Race day dawned clear and calm, despite the forecast low cloud. Breakfast at the airfield was on offer – sliced bbq steak, onion and fried egg on a roll. Unusual, but delicious.
The big job for the morning was to get the plane clean (they go faster when they are clean, you know), get the race number sticker on the tail and to make sure that we were fully ready for the race. The morning briefing was mostly the same as the previous evening, but with the full race field present. By the time we had arrived at the airfield there were many more aircraft than the previous evening. Many of the teams coming from Johannesburg and Pretoria were delayed by IMC conditions at their home fields and a number withdrew from the race.
At the briefing, we were shown the race time for us to synchronize our watches to, we were given our start times and were updated on the weather. While we were in the briefing the cloud moved in, but fortunately the ceiling wasn’t low enough to preclude flying.
Immediately following the briefing we were sent to our aircraft to get them in line for departure. The aircraft with the slowest handicap speeds start first and those with the fastest depart last. Intervals between starts are calculated according to handicap but in cases where speeds are identical there is an 8 second gap given between departures. This was the case between us and our neighbours in the lineup (an Aeronca Citabria) . We were to start 8 seconds after them. We spent quite a lot of time chatting to photographers and to the roving film crew – we may be on tv!
About 45minutes before our start time officials came around to scrutineer the aircraft – checking full tanks, no additional trim items applied. Also, they put all your ‘contraband’ into sealable bags – portable GPS units, Cellphones, iPads etc. They are sealed and signed and put into the baggage compartment. Twenty minutes prior to start time we received our ‘papers’ – an envelope containing the map, minute marker, and turn point photos.
The map is a 1:250k topographical map with no longitude / latitude grid, with the course plotted onto it with magnetic bearings. Scott immediately set to work marking the minutes with his red pen, identifying railways, power lines and trig beacons indicating higher ground. While he did that I highlighted the route on my map and scanned to see what prominent features I could find and to get a feel for the route.
Cockpit organisation is a big part of the race, so we made the map infinitely foldable (aka scrunch it up and open it a few times), and I folded the turnpoint photo pages so that only one showed at a time. The turnpoint photos indicate exactly where the turnpoint is (the yellow circle) and the direction around which the turn is to be taken. There is a nominal 3nm gate on both inbound and outbound legs which has to be passed through – although to be honest, if you’re 3 nm out you are well out of contention.
|Date||Aircraft||Route||Flight Duration||Total Hours|
|10 August 2019||ZU-IBM||FASC(Secunda Aiport) – FASC (Secunda Airport) – Speed Rally||1.6||160.8|
10 minutes prior to our start time we started the engines and as the Citabria on our left pulled forward we moved in behind them for the taxi to the start. It’s important to pay attention here – there are planes parked on both sides of the (narrow) taxiway, people moving between the trading aircraft, photographers and spectators – it would be very easy to bump a wing, or forget to run a checklist – and there is a lot of temptation to get involved in looking at the map, fiddling with timers etc.
With our 8 second gap after the Citabria, we had barely lined up when the starter showed us the green board and we were off. The Citabria took longer to liftoff and we were practically airborne which required some quick maneuvering on my part to not crash into him, which on departure is not really ideal.
Despite this anxious moment we were able to settle ourselves down and pass over the correct side of the upwind end of the runway, Turnpoint 1 and make the turn for TP2. By this stage we have passed the Citabria but cannot yet see the aircraft ahead of us. Although there is no heigh restriction on the legs between the turnpoints I found the best height to be around 400ft off the deck. The cloud base at this stage was around 2000ft so this left us a good amount of space to work with, and the visibility was enough to ensure we were able to see and identify any obstructions which lay ahead.
Fortunately the routes are generally set up to avoid built up areas and there are no radio towers in the area. Scott did an absolutely sterling job of navigation – he quickly picked up which roads on the map were asphalt and which were dirt and he could identify power lines, while still checking up on my heading! I don’t think we were ever more than 8degrees off course.
By the time we reached TP 2, we were catching up to the next aircraft, who seemed quite high as we did a gentle turn around the turnpoint at 400ft, which left us quite far right of track and we could see how much ground we lost to him in the turn. We continued in this fashion, each turn being tighter, although at one point Scott said, “Turn tighter Dad!”, to which I replied, “No aerobatics at low level”. I found it comfortable to do the majority of the turns at 30degrees bank at about 300ft AGL. If this sounds iffy, it probably is a little, but bear in mind this is full throttle stuff and our airspeed seemed to be averaging around 125kts indicated – I felt that this was not excessively risky.
As the turnpoints passed, we found ourselves in a group of around 5 aircraft. Communication was, for the most part good, with people reporting that they were nearby or below or coming up on the port or starboard side – so there were no surprises. We found the turnpoints reasonably easy to identify even though the provided Google Earth photos had clearly been taken in summer when it was all a little greener. Mostly, it was good navigating on Scott’s part and we were able to pass really close to all of them – it does help to have the inside line.
The longest leg is the run from TP 11 to the finish line which is the runway at the departure field, approached from 90deg. As we raced along the aircraft we’d been flying with spread out and it looked like we’d all finish more or less at the same time. About 0.5nm away from the finish, from the corner of my right eye I caught movement and I turned just in time to see the RV-7A pass between us and another aircraft we were slowly passing, and at the same time the only Cirrus in the race blasted past underneath us.
As we passed over the runway the Harvard (Texan) passed on our left – truly an incredible experience to share a patch of sky with such a beautiful aircraft.
The race briefing had called for us to all extend our final leg until we passed the Sasol plant and then turn base for runway 11 – which was a nice idea but suddenly there were 15 aircraft in the circuit so a fair amount of negotiation and communication was required to ensure a safe circuit. We were asked to call on final, my call was “Race 30, Final approach 11, number 7” We landed with 4 aircraft still on the runway (there are only taxiways at each end at Secunda), were told to keep the speed up and exit ASAP. It was pretty exciting and although I was primed for a late go-around, it wasn’t necessary. It is good to be flying with people who know what they are doing and can follow instructions.
We were marshaled to our parking space and we shut down – still on a buzz from the race. As we were heading back to the clubhouse, one of the officials came over and told us we needed to stay with the plane because we’d come in the top ten and they wanted to scrutineer the plane again. Top ten! For our first race, you could say we were quite happy with that.
|Date||Aircraft||Route||Flight Duration||Total Hours|
|10 August 2019||ZU-IBM||FASC(Secunda Aiport) – FASY||0.9||161.7|
Unfortunately we weren’t able to stick around for the prizegiving in the evening – we needed to get back to Johannesburg. The trip back to Baragwanath was uneventful apart from the significant headwind which reduced our groundspeed to around 99 knots. The wind at Bara had picked up – 90degrees to the runway and quite blustery – it was probably the most challenging crosswind landing of the year so far!
When the official race results were published it turns out we came 5th overall (handicap speed corrected) and 6th in terms of track accuracy – how little our distance flown varied compared to the 125.57nm route. We flew 129,4 nm. A good result for newbies. I’m sure this won’t be our last!