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The final competition day has arrived, and today we will fly in the afternoon group again. This is our first competition that will require a fourth day of flying. Most competitions are only one day. Nationals, that happens once a year (and determines the South African team), are normally three days long. By now our morning routine goes like clockwork. We are really hoping to finish on a high note after an exhausting Day 3.
The weather continues the pattern of sunshine, and the temperatures are really building. This last day is going to be the hottest so far. With a 13:16 p.m. take-off time, we expect a bumpy and turbulent flight. The typical summer weather pattern in this area is extreme heat that causes rising air to build cute fluffy cumulus cloud into towering afternoon thunderstorms. Fortunately for the competition, no storms are expected as there is an upper air high pressure preventing cloud development. Unfortunately for us, it means there will be no respite from the heat. Today we are also expecting the wind speed to increase to about 10 knots and gusting. At take-off time, the outside temperature shows 37įC.
We have an excruciating 4 hour wait in quarantine. There is no air flow in the hangar but there is not much shade outside the hangar. We spend the few hours alternating between chatting to visiting teams and pouring water over ourselves, clothes and all, only to be dry again moments later.
The route today is called the Gold Route, and we know that this means we will be flying south of Brits and over the Magaliesburg Mountains. While most gold mines in the immediate vicinity are now defunct, the city of Johannesburg began as a 19th-century gold-mining settlement and is riddled with old mine shafts and tailings (waste) dumps. To the south and east of Johannesburg, gold mining continues at ever deeper mines, with the deepest reaching an incredible 3.8km below surface.
We find out during briefing that today will also include an away landing. However, yesterday's controversial decision means that today's runway at Silver Creek Gorge also falls foul of this regulation (the runway is narrower than 12m). The solution is that we will follow the procedure as if it were a landing, but we will do a missed approach instead of a touch and go.
I have mixed feelings about this. This is one of the few away runways that I have flown to before the competition, and I know it relatively well, but it is a tricky runway. Narrow, humped near the middle like a beached whale and surrounded by hills, this is no easy place for a spot landing. Instead, the scored landing will be at Brits on our preferred runway 02.
We are allowed to go to our aircraft 25 minutes before we receive our papers, but we decide to limit our time standing in the sun. We give ourselves 10 minutes, enough time to pre-flight and double check everything is in place. The plot has 16 turn points, including a start, intermediate finish, intermediate start and finish. This gives us 32 minutes from papers time to take-off.
I turn the aircraft so that Iaan is at least seated partly in the shade. Besides the sweltering heat, the plot goes smoothly. Local knowledge really helps as many of today's turn points are dam walls and other features that he can "guess" without needing to follow the complicated clues down to the last decimal place. I spend some of my time studying the intermediate start point so that I can avoid yesterday's mistake.
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Iaan looks up from the plot in time for us to roll down the runway. And we roll and roll and roll, using most of the 900m runway. We normally take off in about 300-400m but today we used an extra 250m to get airborne. Iaan's eyes start to widen as the trees beyond runway 20 get much closer to our undercarriage than usual. We are still comfortably clear but there is a reason that the locals call the area 'hot and high'. The combination is impacting our engine performance noticeably today. This is also the reason that this downhill runway 20 is preferred for take-off. We have 9 minutes to get to the start, and I use every single one to slowly climb towards the start point located southeast of the airfield.
The start point is a Y- junction road next to a distinctive canal. We know it well enough that we could find it in our sleep and fly over it four seconds early. We try to settle down the adrenaline for the first leg so that we can focus. We need to continue to climb as much as possible because we will be flying over the Magaliesburg mountains within the next few minutes. While the visiting teams probably think that we are crazy to call this a mountain, it is still significantly higher than the surroundings. We need to climb from the airfield altitude of 4200ft to our normal rally altitude of 5200ft and then an additional climb to 6200ft to clear the 'mountain'.
Our first turn point is the toll booth on the N4 highway that links Brits to Pretoria. We spot the toll booth from a distance, and find our first en route photo in the process, but struggle with the timing and I fly over the point 28 seconds early. This is the first sign that we have a pesky wind to deal with.
The second leg is an arc with the turn point being the Hartebeespoort Dam wall, which takes advantage of a narrow valley in the Magaliesburg mountains. We spot a few more en route photos and this builds confidence that we are on track, but the actual turn point is obscured by the mountains. Knowing where it is but being unable to see it is incredibly frustrating. We are early again. I try to fly to fly along the invisible 'gate' without crossing it for as long as I can before I have to turn. This is a bit of a guessing game in the air as you can't see these magical scoring lines, but somehow, I manage to cross the turn point at the exact time for a bingo.
