SA National Ballooning Championships 2018

By Willie Bodenstein

Ballooning, which history can be traced back for hundreds of years, is the first time that man successfully took to the sky and today, as it probably was then, people still stop at the roadside to admire the colourful spectacle of these giants piloted by intrepid men and woman silently gliding through the air.

Photo by Tracy Robb

Hosted by the Balloon and Airship Federation of South Africa (BAFSA) the Afrox South African Hot Air Balloon Championships 2018 was held from 22 to 25 June 2018 at the Bill Harrop's "Original" Balloon Safaris Clubhouse Pavilion in Skeerpoort, Northwest.

Photo by Tracy Robb

Since the majority of Balloon Pilots in South Africa are professionals who earn their living flying balloons on weekend excursions, this year BAFSA decided to run the SA National Championships on weekdays to allow more pilots to participate in the event.

With ten men and one lady plus R35, 000 worth of prizes and the grand title up for grabs this year's championships, the 38th edition of the National Balloon Championship was a huge success and bodes well for the sport in SA.

Bill Harrop

Bill Harrop, a well-known personality in the ballooning and tourism communities alike said: "We at Bill Harrop's "Original" Balloon Safaris are proud to host the championships this year. We are committed to our industry and to showcasing our exciting sport".

Richard Bovell chairperson for BAFSA

"This event is the culmination of many months of hard work and organisation by a select committee who have adopted a revised format and new venue in the hope of attracting increased pilot attendance and we are delighted to welcome all eleven pilots competing this year! I am very proud to personally welcome this year's event title sponsor Afrox, a member of Linde group, who have contributed most generously to the event this year, and who are not strangers to the hot air ballooning community as we all enjoy years of great service and gas under the leadership of this premium brand. The event is under the expert directorship of International Event Director, Mathijs de Bruijn, who joins us from Germany. Our thanks and appreciation to the numerous event sponsors, volunteers, officials and supporters for making this event possible". Richard Bovell chairperson for BAFSA said.

Event Director Mathijs de Bruijn

Mathijs is no stranger to SA National championships having been our Event Director several times. In the last 15 years Mathijs has travelled a lot and directed many competitions in countries developing our sport. As such he has directed national championships in Italy, Spain, France, Hungary, Austria, Germany, Netherlands, Russia, Ukraine, Australia, United Kingdom, Belgium, South Africa, Brazil, Poland, Latvia and China.

What most people do not realise is that all hot air balloons are considered aircraft and are registered with the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) as such. Pilots, as well as their balloons must be licenced to operate and to participate in the championships.

Competitors from all over the country as well as one from neighbouring Zimbabwe all congregated at Bill Harrop's Original Ballooning Safaris the base of operations for this year's championships.

During the championships pilots were required to complete a number of tasks set by the Events Director. These tasks have been created to ensure precision, accuracy and planning, the attributes each and every pilot needs to have and execute as they compete for the prestigious title. Since Hot Air Ballooning is a weather dependent sport the Event Director evaluates the weather data when making the final task decisions just a few hours before the actual tasks are to be executed.

Tracy Robb during the pre-flight briefing

Pilots at the briefing

A pre-flight briefing when the day's task is explained is held before each flight and then it's up to the pilots to put their plan of action into practise.

Photo by Tracy Robb

Pilots dropping their markers at a target. Photo by Tracy Robb

If the day's task is a Hare and Hounds competition pilots will follow a hare balloon and attempt to achieve a mark or valid track point close to a target displayed by the hare no more than 2 meters upwind of the basket after landing. The result is the distance from the mark or closest valid track point to where the target is.

Approaching a target

Photo by Tracy Robb

Dropping their markers. Photo by Tracy Robb

Should the Competition Director decide on a Pilot Declared Goal task the pilot will attempt to achieve a mark or valid track point close to a goal selected and declared by him. The result is the distance from the mark or closest valid track point to the nearest valid declared goal.

Approaching a target and almost ready to drop their marker

Photo by Tracy Robb

Dropping their markers. Photo by Tracy Robb

In the event of a Judge Declared Goal pilots will attempt to achieve a mark or valid track point close to a set goal selected and by the judge. The result is the distance from the mark or closest valid track point to the target displayed or goal.

