2017 was not an average year for the South African Sport Aerobatics Club. We had some significant highs, and a few lows too.
We very sadly said good bye to Werner Nel who was tragically lost when his engine failed shortly after take-off at Kitty Hawk. Werner was larger than life character and a rising star in aerobatics; he will continue to be missed by the Sport Aerobatic Club.
One of numerous highs for the club was the Unlimited World Aerobatic Championships that we were fortunate to be able to successfully host for the first time in this country. It was also the first time in the history of international sport aerobatics that all competitors were able to fly all flight programs. We received warm thanks and sincere accolades for hosting the event from many of the competing pilots as well as from many of the international officials.
Although we were very grateful to receive some corporate sponsorship we did not, despite a huge effort, raise as much as we had hoped, yet were still able to pull off a successful event. I would like to single out for special thanks the following club members who went way over and above the call of duty to make the event a success - John Gaillard, Quinton Hawthorn, Annie Boon, Cliff Lotter and of course our honorary member Mel Preddy of Malelane.
In my opinion, the Advanced Class is probably the highest international class that is still purely amateur. I say this because many of the top pilots in the Unlimited Class fly aerobatics professionally on a full time basis, either as aerobatic instructors, airshow pilots, or as part of a military squadron dedicated to competition aerobatics. Against this reality our pilots did really well. It is not difficult to imagine how well pilots such as Nigel, Mark, Patrick, Barrie, Neville and Bertus would do if they had the opportunity to fly 3 or 4 practice flights a day, 5 days a week, with video cameras, judges and coaches over several years. There is no doubt that our boys did us proud both in both the conventional Aresti contest as well as in the four-minute freestyle where Nigel again very narrowly missed getting a podium finish by less than a quarter of a percent.
Staying with the international scene, several of our members continue to shine on the global airshow arena with Team Extreme and the RV Raptors having been invited to perform overseas in 2017. In addition, it is with great pride that we congratulate Patrick Davidson on being selected as a Red Bull challenger pilot for the 2018 season.
The SAC achieved accolades on the local scene too; with the Aero Club of South Africa publically recognising many of our members for numerous achievements this year through various awards, this includes -
Senior Protea Colours to our Unlimited team, being awarded to -
Bertus du Preez
Silver Wings for extraordinary services rendered to the club in connection to the 2018 world championships to -
Special Recognition Award for his contribution to the world championships went to our honorary member -
And Gold Wings for more than 10 years of active service to the SAC to -
This must be close to a record number of local awards for our club, well done to all of you.
Eastern Cape Regionals, Swellendam 2017.
On the local completion front we also had a strong year. There were a total of 121 entries across all our local competitions throughout the year. The average number of competitors for a competition was 15, which is not bad considering that we had 8 contests during the year. A far cry from the days when the SAC only had one contest a year that saw no more than 20 or so entrants. A huge thank-you to the various contest directors and organisers.
Ace of Base, Vereeniging 2017.
I would like to express the committee's appreciation to the following pilots all of whom entered six or more contests in 2017 - Jonty Esser; Conrad Botha; Jason Beamish; Barrie Eeles; Nigel Hopkins; Neville Ferreira and Mark Hensman. Your enthusiasm sets an example for us all, especially those of you who are not based in Gauteng and have therefore had to make a special effort to participate. We also appreciate our members who are based overseas, and yet who make great efforts to arrange their airline flight duty rosters in order to be in SA for many of our contests. Thank you all, you guys are the backbone of this club.
Northwest Regionals, Klerksdorp 2017
No question about it, despite a tough economic environment sport aerobatics in South Africa continues to flourish, and our vibrancy as a club is further crowned with new high tech aircraft continuing to grace the competition flight line every year.
Free State Regionals, Tempe 2017
A huge thank-you to all our judges, many of whom also travel great distances to ensure that our contests are a success. Our judges rank amongst the best in the world and are often invited to judge national contests in countries such as Brazil and Australia, in addition to being invited to most international contests. We had for example 5 internationally accredited judges on the flight line for our final Ace of Base contest.
Finally thank-you to the committee for all their extensive and sustained efforts, guidance and friendship during 2017.
It is my sincere belief that we are entering a new and more prosperous political, social and economic era in South Africa, and this will yield great benefits for us as individuals and as a club.