Daring free falls, flips and loops had locals’ eyes glued to the skies above the Malelane Airfield last week during the National Aerobatic Championship.
The event was hosted by the Sport Aerobatic Club of South Africa (SACSA) and featured 25 of the country’s most skilled pilots.
Seven judges had to keep a close eye on the technical details, and in some cases creativity, of the two or three sequences competitors were required to do between Thursday and Saturday.
Pilots start with sportsman class, then intermediate, advanced and finally unlimited, with the difficulty and complexity of manoeuvres and figures increasing with each class. Pilots need to get a least 70 per cent for a graduate sequence to compete and can then move through the classes as their skills and proficiency develop.
Several locals set up chairs at the airfield or settled in parked cars and on the back of bakkies to watch the pilots’ aerial acrobatics.
On Saturday afternoon the top four pilots treated spectators to a show of skills, daring and creative with crazy spirals, smoke, spine-tingling free falls and other manoeuvres during short freestyle sequences to conclude the competition.
According to the Air Traffic Navigation Services, the event went very well. There was one incident where a pilot had a bit of technical difficulty, but he landed safely.
On Saturday a few marabou storks also posed a challenge, and competitors had to keep a sharp eye out.
During the awards ceremony on Saturday evening, Nigel Hopkins was announced as the overall winner with a first place in both the unlimited overall class and freestyle. Mark Hensman was third in unlimited overall and second in freestyle.
Patrick Davidson was second in the unlimited overall and Neville Ferreira was third in the freestyle class.
In advanced, Gary Glasson, Leigh le Gonidec and Eugene du Preez claimed the top spots. Intermediate winners were Steve Brown, Glen Warden and Adam Pucjlowski.
The sportsman-class winners were Walter Goorich, Dustin Hughes and Jurie Steyn.
Despite being such a small airfield, Malalane has also been chosen as a venue for the World Aerobatic Championship (WAC) in September.
SACSA secretary, Annie Boon said they decided on the Onderberg venue as it has a lot to offer international and national tourists. It also has a low altitude, which is important for aerobatic competitions.
They decided to also hold the national championship in Malalane to identify and iron out any problems before the WAC.
Boon says the pilots, supporters and judges had a lot of wonderful things to say about the area and its people. “A big drawcard is that spouses and families have so much else to do in the area if they get tired of watching aerobatics all day,” she stated.
According to Boon the flying was of a very high standard and safety was, as always, their top priority.
“The pilots brought their A-game and the competition was a huge success. As team manager for the SA Unlimited team, my focus was largely on the performance of the unlimited pilots, as they’ll be presenting SA in September.
“I must say that after nationals I am convinced that RSA will definitely rate high in the medals!” she concluded.