The Aircraft Unlimited Witbank Speed Rally 2021

Text by Rob Jonkers.
Photos by Willie Bodenstein, Rob Jonkers and Russell Dixon-Paver

This first of the 3rd Season Aircraft Unlimited Speed Rallies for 2021 has been held at Witbank, organised by SAPFA and hosted by the Witbank Aeronautical Association. This event was held virtually a year ago at the same venue. The world of course has changed substantially since then, although it seems yesterday that we were last here. It has for sure been an event fraught with challenges, from the start of having to postpone it from the original planned date of 6 February as the last throes of cyclone Eloise was still drenching the Highveld, to having to line up a new support ground team (as many of the stalwarts were not available a week later), to having to ride through a number of mistakes on the day. Nevertheless, the end result was at least a safe and successful rally.

Some of the aircraft when we arrived

There were 30 entries, quite a full field given the current situation, with a number of local aircarft taking part. Three flight schools entered, Legend Sky from Rhino Park, Mach 1 from Springs and a large contingent with 5 entries from Bird Aviation based at Vereeniging Airfield. The weather outlook seemed to be poor, and on Friday the wind was pumping at between 15 - 20kts from the north-east with 6/8 cloud, with the forecast for Saturday giving low cloud with afternoon rain - seems the next tropical depression was on its way from the east coast.

More competing aircraft

The Friday afternoon initial briefing started at 18h00, with Rob Jonkers who took to the stage and provided a briefing on what to expect for the next day in terms of the planned route, how many turnpoints, distance, departure and arrivals protocol, and a weather outlook. After this Jonty did his signature event promotion of handing out race numbers, where after the club provided a nice dinner spread, before retiring for the evening.

When Kobus Jacobs on Friday after the test flights landed his Kitfox on the grass runway and found after stopping that he had somewhere picked up a puncture and that a wheel was completely deflated. That was no problem for the friendly people of the Witbank Aeronautical Society who in the spirit of aviation chipped in without being asked and soon the wheel was as good as new.

Saturday morning dawned with more promising weather, the predicted low cloud did not materialise, and by 9 am the cloud base had risen to 6500 ft, with a still strong easterly wind. The briefing was held at 08h00 am and was concluded at around 08h30, where everybody dispersed first for a group photo and then to park their aircraft and prepare for the scrutineers. The route for the day was intended to be a scenic one, mostly north of the Loskop dam in the Groblersdal area which has many rivers and hills.

Saturday mornings briefing, competitors and organisers. Photos by Russell Dixon-Paver

Each team were supposed to get their envelops with their loggers 20 minutes prior take-off, somehow the papers hand-out team received an incorrect time list which showed an hour ahead of when the papers were supposed to be given. Although the first 5 aircraft were given their papers early, once the mistake was realised, a reset had to be brought into effect. 1st take-off was at 09h53 for the slowest aircraft and last take-off at 10h40, with planned arrival at 11h30.

Some of the competitors prior to take off

With all the competitors off towards the northwest, the route had a mix of easy and challenging turnpoints, especially TP6 which required good navigating skills to find the canal and road crossing, from the results this turn point seems to have been difficult to home onto. With the windy conditions the aircraft coming over the line were more spread out than before, most competitors were over the line within 10 minutes, with one straggler that decided a visit to Nylstroom was in orderÖ.

The start line, slowest starts first

Some of the competing aircraft taking off

After all teams having returned and safe on the ground, the scoring team got to work to analyse the results, with the tracks for a number being quite accurate, although some had wobbles, three had got significantly lost.

Nice perfect Track.................Oops - Went to Nylstroom

Some of the competing aircraft returning

Getting the results out on time proved to be a challenge, with changes in the scoring system there were some gremlins that had to be fixed, and that required extra time, also with impending bad weather moving in, many competitors started to depart. Aiming for a 2 pm prize-giving was just not working out, and with too few left at the field, it was decided to postpone the prize-giving to later the day, however a small prize giving was held for the most creative route - which turned out to be the Cessna 310 that found its way to Nylstroom, the trophy for the host club, and the most enthusiastic crew which went to ZS-PJK.

Given the additional time for scoring, and having to check of anomalies of the results, particularly the track error accuracy, it was decided to review gro-pro footage to assess any auto-pilot usage, which given the size of the files, could only be checked the next day. Once the review was done and no anomalies found, could the results be published, although some mistakes crept in when the prize giving information was compiled. Nevertheless the scores in the leader board results are correct (given on the website), and the trophies granted remain with the recipients as given.

Best Flight School Bird Aviation. Photo by Russell Dixon Paver

Best Husband and Wife Tarry and Iaan Myburg

Best Father and Son Chris and Ryan Shillaw

Best Nav 3rd place Promp Roofing Team B Jonty and Jonathan Esser

Best Nav 2nd place Team Century Avionics Mary de Klerk and Phil Wakely with Century's Mark and Sean between them

Best Nav 1 st place Team Fast Flame Henderik and Jandre Loots

Best Speed 3rd place Team Aircraft Unlimited Roger Bozzoli and Nadine Brooker

Best Speed 2nd Team Mighty Mouse John Sayers and Jack Coetzer

Best Speed 1st Team Mad Dogs Ron Strik and Von Hamman

Overall 3rd JB Team JB Switchgear Leon Boutell and Martin Meyer

Overall 2nd Mike Blackburn and Steve B

Overall winners of the Aircraft Unlimited Season 3 Race 1 Chris and Ray Shillaw

Many thanks to the Witbank Aeronautical Association for hosting this fantastic event, supporting with logistics and great meals available throughout the day, Nigel Musgrave as the Safety Officer, Dirk and Louna de Vos doing the scoring, Chester Chandler on handicapping, Marc Robinson with his team from Century Avionics for Scrutineering, Chareen Shillaw for taking on the role of starter, Clarissa for handing out competition papers to the crews. Although there were some hiccups, eventually the participants got airborne. Thanks also extended to Santjie White of the ARCC who always watches over us.

Also thanks to our sponsors, Aircraft Unlimited being our signature Speed Rally Brand Sponsor, Flightline Weekly for sponsoring the race numbers, and our team sponsors, Prompt Roofing, Fast Flame Laser cutting, Century Avionics, Beegle Micro trackers, JB Switchgear.

Our next Speed Rally event will be in Middelburg on the 27th of April 2021

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