What started out in 1995 as a dream has today grown into a major operation at Rand Airport, Johannesburg. The early years saw Henley Air using one Bell Jet Ranger, today their extensive fleet includes a large variety ranging from the Robinson R22 to the Agusta 119 Mk II.
Henley air is renowned for the quality of its training and on Saturday 11 April during its annual skills day pilots had the opportunity to put those skills at the test.
A course was laid out on the grass apron opposite the hangers and nine teams took part. Each team consists of a pilot and co-pilot. The aim of the exercise is for the pilot to navigate a helicopter in such a way that the co-pilot. Teams must familiarize themselves with the course layout before the start of the day's competition. Laminated cards showing the layout of the course are provided for the pilot and co-pilot to use for navigation during the exercise.
Each team begins with 500 points. The aim is to pass the bucket filled with water successfully through each of the gates in ten minutes or as close to 10 minutes as possible. No points are deducted if the course is completed between 9½ minutes and 10½ minutes. Five points are deducted for every 30 seconds between 10½ and 12 minutes and 10 points for every 30 seconds under 8 minutes and over 12 minutes. Points are deducted for faults as described below. The team with the highest number of points at the end of the competition is declared the winner.
Ten points are deducted for each gate missed. A missed gate is defined as passing the bucket too high over the flags or outside the uprights of the gate and then proceeding on to the next gate. Teams can repeat a gate until it has been completed successfully. Twenty points are deducted for each gate passed in the wrong sequence.
For the gate section of the course, the rope must be extended to the first marker. For the target part of the course, the rope must be extended to the second marker i.e. the full length of the rope. Twenty five points are deducted if the bucket is landed on the target from any rope length other than the full rope length. After take-off, the co-pilot must carefully lower the bucket until the first marker on the rope is reached. The co-pilot must then keep holding the rope with their left hand at this marker for the duration of the gate part of the course. Twenty five points are deducted every time that the co-pilot tries to make the rope shorter or longer than the first marker and 5 points are deducted each time the bucket touches the ground during the course.
Ten points are awarded to the team's score if the bucket is placed on the target. Nil points are awarded to the team's score if the bucket is not placed on the target. Points are awarded to the team's score based on the distance the bucket is from the centre of the target. The closer the bucket is landed to the centre of the target, the more point's teams are awarded and 5 points are deducted for every ½cm of water lost from the bucket during the exercise.
A fresh early autumn breeze did not make the teams tasks any easier. However, by the end of the day all teams had completed the course. The winners were Devon Coetzee & James Roberts flying a R22 who finished on 560 points. Only 10 points behind were Michael Eichbaum & Byron Benson also in a R22 with 550 points followed closely by David Sacks & Ockert Engelbrecht in a R44 with 545 points in third place. The battle for 3rd, 4th and 5th were even closer. Grant Brook James Roberts in a R44 took 4th place with 542 points whilst Byron Benson Michael & Eichbaum in a R22 also with 542 points were placed 5th.
Nic van Zyl & Johan van Zyl in a R44 finished in 6th place with 523 points and Ockert Engelbrecht & David Sacks in a R44 in 7th with 508 points. Sonia Goncalves & Susana Moreirathe the only lady competitors in a R44 finished in 8th place with 475 whilst Justin Cook & Antony Rodrigues in a R44 9th with 473 points.