SAPFA Rand Airport Challenge Navigation Rally 2024

By Russell Dixon-Paver


This was the 20th edition of this fun event! As per tradition and for this time of year, weather was expected to become stormy later in the day, but more of that later.

The event base was once again the old customs hall, providing space for the briefing, preparation and direct access to the apron for participants. Many folks made use of the Harvard Café for coffee and breakfasts.

There was a final field of twelve teams, some who entered just before the event started. Some were "old hands" and for others it was their first navigation rally. Frank and Cally Eckard have been running this event for 20 years now!

Cally assists some of the last-minute entrants with their paperwork.

Frank handled the necessary roll-call and team briefing, covering the normal aspects such as expected weather, radio calls, overall event organization and safety.

Once all the teams were finalized, the aircraft were ordered with faster aircraft in front to provide spacing, with sportsman/fun classes receiving papers at 08:30 for a longer planning time and the open class receiving papers shortly before takeoff. Takeoffs were scheduled 5 minutes apart and adequate time was allocated to reach the start point. The course was just short of 120NM.

Group photograph of participants in front of Rand Airport tower.

Some of the participating aircraft on the Rand Airport apron.

Teams found table-space to start their preparation, with some of the more experienced people helping the first-timers. It was great to see some flying school teams exposing their students to this discipline.

Teams took off in their scheduled sequence, turning out left towards the "silver ball tower" landmark.

Startup, final pre-flight checks and takeoff.

The rest of the field take off.

When some of the later takeoffs started returning after a short time it became clear that the weather had become untenable for continued safety. A few of the teams completed the course, but others returned to their home bases or to Rand. Wise decisions in the prevailing weather! There was a severe storm over the half-way point at Vereeniging, where teams were to do touch and goes, with very heavy rain and some hail. Live tracking was not possible due to the weather conditions.

Some of the returning aircraft.

Rand Airport was busy with other normal Saturday traffic during the morning, with many training flights and normal traffic departing and landing.

Andrew Blackwood-Murray went out to do some aerobatic training in his Extra and added some interest when he returned with smoke on and then gave us a smoke-salute after landing.

Due to a significant number of aircraft not completing the course due to the severe weather to the South, it was not possible to determine results straight away, so these will be added later, when they become available.

The Rand Airport Challenge Trophy - who will be the twentieth edition winner?

There is a tremendous amount of planning and organization that goes into a navigation rally event and Frank and Cally, along with those who assist them beforehand and on the day of the event are to be congratulated on a well-run and safe event for the start of 2024.

Frank said, "Our 2nd competitor to take off for the day, Roger Rizzoli & Derek Orford, in the sportsman class for the event made it all the way round the course, but then the weather over Vereeniging Airfield and the Vaal Dam worsened and 10 crews diverted to their home airfields. One of our last crews Jonty Esser and Sandi Goddard gave the safety officer a scare as he had managed to locate all the other competitors and assumed they too had diverted due to the weather. However exactly on time they reported operation complete and finals for Rand Airport. Despite the challenging weather, Jonty Esser & Sandi Goddard posted a brilliant score of 306 in the open class and was declared the winners of the 20th Rand Airport Challenge."

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