The Hartebeestpoort Dam wall in a gap between the Magaliesburg Mountains
Leg 3 takes us surprisingly close to the Pelindaba nuclear research centre. This is where South Africa previously tested and developed nuclear energy and weapons applications. This is prohibited airspace that also borders Lanseria International Airport's airspace. It is no surprise really that we normally avoid this area as getting disoriented could have some serious consequences. Now over the northern ridge, this area will slowly change from smallholdings to more formal agriculture as we fly west, continuing for many kilometres down the wide valley that hosts the Hartebeestpoort Dam. The turn point itself is a T- junction. On the map there are a series of small farm roads. The turn point must be one of these. There is nothing distinguishing about any of them, and we resort to counting roads and aligning to the peak of a nearby koppie to identify the correct one. After this navigation struggle, we identify the turn point and cross the gate 11 seconds late. We will find later that many teams struggled on this leg and one of the top three teams missed the turn point completely.
On leg 4, conditions really start to conspire against us. It is a very short leg, but we are now flying directly into a headwind. Early in the leg we realise we are behind on our time, compounded by arriving late at our previous turn point. With our reduced performance, even at full throttle, I can get up to 85 knots airspeed and it is not enough. I am loathe to dive for more airspeed because we will soon be crossing back over the dreaded Magaliesburg. Added to that, the turbulence from the heat and the wind rotors over the mountains make for an extremely unpleasant experience. We bump along, tensing every muscle while hoping to speed up but we are 31 seconds late for the turn point. Now we must deal with a long leg that continues down the valley, still against the wind. Reminiscent of Stellenbosch last year and over-tired, I am ready to throw in the towel and return home. The conditions are nowhere near as severe as that experience, but I am no longer enjoying myself. Iaan does some smooth talking and convinces me to continue.
I manage to regain the lost time on the 5th leg, and somehow cross the turn point exactly on time again for another bingo, but my focus is now more on flying the plane than on managing time as we bounce all over the place.
Turn point 6 is a road river crossing, further up the valley. The river crosses the main road to the left, and a minor road to the right, within a few hundred metres of each other. I see a road river crossing and point to it for confirmation. I am flying as fast as possible towards it as I continue to fight the headwind. As we get within 30 seconds, I slow down and Iaan realises that there has been a huge miscommunication. I am flying to the main road instead of the minor road. We are lucky that they are close enough that we still fly through the timing gate, but we are 14 seconds late as I have timed the wrong place.
Another right turn takes us on our second arc returning over the Magaliesberg to the intermediate finish point at the Buffelspoort Dam wall. I always dread flying an arc over the mountain. Managing timing, altitude and your track is difficult with the visibility obscured by the hills and little civilisation up the steep slopes to navigate by. I kept our altitude along the last few legs in the valley, so we don't need to climb much to cross the mountain. I just need to stay on the arc so that Iaan can see the inevitable photos and I can maintain my timing. We are quite familiar with this area from our training and know the Silver Creek Gorge airfield well. This benefits us immensely as I cross the intermediate finish point exactly on time for our third bingo of the day. Now to set up for the missed approach and the intermediate start point.
I join overhead Silver Creek Gorge. The great thing about the missed approach is that I can focus on finding the intermediate start point rather than setting up for a landing. Still being extremely high from our mountain crossing, I use the time to descend before following the runway heading at about 500 feet. I pause for just a moment to look at the beautiful scenery below. Silver Creek Gorge is an aviation and wildlife estate and I hope to spot a few Wildebeest, Zebra or Nyala below us.
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Immediately we are back into focus mode. The second half of the route starts at a T-junction just outside the mining town of Mooinooi. We will be heading north over the platinum and chrome mining belt towards Rustenburg before we return east towards Brits.
Having studied it closely before take-off, I identify the intermediate start point easily enough and I bingo the timing. This leg is a follow the feature and I follow the tarred road, keeping it to our right so that Iaan can look for photos. He spots a few en route photos as well as our only ground marker of the entire competition. Feeling settled again, I cross turn point 9 a mere three seconds early. This road stream crossing would not be particularly visible from any other direction but because we are following the road, it is difficult to miss.
How big is a ground marker?
Leg 10 takes us over the width of the Rustenburg Platinum Mine and has an interesting turn point at the "End of railway". This mine is completely underground but it's location is given away by the enormous amount of infrastructure, processing plants and waste dumps on the surface. I am 4 seconds early at the end of the railway and turn left to turn point 11, which is next to the Bospoort Dam. These last few legs have been much less turbulent as we move away from the mountains, and I start to relax as the timing and navigation are now going well. I am 2 seconds late at turn point 11 and we turn right to fly east along the length of the dam.
This leg is short, and I am slow to realise that our return east means that we now have a tail wind. I fly over the tiny gravel road-stream crossing 23 seconds early. To add insult to injury, we struggle to identify the turn point photo. Once past it I try to get Iaan to look back, but he isn't exactly sure where it should be, and it is impossible to see behind us. Not spotting the feature, I mark it false. Spoiler alert, it was true.
