DURBAN-LAND SEA AND AIR FESTIVAL SATURDAY 22 MARCH 2014
By WILLIE BODENSTEIN
Saturday was the day everyone has been looking forward to and it did not disappoint. The weather was glorious with clear blue skies. The wind however pumped and for most of the day the pylons remained uninflated. This however did not seem to bother the pilots and as expected the competition was fierce.
The compulsory unlimited course designed by the judges that the ten finalists had to fly included some tricky manoeuvres that caused problems to some of the contestants whilst others failed to complete the course in the prescribed time and incurred heavy penalties.
The overseas contingent consisted of some of the cream of the crop of European Aerobatic Aces and they were expected to do well and took three of the five places finishing in first, second and fourth places. The South African's again showed why our pilots are regarded as some of the best in the world and finished in second and fifth place.
Francois le Vot of France a 43 year old with 4, 000 hours flying time of which 1, 500 are in military jets and the current world number and the 2013 World Aerobatic Champion added the Durban Sky Grand Prix crown to his already impressive list of titles. South Africa's own young aerobatics wiz kid Patrick Davidson finished in second place beating Russia's Mikhail Mamistov who finished third. Local hero, Nigel Hopkins finished in fourth place ahead of the Germany's Phillip Steinbach who finished in fifth position. The rest of the South African's brought up the rear with Mark Hensman seventh, Bertus du Preez in ninth place followed by Barrie Eeles tenth.
An estimated 80,000 visitors flocked to the beaches over the three days. According to sources the eThekwini municipality spend R2, 5 million on the Grand Prix. The publicity value as well as the economic and financial return to local businesses must surely exceed hundreds of millions of Rands.
The Grand Prix was not only an aerobatics competition; there was more than enough to keep the aviation fanatics happy and to delight the casual visitor. Most of the main attractions seen at other airshows were present as well as a few surprise acts that included the SAAF's Gripen and Silver Falcons that thrilled the crowds with their precision flying and did a formation display with an Airbus 319.
As if that wasn't enough adrenal packed action for a day a six nations Free Style Aerobatic Shoot Out was held and the action was simply breath taking. Each new contestant set out to impress the international panel of judges with a display that included manoeuvres that defied the laws of flight and gravity. At the completion of the six flights the two favourites were Nigel Hopkins in the MX2 and Phillip Steinbach in the Sbach, an aircraft that he designed. Unfortunately there could be only one winner and Nigel was narrowly beaten by Germany's Phillip Steinbach.
Phillip Steinbach in the Sbach
Nigel Hopkins in the MX2
The organisers showed that if there is a will, there is a way. The Sky Grand Prix from a spectator's point of view was a huge success and it will hopefully become a regular feature on the airshow calendar.