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2007 SA National Landing Championships
Story by Johan Naude
A cosy fire was crackling in the fireplace, while the organizers of the National Spot Landing Championships discussed the final preparations for the event in the clubhouse of the Bloemfontein Flying Club. The go/no-go depended on two issues. One, will there be enough participants to make it a worthwhile exercise, and two, what will the weather be like.
At that stage we received 14 possible entries, but the weather forecast painted a gloomy picture of snow on the mountains of the Eastern Cape, and a light south-easterly that would bring the cold front to Bloemfontein on late Friday afternoon. But, we decided to push through.
As I was packing to leave my office on the Friday afternoon, I looked out my lovely panoramic window on the ninth floor of the office building. What I saw was black clouds rolling in, and the tree tops were swaying back and forth in the gusty wind. I saw people down in the street clutching their thick wool jackets, and I thought to myself that the competition was never going to happen.
I thought about the guys flying down to Bloem in this poor weather. Do they know what is waiting here for them? And I thought about Walter Walle and his helpers painting the runway markings in this sub-zero temperature. Things didn’t look good at all, so I called the weather office. The sky would be clear by 10:00 but the maximum temperature would be only 11°C. A 6 knot breeze from the south would be blowing right in the face of the pilots on runway one-niner.
And they were right! When I drew back my bedroom curtains early Saturday morning, I realized that it was going to be great weather for flying. I grabbed my cameras and stuff, and off I went to Tempe Airfield just outside Bloemfontein, where old familiar faces were basking in the sun.
I was greeted by Ron Stirk, current world champion, Mary de Klerk, Barry de Groot, Jan Hanekom, Schalk Kotzé and Hans Schwebel from Brits. Local club members Cobus van der Colf, Martin Deysel and Jack Onderstall were eager to give the experts a run for their money. Two participants, Gordon van Wyk and Radies Rademeyer arrived from the gliding club in a motor glider from the opposite side of the airfield. Unfortunately Jack Onderstall had to withdraw due to alternator problems on his Kitfox.
So after the pilots briefing, there were ten participants that were eager to get going. First out was Barry de Groot. From the start it was clear that these guys had put in lots of practice. Mary de Klerk rode the Cessna 152 as if it was a bicycle. Hans Schwebel seems to be looking at the box through a magnifying glass, as he almost hit “bingo” with every landing!
Local first timer, Martin Deysel did quite well with his Samba XL to finish in forth place, before the reigning world champion. Ron didn’t have a good day behind the stick, finishing in sixth position.
All kinds of confusion broke loose when the two glider pilots in the same aircraft swopped control during flight, and nobody on the ground knew who was in command at what time. The judges had to rely on radio comms and video replays to determine their individual scores.
According to Walter Walle, there were four bingo hits during the day. We saw excellent flying skills displayed throughout the day.
To round off the event, Jack Onderstall gave us a display in his self built Glassair that earned him the trophy of best home built aircraft in 2005. Zooming past at almost 450km/hour at 20’ above the runway, and then shooting up at an unbelievable angle really made all the slow flyers envious
Then it was decision time. The judges went ‘in-camera’ or is it ‘under cover’ for almost an hour, while everybody else watched on the big screen how the Free State Cheetahs demolished the WP guys on home turf only a few kilos away.
And then, in typical Free State style, the day was ended with a braai at the clubhouse. A beautiful trophy was handed to Hans Schwebel. It was a very chilly but fun filled day. On behalf of the Bloemfontein Flying Club, I want to thank all the participants who braved the cold to come and be part of this event.