RC Jets over Henley 2021-09-18

By Jaco Kotze

The weekend of 17 - 19 September 2021 saw the return of the unmistakable sound of jet engines over the hills of Henley on Klip. Hosted by Aerial Concepts, Jets over Henley is a well-loved event on the SAMAA calendar. The worldwide Covid pandemic necessitated the organizers of the 2020 event to postpone until 2021 - and the pilots of these beautiful aircraft were hungry and responded well!

Unfortunately, due to a forecasted weekend of very bad windy weather, the original date set for 27 - 29 August 2021 had to be cancelled and rescheduled to mid-September. The Friday saw at least 18 pilots meet up at the world class Henley Model Airfield. Disaster nearly crippled the event for a second time with one of the Aerial Concepts team being highjacked on route to the airfield, with all the banners, gifts and prizes lost with the stolen vehicle. Luckily, he managed to escape unharmed, for which we are all very thankful. Exceptional weather and a positive attitude by all ensured for a great day of flying which ended with a braai and catch up between old friends while watching the sun set over the valley. The stage was set for which looked to be an exceptional weekend.

Saturday morning however did not seem to promise the good prospects with which the previous day ended - a very cold early morning breeze and overcast skies had everyone desperately reach for some hot beverages and some delicious breakfast wraps prepared by the cafeteria team. With the briefing for the day set for 9am, everyone made good use of the early morning start to prepare the aircraft and the pilots for the days flying; all the time with yet more pilots arriving. By the time the briefing started, 30+ pilots had already signed the roster. Dean Grobbelaar of Aerial Concepts started the briefing with the Covid protocols, which was followed by a discussion on safety aspects and display flight protocols. The day was also joined by a special guest, Mr. Bob Skinner, General Manager of the SAMAA. Pilots briefing done, the flight line was opened.

Initial uptake for take-offs were sporadic with most pilots not being too eager to brave the cold windy conditions. Some of the braver ones however started the day with some solid flying displays. As the morning progressed, the sun eventually peeked out and the wind changed to a moderate breeze blowing along the runway. It seemed the day would redeem itself after all!

On the flying display side, the ever-popular Freewing Avanti S took to the skies often, flown by multiple pilots in various liveries. It is still one of the most cost-effective options for entering to the RC jet arena. Another popular plane flown often was the JSM Xcalibur, with a few sporting striking USAF livery. Some outstanding flying displays were done by these pilots, demonstrating why these aircraft models are ever so popular.

One very noticeable aircraft was flown by Pieter Herbst. His Feibao Dolphin painted in a spectacular Red Bull Racing livery features a custom flying display smoke injection system. This really adds another dimension to flying these jets - ensuring for visually entertaining flying displays with very low ground hugging passes with the smoke trail following. His was one of three Dolphins flown on the day, with another painted in striking black and silver featuring Petronas Mercedes Benz livery. A good looking and well performing aircraft indeed!

On the topic of performance, it was no surprise that the fastest jet of the day was yet again flown by Aerial Concepts host Dean Grobbelaar. As per his own words, you can't just run the largest RC model shop in SA, you have to be able to fly these aircraft competently and push them to their limits, which was exactly what he did. His CARF Models Ultra Lightning, painted in a very striking silver and yellow scheme, features a massive 21kg engine, allowing it to reach speeds in excess of 500km/h! He gave some very good high speed low level flying displays, showing just what this aircraft is capable of in the hands of an experienced pilot.

After lunch, all the aircraft were assembled on the runway for the traditional group photo. Unfortunately, due to Covid regulations, only the planes were allowed to break the social distancing rules and no pilots group photo could be taken this year. Following the aircraft group photo, we were treated to a physics defying display demo flown by none other than our SA Champion, Joshua Twomey. For the display, he piloted his custom-made Extreme Flight Extra 300 V2, powered by a 123cc GP petrol motor. His clinical routine with perfect snaps in between vertigo inducing rolls and spins really challenges the belief as to how it could be possible! Ending his routine, he showed just how much thrust the GP motor generates by physically hovering the aircraft in a vertical prop hanging position. Lots of respect for Joshua and what a privilege to have him give us this awesome flying display.

All of the aircraft displayed & flown on the day were meticulously built and kept. Some took this to the next level with the amount of detail added to the cockpits and paintwork. Two exceptionally well-built aircraft were Andre Strydom's CARF Viper Jet and the vintage P-80 USAF Thunderbirds replica.

Many other aircraft showed exceptional level of detail inside of the cockpit, which shows the dedication of the pilots and their love for this hobby. Of particular detail is the Skymaster MB-339 of Sanjay Kana, which due to some technical problems, could not take to the skies. He did however provide some solid displays flying his CARF/Pirotti Rebel.

Apart from the solo displays, at times we had up to three smaller EDF type aircraft up in the air, making for some very entertaining flying, both for the pilots as well as the spectators! Of these, Pierre du Plessis took the prize for flying the largest variety of aircraft. Of all of these, the dual jumbo jet formation flying was by far some of the best of the day. Flown by Pierre (Boeing 737-800 in Safair livery) and Daniel Ralefeta (Boeing 737-800 in Kulula livery), they managed some spectacular formation flying. Other notable aircraft in the foam EDF category included a Gripen, Mirage 2000, F104 Starfighter, L-39, Mig 29, Thunderbirds F-16 & Blue Angels F/A 18.

The day's flying drew to an end with the sun setting over the valley which was the cue for Daniel Ralefeta to give us a sunset display flying his modified foam based Black Horse L-39 (modified from EDF powered to carry a 6kg Swiwin jet turbine engine). Sporting some very bright wing tip display lights, this made for a spectacular low light flying display.

In closing, having been delayed for more than a year, the return of the Jets over Henley event was a resounding success. Congratulations to Dean & his team for hosting this event for all the passionate jet RC pilots, Arno and Terry for managing the flight line & flight operations and a special well done to all the pilots for their exceptional flying skills. Apart from a few undercarriage mishaps, no major incidents occurred. Really looking forward to the next event!

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