Rand Airport Challenge - 29 January 2011

My First Exposure to Fun Rallies
Johan van der Spuy

I am a student pilot who has nearly completed his PPL – for the second time (it’s a long story). I guess, like most other students, I yearn for the day that I have a license to fly – by myself, where I want to, when I want to – and to REALLY start learning. To fly accurately. To navigate confidently. To know my aeroplane.

I can’t see myself endlessly taking friends up for a ‘flip’ around the patch every weekend. Or, going ‘cross country’ by picking a destination, feeding the ICAO designator into a GPS and following the purple highway on the screen.

So what to do after the PPL? Night rating – yes. Taildragger – yes. Aerobatics – yes (limited mind you!)

Rallying – What?

Maybe… but how do I learn what it’s about?

That’s why I went to Rand Airport on the morning of the 29th January – I heard they were holding the Rand Airport Challenge Fun Rally. Hopefully I could speak to someone who could tell me what it’s about and maybe even get the route, and a copy of the “check point” photos – and sit in a quiet corner by myself and try and figure it out…… boy was I in for a surprise.

Mary De Klerk and Frank Eckard - Professionals. They run the fantastic SAPFA Fun Rally calendar. When I introduced myself to Mary, her enthusiasm for the sport is so evident that it is instantaneously contagious. “ Let’s see if we can get you to fly with someone!” she said.

And that’s where my day, and possibly my future flying career, changed dramatically. One minute I was hoping to stand in a corner and imbibe some wisdom from the REAL pilots, and the next I was being introduced to Mike Cathro who was hitherto flying by himself, but now offering me a seat in Jabiru ZU-CHJ, owned by Esmond Erasmus. I felt apprehensive, and frankly, rather intimidated by my surroundings and company.

But I was put at ease very quickly, by everybody involved. Mike Cathro, I learnt, is and experienced pilot, instructor, and rally participant. His planning was as meticulous as his explanation to me about what was to happen. We set our clocks to the “master” clock, collected a Track Logger and headed to the plane. Even before we had started up, I was learning from Mike – he is an excellent teacher. Our scheduled take off time was 11:10B and we had to cross the start at 11:20. According to the logger, we were airborne at 11:09:58 and crossed the start overhead Rand Water (T-junction Impala Rd and Klipriver Rd) at 11:20:02 – that is how accurately Mike flew ! The whole way! Man, that cockpit gets busy. This was flying – making the plane go exactly where it is supposed to, exactly when it is supposed to.

The route took us nearly directly south. Check Point one – a farm house near Allewynspoort. Got it. Check point two – a creek confluence in Henley-on-Klip. Got it. CP3. CP4. Now, follow the Vaal River, so precisely, all the way to the Dam Wall. 11:58:16 ETA and we were 13 seconds late! It seemed to bother Mike, but I was quietly stunned at how accurately one can Fly! We turned north again at the Eastern shores of the Vaal Dam and headed to CP7, thence to the west of Suikerbosrand Game Reserve. All the while, keeping a strained eye out for the Photos we had to identify on each leg.

“There! Is that the School we are looking for?”. “Nope, not quite. And that one?” . “Yes –that’s it. Time? Distance? Mark it down.”

All in all, we – well, Mike - only had eight time penalties, and we –Mike- only missed three leg photos , giving us a total of 108 penalty points and a Win ! First Place !

So how is that for a stunning day? Went to Rand to maybe be around pilots and photograph some planes – and end up being in the winning plane of the Rand Airport Challenge! Not in my best imaginary scenario did I hope to learn as much as I actually did in one morning.

So, if you’ve ever thought that maybe you should look into joining a fun rally, DO IT ! It really is fun – but more importantly you will learn to sharpen a variety of skills, and learn a lot about flying precisely.

Thanks a million to Mike Cathro, and Esmond. And thanks to Mary de Klerk and Frank Eckard for the fantastic introduction to Rallying. Thanks also to sponsors Karcher, Avimaps and AP.

I will be doing more Fun Rallies soon, when I have my PPL.

Johan

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