Now realising that we have a tailwind, and seeing that we are still early, I try to slow down. Still nervous of the turbulence, I struggle to fly slow enough. I do a half-hearted 's' turn as we get distracted by trying to identify some en route photos. I cross the turn point 31 seconds early. This is almost as bad as missing it completely.
At this point we have been busy for 2 hours in the heat. The stress of the conditions and the fatigue from 3 days of competition are taking their toll. Our concentration levels have dropped off completely. To counter this, we always have water and snacks in the plane, but as always, we have forgotten to eat or drink any of it. With only 2 legs left, we quickly grab a bite of an energy bar, trying to ignore the perspiration pouring off us.
Leg 14 has a strong tailwind again, and even though we spot the turn point from a distance, I only manage to lose part of the time gained and cross the powerline river crossing a wretched 14 seconds early. The last leg is almost at the same heading. Working hard to lose some more time, I cross the intersection at the finish point, and identify the turn point photo as false. Glad to be finished, I think we are within a few seconds.
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This is it, the last landing of the competition. In these hot conditions, Bonsai our tiny Jabiru, loves to float. She turns into a mini glider. Normally this would be fantastic, but I am trying to land on a line that is only 2 metres wide. The turbulence also means that it is tough to maintain your altitude and speed as precisely as normal. Little pockets of lift and sink, particularly on short final can ruin your entire approach. The time to fly from one end of the box to the other (57m) is less than 3 seconds, which does not give much time to correct for that extra metre of lift that you just got. I manage to land in B box, within 10m of the line and score 20 for my landing. What a way to finish the flight. I am absolutely thrilled.
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As we stand outside the scoring office to wait our turn, the Czech team that took off 3 minutes ahead of us told us that the heat and turbulence was so bad on their flight that it made the pilot nauseous and he strongly considered abandoning the rest of their flight. It didn't make me feel much better.
At our scoring debrief, we are surprised to learn the finish point photo was actually true. Perplexed, I quickly study the map and our track. We don't have much time with the judges before we need to either protest or accept the score. I realise that I made an assumption about the finish point. In the tiny circle on the map is more than one feature. I assumed that the finish was at a road intersection when in fact it was a river crossing. We are lucky that we scraped through the timing gate at all and were 13 seconds early. Obviously, I identified the photo incorrectly too as I was looking at an entirely different feature.
We finished the day with a score of 1117. We are not happy and I know I could have flown better. Thankfully, Iaan has seen a record 11 photos (out of 20) and a ground marker giving us an observation score of 635 penalty points. Of these, 200 are from my incorrectly identifying turn point photos. The timing score was 462 and included a fantastic 5 bingos, which were completely offset by 4 turn points that were more than 20 seconds out. This places us 27th overall and 8th of the South African teams on the day.
THE INTERNATIONAL EVENING
With the competition now over, we have a full day to rest and recover before the final results come out at the formal closing ceremony tomorrow night. But first, we celebrate at the International Evening. It is a long running tradition that the international evening takes place after the last flying day and all the teams gather in the airfield clubhouse to share traditional food and drink from their country and to get to know each other. Now that we aren't competing with one another, chatting is easier, and we turn from strangers to friends over many local brews.
The Germans set out their Jagermeister and sweets, the French have a vodka-apple juice mix, Lithuania has a variety of herbal infusions, Cyprus dish out brandy and Soutzoukos, Austria shares heaps of wafer biscuits and chocolates, while Norway has brought Salmon. The South Africans set out a spread of Boerewors rolls (traditional sausages on bread rolls) accompanied by Springbokkie shots. Springbokkies are a mix of locally made Amarula cream liqueur topped with a layer of mint liqueur that represent our national (rugby) team, called the Springboks. Someone organises a "bokdrol spoeg" competition and the visiting teams enthusiastically volunteer until they find out that the aim of the sport is to spit buck dung as far as you can. Yes, this is a real, albeit not particularly popular, sport.
The International Evening
The competition closes the next day with a magnificent formal dinner at the Fatherland Lodge. The teams all dress in their national colours and now it feels like we have really earned them. The final overall results are published and even after four days, scores are tight! The cancelled landing on Day 3 has made a huge impact on the overall results and has ruffled many feathers.
We finished in 25th overall, and 7th out of the South African Teams. We finished in a tied 10th place overall for landings (12th if you count the ties ahead of us) and tied for 3rd out of the South African teams. This is a massive improvement from the National Spot Landing Competition mere weeks ago where I came stone last.
We are so overjoyed to have improved our standing in the South African teams even if we beat 8th place by just 1 point. We are also only 1 point behind the 24th team overall.
The World Rally Flying Championships 2022 are now over. It was hard work but so much fun. We still feel a bit shellshocked and it is hard to believe that we have actually competed in a World Championship! But wow what an experience. We have made so many new flying friends, learnt so much and gained enormous amounts of experience.
Our brains are already whirling, conniving and planning on how to improve and get to the next World Championships! Hope to see you all in France 2024Ö
For more of Iaan and Tarryn's adventures go to
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