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flying General Sport Flying

Competition flying again

The fluttering noise didn’t catch my attention as much as the white flash of paper passing before my eyes. Flailing wildly didn’t help as the paper in question – the photos of the start and finish gates – flew out the gullwing door of my Sling, and contrary to what would be expected, got sucked into the propeller from behind and shredded.

This was going to be a problem. One does not simply chase after pieces of maps while holding short of an active runway for a set takeoff time. Our Air Navigation Rally second course was about to get even more interesting. It wasn’t lacking in interest before the map shredding incident – the 30kt winds had provided quite enough entertainment already this morning.

DateAircraftRouteFlight TimeTotal Time
15 August 2020ZU-IBMFASY(Baragwanath) – FABB(Brakpan)0.7205.6
15 August 2020ZU-IBMFABB – FABB (Flight 1)0.8206.4
15 August 2020ZU-IBMFABB-FABB (Flight 2)0.9207.3
15 August 2020ZU-IBMFABB – FASY0.7208

Air Navigation Rallies are a relatively new form of competition navigation flying – short course (25nm) corridors dream on a map and flown precision style. There is an 80kt stipulated speed and penalties are accrued for deviation from the 0.3nm wide corridor and for being late – across the start and finish lines. There is also a spot landing component – so very much aimed at precision flying rather than the flat our raw speed of Speed Rallies.

Steve and the paraphernalia required for plotting the rally course

A lot of the work is done before the actual flight. The map is presented to each team as a 1:200 000 survey map with a course plotted onto it. You get a takeoff time, a start gate time and a finish time. The rest is up to you. Bearings need to be plotted and corrected for magnetic variation, leg lengths are measured (sometimes resulting in heated arguments about 0.2 of a nautical mile) and leg times calculated.

Map marked up

If you’ve done it right, the leg times add up to the 18minutes 45 seconds required to fly 25nm at 80kts. If not…. back to the drawing board.

Completed navigation log

Sound easy? It may be. If the course designer is feeling kind he’ll put the turns over identifiable objects (as happened in the first course today). If he’s feeling not so kind, he’ll make them random. Which is what happened on the second course. Fortunately you’re given photos of the start and finish lines to help you. Unless you carelessly allow these to be obliterated by your propeller. That would be a really dumb thing to allow to happen.

Complicating matters today was the unwelcome August wind which is a boon to kite flyers but a pain for other aviators. The wind blew. The whole day. And no gentle breeze – a 15G27kt blustery spring wind that (fortunately) blew mostly down the runway but made actually flying the navigation course somewhat challenging. I had to fly the legs with tailwinds at 60kts with flaps 2 while the legs into the wind were at full throttle. Remember that 80kt nominated speed?

The windsock holding on for dear life – RV-8 of Nigel Hopkins (ZU-NDH)

Our first course went OK – or so we thought – the 1081 penalty points we gathered may suggest otherwise. I thought this was ok until I saw that the leaders had only managed to collect 16. The second course? The less said the better – not having any clue what the start gate looked like and having the start gate on the tailwind leg meant we started said leg about 2nm beyond the actual start and it all deteriorated from there. Although, to our credit we were able to regain the course at turnpoint 3. I was somewhat alarmed to see the aforementioned top competitors flying straight at us but decided to cheerfully ignore this (apart from the required evasive action). We came to the conclusion that either they were lost or we were lost.

Hendrik and Jeandre Loots – the team to beat – whether it’s speed rallies or ANR – these guys have it down pat…

As it turns out, they were lost – they’d managed to fly the route in reverse – still flew it better than we did. The spot landing competition was a write off for us on the first course and the second time around I caught a gust which drifted me towards the photographers and line judges so I chopped and dropped – and managed to only overshoot the line a little. The tough part of the spot landing competition was that the line was at the halfway point of the very long runway – not in the landing zone as is usual – picture a 50% displaced threshold. Most of the pilots seemed to elect to cruise along at 15ft for the whole length then drop it in midfield.

Our effort for the first flight. Sadly the printout for the second flight has disappeared…

I hear you asking how we did? 1089 penalty points on the first course, 1961 on the second. We can do better I’m sure but 7th out of the Sportsman class is not too bad for the first shake.

Before flight 1

Thanks to the sterling efforts of the ladies and gents at the SA Power Flying Association we are back doing competitions as the COVID-19 pandemic appears to have peaked and lockdown restrictions are being lifted bit by bit. This event was undertaken as an experiment to see if the social distancing rules could be complied with in a flying setting – it seems that they were successful and we’re looking forward to resuming the flying season in September.

In COVID related news my license renewal has finally come through a mere 9 weeks after the documents were submitted. One has to admire the efficiency of the SACAA. </s>

Update – our president has announced a reduction in the level of lockdown – travel now allowed freely which should put the regulator back into its cage and let us fly wherever and for whatever reason we want to.

2 replies on “Competition flying again”

Congratulations on rational progress toward flying again!

Sounds like This was a challenging activity – I am utterly fascinated by these stories because I’ve never participated in anything like this. I’m also surprised at the need to hit an 80 kt ground speed regardless of what the wind is doing instead of maintaining a particular true airspeed. Very interesting! Just look at all the experience you’re accumulating toward the next one.

Indeed. To be honest though – I should have thought it through a bit more thoroughly. Could have flown at a more rational speed on the downwind legs and faster on the upwind. I came quite close to stalling in one of the downwind turns and have revisited the designated minumum maneuvering speed stuff again. For my aircraft it’s 75kts. Don’t think it’s rational or safe to fly any slower than that unless on final approach. Will consider carefully doing this again with such high winds….

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