supposed to be perfect. However, nobody told the weather gods about that and I, leaving Joburg on Thursday to arrive in time for the mass arrivals on Friday, encountered cloudy, windy and rainy conditions along the way.

The KZN pilots had to abandon their attempt and decided to stop at Battlefields while the Thursday Cape contingent stopped and overnighted at Beaufort West.

The chalets at the Forever Resort

Arriving at Gariep after a 5-hour 30 min drive, my first visit to the actual dam and field where I met up with Weidie Voster, the orginiser, who promptly had my accommodation sorted. I had a well-priced lunch at the resort before I made my to the field, where about ten gyros, most of which had flown in from Gauteng, where either hangered or safely tied down under cover.

Gariep Airfield is well known for its gliding activities, especially late in the year, when large numbers of soaring pilots from all over Europe ship their craft over, with some staying for months to enjoy the relative freedom of African skies.

Rain on the roof of the chalet woke me early on Friday morning and that unfortunately was the trend for most of the day. Just as it seemed as if the weather would clear, the rain would start again and the wind pumped for the whole day. To make matters worse, a cold front made for a really unpleasant day. However, the reception at the field was decidedly warm. The Gyro people are a real friendly and hospitable crowd. Nothing is too much for them. Covid regulations were strictly followed. Free coffee, of which there was a choice of about six brews, was on tap.

Then it was time to wait. Teams were temporarily stranded all over, waiting for the weather to clear. The Gyro pilots are a determined crowd that once on route found ways, without compromising safety, to get to where they wanted to go. One intrepid pilot landed on a dirt road and waited for three hours before the weather cleared and he could set out to eventually land at Gariep.

It was almost 14.00 when the sound of a Rotax got the attention of all and eyes turned skywards as a yellow Magni flown by Karel Kruger gracefully landed to spontaneous applause. Karel and his wife flew from Mosselbay and landed at Oranje for a while to wait out the weather.

Next was an Autogyro Callidus which was soon followed by a flock of Callidus's, the companies's enclosed tandem model. Two more soon followed before the Arrow Copter landed followed by the first fixed wing, a Jabiru arrived.

After a gap of an hour or so, more pilots had found gaps in the weather and landed safely at a still cold, windy and rather miserable Gariep. However, the weather did not put a damper on the spirits of the Gyro aficionados, who all love their rather unconventional, in the eyes of the rest of the aviation fraternity, machines, of which three hundred and fifty are currently registered in SA.

The sun setting over Gariep. This stunning picture by kind permission of Braam Hechter.

Braai fires were being lit and despite the weather, a festive mood prevailed. Unfortunately work come first and I made my way home, sadly missing the evening's festivities. Between then and 17h00 when I left, twenty gyros and two fixed wing aircraft, a Jabiru and a V tail Bonny, had joined the eight that had arrived on Friday.

Saturday was a brilliant day. The sun was out, the wind to an extent, had died down and the sky was clear and blue without a cloud in sight. However, it soon became clear that the because of Friday's weather problems, most of the expected 75 aircraft would not make it.

The apron on Saturday morning.

I was fortunate to get a flip with Dougie from Springs for a flight over the dam wall and down the river. Like all the SAGPA people, Dougie too went out of his way to be of assistance. Nothing was too much to ask and he was probably the busiest pilot on Saturday, taking many for flips. He later took me up again to do the air to ground shots.

During the day more arrived while those that were already did scenic flights over the dam and surrounds.

As the sun was setting, everybody gathered on the apron for a group photo next to their aircraft. Dougie again took me up for the photo shoot. Eventually 53 aircraft arrived comprising of 45 gyros and eight fixed wings.

The evening's gala dinner was held at the Forever Resort and it was indeed a lavish affair. Andre van Zyl did the introductions and thanked all those that had contributed and who had made the event such a huge success.

During the dinner, various SAGPA members were acknowledges for their contributions. The most valued up and coming AP Award went to Fransie Engelbrecht. Louis van Wyk won the award for the most valued AP. Val Field was the oldest pilot at the event while Rainer Janse van Rensburg and Louis van Wyk were the most valued instructors.

The female Gyro pilot ambassador award was shared between Juanita Kruger, Liesl Nel, Samantha Ellis, Lana Zulch and Christine Klopper. The platinum pilot award was shared between Val Field, Eben Mocke, Peter Goldsmith, Gawie Steyn and Roelf Palm. Tommie Jordaan was recognized for his duty as event organiser. The Autogyro award went to ZU-RTM, the ELA award to ZU-RDA, the Trojan Award to Johann von Ludwig and the Xenon award to Marius Kruger.

Andre van Zyl was recognised as the Gyro pilot who has flown the most air shows. The Christa Voster Award for the promotion of the sport of gyrocopter flying that has acted as an exceptional ambassador in the preceding twelve months, inspiring other pilots to achieve excellence and also introducing the public to gyrocopter flying went to Rainer Janse van Rensburg. The Sean Klopper Airmanship Award went to Roelf Palm.

David Hainsworth, Tom Vermeulen, Len Klopper, Louis van Wyk, Roelf Palm and Eric Torr were awarded for having flown more than 100 hours. The gentleman's award was shared by Weskaap - Gert Coetzee, Natal - Mike French and Gauteng -Joe Terblanche.

Despite the weather doing its best to put a damper on things, it did not happen. Extremely well organized, the North meets South concept and event, which is open to all aircraft and not just Gyroplanes, was without a doubt definitely one that is not to be missed!

When we got to the field on Sunday there wasn't that many aircraft left. Nine of those left in a group for Zastron where the were spending a few days before making their way home.

Despite the weather doing its best to put a damper on things and did not happen. Extremely well organized the North meets South concept and event, open to all aircraft and not just Gyroplanes, was without a doubt definitely one that is not to me missed!

Like all events, North meets South needed the support of sponsors and the community to make it the success. They, in turn, need our support to enable them to host next year again and come on board. The main sponsors at the event were: BKB, Aliwal Toyota, Brulberg Game Ranch, Magni SA, Vleis Sentraal, Jody Bartelman, Telwiedre Voere, OFS Smart Panel Beaters, Squares Zastron, Prosper Electrical, Dasram Boerdery, McCloud Construction, Vultures Lodge, OVK Zastron, Jankelow Insurance, NoordKaap Makelaars, Mavtec, Nelis Wilken, Avrivet, Majestic Insurance, Virbac Animal Medicine, Nutrigrun, Henk Myburgh, Maxtec and Networks Unlimited.

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