PTAR- to GPS or not to GPS

By Rob Spencer-Scarr

Dear Air Racers,

A01Less than 3 weeks to go to get racing in Bloemfontein, get your entries in, visit the website to register.

Then we have a "BIG" question to ask of all our racers on the use of GPS, "To GPS or not to GPS. That is the question...................."

The Governor General's Cup which became the State President's Air Race and then the President's Trophy Air Race has been run since 1937 with only a couple of breaks during the war years but pretty much has been the leader in the world with this type of amateur air event. It invites anyone with a pilot's licence and a bit of experience to test his skills in accurate flying and navigating at the maximum speed his aircraft is capable of doing.

It is the one event that allows the weekend warriors to spend three days amongst friends and peers and to experience the adrenalin rush of flying as fast as possible whilst pitting his skills against those who would beat him to the line. Over the years the types of aircraft have changed and, in most cases have got more powerful and faster and, in the last decade or two, we have seen the advent of the smaller and lighter machines that are built out of materials so light that their power to weight ratios allow them to fly even faster than some of their larger brethren.

However, by far the most dramatic advances have been made in the field of navigation with NDBs and VORs initially and the advent of the amazing GPS. As the GPS has become more reliable and more satellites are positioned to ensure accuracy, we are beginning to wonder why we should not make use of them in our Race. "Aha" you say, "It's about time" and, "Now we all have the same chance as those bastards who always cheat!"

Well you're quite right but there are arguments both ways. For example, in order to keep the ethos of the Race, we should maintain the ban on GPS and force the competitors to navigate the old fashioned way. This is great because we all know how to do it and it's fun but, isn't it a bit like racing a formula 1 car with drum brakes because the disc brakes make it easier ........?

The argument for using GPS is equally as compelling because it will eliminate so many of the problems that we have experienced of late especially with the new glass cockpits that are fast becoming more and more popular. It would be very simple for us to allow them to be used and see where it takes us.

We believe that the result will be much closer racing with nobody getting lost or missing turn-points. The skill in this type of racing will be more in the pilot rather than the navigator as is the case at present. It will mean using wind, the elements and altitude more carefully.

"But hold on a minute.............." I hear you shout, "what does the navigator do then?" Well, here's the choice we have. Do we just let the navigator go along for the ride and have him shout encouragement to the pilot or do we give him some work to do as well? Perhaps, like rally and precision flying we could have points along the route that have to be over flown within a certain distance and penalty points given if too far away, or some photo recognition to be done.

The PTAR has evolved in so many ways over the years and we are now standing, yet again, at a crossroad. ....................... Do we embrace technology or do we maintain the status quo? In order to assist us in making this decision we would appreciate your input and opinion on the subject and it is probably going to be easiest if you answer the question in one of the following ways.

1. Do we keep things as they are?
2. Do we allow GPS usage with no restriction?
3. Do we design some sort of criteria that at least lets the navigator do some work as well?

We would sincerely appreciate your feedback and comments on this subject if you can email and look forward to seeing you in Bloemfontein at the end of May.

Yours in Air Racing
Rob Spencer-Scarr


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