I’ve been trying to get involved in competition flying for a long time, but it has always seemed to not work out for one reason or another. I’ve been able to go to see the rally taking place at Middelberg and Springs in the past but haven’t been able to take part. This weekend though, everything seemed to fall into place with a public holiday on Friday and the race being held nearby at the Secunda airfield (FASC) on the weekend.
Competition flying in South Africa seems to be undergoing somewhat of a resurgence at the moment after being stuck for years in a stodgy cycle of President’s Trophy Air Races marred by legal cases and appeals. Three event formats are currently taking place – Speed Rallies, Navigation Rallies and Fun Rallies. They are being held through the country (although mostly in the northern half, fortunately). Fun rallies involve flying a short course in a very narrow corridor, points being deducted for excursions from the corridor. Navigation rallies are plotted and flown to specific times and locations and are the more traditional form of competition rally flying in South Africa.
The event in Secunda though, is a speed rally. In a speed rally, aircraft are flown along a set route. The headings are provided and turn points are stipulated. Aircraft are handicapped according to their maximum speed and start the course in order, from slowest to fastest at intervals set according to their speed – the idea being that competitors cross the line almost together.
The idea is to fly as fast as possible, with the minimum deviation from the published course and to make all the turns within the regulation “gates” – both altitude and lateral deviation, without crashing into anyone else!
|Date||Aircraft||Route||Flight Duration||Total Hours|
|9 August 2019||ZU-IBM||FASY(Baragwanath Airfield) – FASC (Secunda Airport)||1||158.5|
Despite a later start than initially hoped for, Scott and I were soon underway to Secunda. The 85 nautical mile routing is fairly straightforward – head east, remain clear of the OR Tambo international airport airspace, fly over Heidelberg and then head for the big smoke that is Secunda. Secunda is the site of one of the SASOL plants – where coal is converted to oil.
The air was pretty smooth and I was quite happy to have my son do some of the flying. He’s quite good at keeping straight and level and needs only to relax a little on the stick but that takes time. If I was an instructor he could have logged 0.5 dual…
For the duration of the speed rally, the normally unmanned Secunda airport was declared Class G airspace so an arrival controller was present – who is able to give clearances but always “at pilot discretion” as in Class G airspace in South Africa there is no separation by controllers.
Anyway, when we reported inbound 10nm away we were told we could make “straight-in” for runway 11 (at our discretion) – which was nice. After fuelling up (more on that later) we reported to the race marshals for sign in.
Race Preparations – and a ramp check?
I have not flown ZU-IBM in a speed rally before, this meant that I was required to fly a speed test flight in order to get a handicap assigned. The test flight needs to be flown in “race trim” – i.e loaded as per the race loading – 2 crew, full fuel and with nothing else surplus to requirement in the aircraft. This is why we had to refuel. The refueling guys were very gracious about us buying only 15litres of fuel.
On the way to preflight the aircraft for the speed test I met a very pleasant chap who informed me he was from the CAA and would we mind if he “had a look at our airplane”. Immediately I realised this was a ramp check. I haven’t been ramp checked before and I was certainly not expecting it this weekend but I didn’t think it would be an issue. So we pulled all the documents (which I always fly with, fortunately), they had a good look, they looked at the inspection reminders, placards and generally at the aircraft and pronounced it to be passable. Then he told me that my license was invalid.
I think my jaw hit the ground. He handed it to me and asked me why it was invalid. It took me a while to realise that I hadn’t signed it. He said if I signed it there and then, it would be a non-issue. It took me about 3 seconds to get it signed. Phew.
|Date||Aircraft||Route||Flight Duration||Total Hours|
|9 August 2019||ZU-IBM||FASC(Secunda Aiport) – FASC (Secunda Airport) – Test Flight||0.7||159.2|
While it was a bit nerve-wracking, I think it is important that the CAA does do ramp checks from time to time. That out of the way, we set off on the test flight. The flight is flown with a GPS logger and to a specific profile. You take off, fly runway heading, climb to 1200 ft AGL, set max continuous thrust and descend to 1000ft AGL. Thereafter we fly 5min, turn left 90deg, fly 5 min, turn left 90deg, fly 5min and then, yes, you guessed it, turn left 90 deg and fly for
5 4min and enter the base for the runway.
Given that it was now 3pm, the test profile was fairly difficult to fly – the wind had picked up quite a lot and there was a LOT of turbulence. I elected to fly with the prop in Cruise mode, not in climb or takeoff. Takeoff mode would be really dumb as this would result in 5800RPM i.e practically at redline, Climb mode was an option but to be honest, I want the most life from my engine and I’ll run it how I like – i.e at cruise setting for racing.
After the test flight, we refuelled again and then it was time for the training session, where we got to check out some of the competition including this very pretty RV-7A.
. We were shown an example of the map which is provided – with the turn points marked and the bearings between them shown. Teams are provided with photos of the turnpoint taken from Google Earth at an equivalent height of 1000ft and from the line of approach in order to help identify the turns. Also on the photos are the minimum altitude at which the turn must be made – 200ft AGL. There are significant penalties for going below 100ft (disqualification) and 200ft (30seconds). Likewise flying >1000ft above the ground also attracts penalties.
The role of the navigator, in this case, my son, Scott is to note all the relevant ground features, mark the track with minute markers according to the handicap speed and to get a good feel for the area.
After training we chilled out for a bit and chatted to the other teams. The first formal briefing was at 18h30 – basics of the rules and procedures for the day were explained and the numbers were handed out. We were to be ”Race 30”
After the briefing it was time for a barbecue of steak, boerewors and lamb chops, potato salad and some non alcoholic drinks. Scott suddenly asked me for my camera and rushed off to take some photos of the oil-from-coal plant in the dark.
Then it was time to head for bed – it had been a long day and it would be an exciting day the next day.