Sky Grand Prix of Aerobatics Three held on 16 June 2023
By Brian Spurr
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The third running of the Sky Grand Prix of Aerobatics was held at Durban's iconic Virginia Airport on Friday. There was a lot of excitement that this unique event had returned to Durban after a delay of a few years. Covid travel restrictions was one of the reasons for the delay in holding the third one. The first Sky GP was held on the Durban beachfront and the second at Greyville Racecourse. This year it was decided to hold the event at Virginia Airport itself. Previously it had only been the base. The airport has not had a major attraction like this for a number of years, so it was gratifying to see the action returning to the home of many fine air shows in past years.
The event was conceived and presented by Sky Grand Prix (Pty) Ltd, represented by Roger Deare and Nigel Hopkins. Roger's son Christian Deare was very involved with the administration and Roger's wife Leigh was also seen doing much of the background work in order to stage this big event.
Many officials were required on the day. These are some of the people involved, we apologise if there are any omissions: -
Promotor and Contest Organiser - Roger Deare
Contest Director - Annie Boon.
Contest Safety Officer - Cliff Lotter.
Jury President CIVA - Mike 'Spanky' Gallaway.
Chief Judge - Quintin Hawthorne.
Judges - Guy Augur (France); Laszlo Liszkay (South Africa); Johnie Smith (South Africa).
Chief Judge Assistant - Mike Stark.
Registrar and Scorer - Natalie Stark.
Marketing - Katey Watkin.
Sound - Len Heine.
Commentator Mike 'Spanky' Gallaway.
Medical Team - Netcare 911.
The organisers acknowledged the cooperation of the eThekwini Municipality in the staging of this event.
The validations and practice were held on Thursday and the main event on Friday. Thursday saw the competing pilots fly in. The invited unlimited aerobatic pilots were:
Aarron Deliu - An Australian professional aerobatic pilot who is the current Australian Unlimited and Freestyle Champion. He shared Nigel Hopkins' Extra EA-330SC - ZS-XSC.
Aude Lemordant - A pilot for Air France on the Boeing 777 and professional aerobatic pilot from France. She is a previous aerobatic world champion with the French team. Aude shared Mark Hensman's MX2 - N540MX.
Barrie Eeles - He is a business owner and professional aerobatic pilot based in Johannesburg. He flew his Extra EA-330SC - ZS-XBE.
Eugene Du Preez - A businessman and professional aerobatic pilot from Johannesburg. He flew his Extra EA-330SC - ZS-THS.
Mark Hensman - He is a professional aerobatic pilot who resides in Cape Town. He was flying his MX2 - N540MX.
Nigel Hopkins - A Boeing Aircraft Company instructor and professional aerobatic pilot residing in Johannesburg. He is a six time Unlimited and Freestyle South Africa Champion. He flew his Extra EA-330SC - ZS-XSC.
Patrick Davidson - A business director and professional aerobatic pilot from Port Elizabeth. He is the defending Champion having won the previous Sky Grand Prix. He flew his GB-1 GameBird - N71PD.
Elton Bondi was invited but withdrew and did not participate.
The other pilots who flew on the practice day were Tristan Eeles (Barrie's son) in the Extra EA-330C - ZS-XBE; Jason Beamish flying his Extra EA-330LX - ZS-EXT and Johnie Smith a member of the Marksmen Aerobatic Team flying his Extra EA-330LX - ZS-SMI.
Mark Hensman, Natalie Stark and Aude Lemordant;
Tristan and Barrie Eeles;
Eugene du Preez;
The Marksmen walk their routine, Mark Hensman, Johnie Smith and Eugene du Preez;
Aarron Deliu eventual winner from Australia;
Eric Vazeille world aerobatic champion in 2000 and coach of Aude Lemordant relaxing after practice;
On Friday the gates opened at 8am and when Pilot's Post arrived, there were already numerous cars parked outside and queues at the gate. The designated start time was 10am. The last tickets sold out early and after that only ticket holders were admitted. People took their places in the gold, silver and bronze spectator areas and the pre-booked designated picnic sites. The catering facilities were excellent with many differently franchised food and beverage trucks and these were busy all day long. There was also Sky Grand Prix stand that had memorabilia for sale.
Nigel Hopkins & Patrick Davidson
Smoke on & Carving the sky
There was a sell-out crowd of around 5000 people and the gates were closed early on Friday (a public holiday). The weather was clear and cool with a brisk South Westerly wind. The sound system was excellent, provided by Len Heine and his team from Stage Technik S.A. The commentary on the day was expertly done by Mike 'Spanky' Gallaway from Texas and Dave Guselli of East Coast Radio.