Another competitor almost ready to drop their marker at a target

Photo by Tracy Robb

Ready to drop a marker. Photo by Tracy Robb

In the Maximum Distance Double Drop pilots will attempt to achieve two marks or valid track points far apart in the scoring area. The result is the distance between the marks or furthest track point. Greatest distance is best.

Competitors, after having chosen a launch site, preparing to get airborne

All of the above rest on the knowledge of the competitors of the prevailing wind conditions and the changes of direction and strength at various altitudes. This knowledge is crucial to find their own launch areas and attempt to achieve a mark or valid track point close to a set goal or target.

Photo by Tracy Robb

With the newest pilot in the competition sporting just 100 hours right up to the competitor with just over 2000 hours this year's nationals was a close run affair.

Dave Mac Gregor…………….
Danie Minnaar

Dave Mac Gregor, owner of Drakensberg Ballooning and winner of SA champs 2017 will be representing South Africa in the World Champs this year. David represented South Africa in 2014 at the Hot Air Ballooning World Championships in Brazil. He finished in 7th place.

Danie Minnaar who was placed second in 2017 had his first flight as a passenger that resulted in him pulling a balloon out of a river. As a youngster he flew gliders in high school and fixed wings with his dad. Danie this year finished in 1st place.

Alan Turner…………… Daniel Honibal

Alan Turner who finished in 4th place in 2017 fell in love with ballooning when photographing the National Champs a few years ago. Alan was a hang glider pilot for many years and loves both disciplines. Alan was placed 9th this year.

This was Daniel Honibal, a maize and soya farmer who first flew with David Mac Gregor in Winterton. This is his first national as a pilot in command. Daniel works full time for Drakensberg Ballooning as a pilot. He was placed 4th.

Richard Bovell………….. Felicity Clegg

Richard Bovell, current BAFSA Chairperson and whose inspiration to start flying was "The girl next door!" He was co-pilot from day one and has never looked back He has won SA Nationals twice - 1981 and 2009. He finished in 3rd place.

Felicity Clegg - the only lady pilot competing this year with 2000 ballooning hours is clearly passionate about ballooning. Felicity built a balloon in 1981. In the early 90's she moved to Johannesburg and this is when she got her licence. Felicity finished in 5th place.

Marc Nuthall…………… Paul Mulder

Marc Nuthall, a full time pilot with Bill Harrop's "Original" Balloon Safaris and who is passionate about training and growing the sport. Marc started ballooning in 1998 and got his licence in 2000. He currently has just over 1600 hours and he was placed 2nd.

Paul Mulder, another first time competitor as pilot in command has crewed and "rookied" for years. He works for Hot Air Ballooning SA on a full-time basis and loves what he does, Paul finished in 6th place.

Jim Seton-Rogers…………… Harmen Vogelzang

Jim Seton-Rogers who is affectionately known in the community as "Jim from Zim" joined all the way from Zimbabwe. Jim flew conventional aircraft from 1970 - 2016. He has about 280 hours on balloons and was placed 10th.

Harmen Vogelzang another full time pilot with Bill Harrop's "Original" Balloon Safaris who has participated in the Guinness World Book of records and loves seeing the world as "angels do" was placed 8th.

Brad Smith

Brad Smith started ballooning in 2001 and currently has 1800 hours. Although he has never participated in a competition, with this being his first, he has officiated and helped organise various competitions both in South Africa and Internationally. Brad finished in 11th place.

Photo by Tracy Robb

From left to right: Marc Nuthall 2nd palce, Danie Minnaar 1st place and Richard Bovell 3rd place. Photo by Haanke Fourie.

The SA Nationals was an almost perfectly organised and incident free event. Hosting it at Bill Harrops was a stroke of genius and running it during the week assured that all balloon pilots had the opportunity to compete. No doubt organising it must have involved blood sweat and tears, but judging by the myriad of media present on the Monday the exposure gained not only for BAFSA and Bill Harrop's "Original" Balloon Safaris as well as for the numerous sponsors must be pricelist.

Our thanks to BAFSA and Bill and his incredible team for hosting Pilots Post. The breakfast was scrumptious, the ambiance wonderful and the absolutely amazing. It was without a doubt, in our opinion, the aviation event of the year.


Events 2018

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