Having been involved in sport aviation for the past 30 years (yes you all know I started flying at the age of 3…) not much has excited me more than getting involved in the Speed Rally Circuit. General Aviation in South Africa, and in the rest of the world, has been in decline for the past decade due to various economic and interest reasons. SAPFA, as a sporting body, have found it very difficult to entice new blood into the sport of Rally and Precision Flying. The youngsters find it too expensive and the oldsters find it too difficult. So unless you started Rally Flying 30 years ago, it pretty much means that entering a Rally is not going to happen…..
Thirty-eight teams took part in the Bethlehem Speed Rally.
Along came Jonty Esser, a seasoned Rally, Precision and Aerobatic pilot. He had the vision to turn this "barrier to entry" into a "need to engage in" sport. In September 2018 he engineered the first Speed Rally in Secunda. This was followed by another one in Springs, then Morningstar, then Middelburg and last weekend in Bethlehem. These events each attract between 30 and 40 participating aircraft and are driving a points log which will be recognised at the end of each year.
Rob Jonkers, the current SAPFA chairman, was opted in to set the routes, and as a seasoned Protea Rally pilot himself, had all the necessary experience to do so. As a Speed RALLY he decided to focus on the RALLY side of the speed curve, and as such upped the ante in terms of the navigation skill requirements. No longer are we flying to open airfields or great big "easy to find" landmarks on the map, but the teams are now required to navigate their way around the course with all GPS aids disabled.
One of the better tracks flown at Bethlehem….and one not so good.
In Bethlehem, this was a huge challenge to even the most experienced Rally pilots and navigators. The Turn Points were rather obscure little cross roads in the middle of nowhere and at the speeds we were flying, were easy to miss. Moving into winter, the ground appears brown and all T junctions and cross roads look the same. This brought the teams to their knees in terms of having to really dig deep in order to find each Turn Point. Many teams missed many Turn Points which cost them dearly in terms of the final results.
For Phil and I in his solid steed C210 ZS CNY, we found it no less difficult. We too battled to find the little Turn Points based on the pictures provided and sometimes found ourselves diving towards the outside of the Turn Point in order to ensure that we did not cut it short. We held our breath until the final results arrived only to find this time we had not missed any of the Turn Points - even though we turned wide on a couple of them. Shew…..!!!!
To the organisation crew as a competitor I say "Hats Off to you"…. Each event is a huge undertaking that is done for love and zero remuneration.
To the sponsors and media crews I say "THANK YOU" for your support. Without you these incredible events would not take place.
Speed Rally is a sport to be recognised and hopefully SACAA and the World FAI will stand up soon and recognise this as an international aviation sport at which South Africa can compete on the world stage.
Current leadership board