The days proceedings began with a parade of the participating pilots who were driven along the crowd line in impressive upmarket cars.
The pilot parade down the crowd line;
This was followed by a parachute jump by four skydivers from a Cessna Skylane. They all made pinpoint landings in front of the loudly cheering crowd. The four jumpers were Vernon Kloppers, Michael Nyman, Francois Wagner and Alan Hosmer from the Durban Skydive Centre.
Cessna Skylane jump plane takes to the sky;
The Grand Prix then commenced with Tristan Eeles, who was not competing, who provided the judges with a chance to gauge the aerobatic box and to do a practice score. The real competition then began with the first section of the event, which is the Known sequence. Here pilots are aware of the sequence in advance so they are able to practice the manoeuvres ahead of time.
Known Sequence. Competitors have to complete the set sequence within a three-minute time period. Failure to do this results in penalty points.
First to go was Mark Hensman in the MX2 and thus began an enthralling day's competition.
The only drama in the first round, was the disqualification of Aude Lemordant the French star who rolled her aircraft the wrong way encroaching on the crowd line. She was free to compete in the other two rounds.
Once all seven pilots had completed their routines and the four judges had scored their efforts the three podium places were 1st Patrick Davidson, 2nd Barrie Eeles and 3rd Aarron Deliu. For full results see below.
There was a small break before the second round. This was filled by an excellent radio-controlled model aircraft flying display. The aircraft was expertly flown by Cliff Chen the Taiwanese champion.
After this the second round or Unknown sequence started. The Unknown sequence is only given to pilots the night before the event so they are unable to do any advance practice. This routine is also limited to three minutes. During this section there was a minor technical problem on Nigel Hopkins' aircraft relating to a canopy locking problem that had to be fixed to ensure it would be completely safe to fly. While the work was being completed, there was another parachute jump and RC model display and then the competition resumed. This section really tested the skills of the pilots and was won by 1st Nigel Hopkins, 2nd Aarron Deliu and 3rd Patrick Davidson. See full results below.
Aude Lemordant & Aarron Deliu
Patrick Davidson & Barrie Eeles
After the two classic aerobatic competition rounds were complete, the totals of each round were aggregated and the first three positions were filled by 1st Aarron Deliu, 2nd Patrick Davidson and 3rd Barrie Eeles.
The next display was a two-ship formation flown by Nigel Hopkins and Jason Beamish. This was a thrilling high energy performance that the pair are famous for. A very tight display of formation aerobatics with some breathtaking passes that had the crowd gasping and cheering.
The last part of the competition was the Freestyle round that enables competitors to have freedom of choice and expression in their routines. The time limit here is extended to four minutes. This is a very interesting round. Each pilot tries to outdo their rivals with new and innovative sequences, trying to impress the judges, in order to be awarded the maximum points. This means no two performances are the same. One pilot's routine scored way above the others and it had a lot of French flair and artistry which had Texan commentator Mike 'Spanky' Gallaway waxing lyrical! The results were 1st Aude Lemordant, 2nd Aarron Deliu and 3rd Nigel Hopkins. See below for the full results and scores courtesy of the CIVA website.
Known: Patrick Davidson, Barry Eeles, Aarron Deliu;
Unknown: Nigel Hopkins, Aarron Deliu and Patrick Davidson;
Combined, Aarron Deliu, Patrick Davidson and Barrie Eeles;
Freestyle, Aude Lemordant, Aarron Deliu and Nigel Hopkins;
Overall, Aarron Deliu, Nigel Hopkins and Barrie Eeles;
Overall champion Aarron Deliu of Australia with his trophy.
After the Sky Grand Prix of Aerobatics was completed, the crowd were treated to a fantastic display by the Leatt sponsored Marksmen Aerobatic Team. The three matching bright red aircraft put on a memorable high-quality display of very tight aerobatic formation flying. The team comprised Mark Hensman, Johnie Smith and Eugene du Preez.
In summary this was an amazing event that caused a buzz all over the North Durban area and it showcased Virginia Airport as a top venue for aviation contests and air displays. Congratulations to all those involved in running the event, let's hope this will now become a regular fixture on Durban's Aviation calendar. We look forward to that.
Some exciting news is that Sky Grand Prix (Pty) Ltd. has entered into discussions to have Sky Grand Prix 04 in the U.A.E (possibly Dubai) and Sky Grand Prix 05 in the United States (possibly Texas). So, the show is aiming to go international. Keep an eye out for developments.