The Two Oceans Aerobatic Competition took place over the weekend of the 31st January and the 1st February 2009. This weekend was the culmination of months of planning by a large part of the Cape Town and upcountry slope pilots and families, to whom we are extremely grateful to for all the time and effort invested in achieving a hugely successful event. This was the first time that an open slope aerobatic competition had been held in Cape Town and maybe South Africa since the late 1980’s and so was something new to most of us.
Very few of us had any idea what we were letting ourselves into, but realised there was a need to create, define and implement a level of disciplined flying that had been lacking in our general approach to slope flying, and in that manner improve the overall level of pilot skills present on the slope on any given day.
When the T.O.S.S. (Two Oceans Slope Soarers) committee started planning the event they realised that no matter what, without judges, they simply did not have an event. To that end they called in the help of John Lightfoot, aka Harry S Hawk, who is well known to many in the aero modelling fraternity through the publication of Southern Soaring Club articles, to assist with defining the aerobatics schedule.
Things have somewhat changed since the 80’s with regard to aircraft speed and energy retention, and many of the pilots fly v-tailed type speed ships which are not pure aerobatic craft, but would have to do for this event, as time was short and some serious practice required by most.
A format for the competition was decided upon and after much deliberation a sequence of eight manoeuvres was settled upon. This included a Split ”S”, Immelman turn, Inverted flight for 5 seconds, Double Immelman, Cuban Eight, Slow roll, Three consecutive loops and Three rolls. As simple as these manoeuvres may sound they are by no means easy while being vigorously blown back at the slope, and stayed true to slope aerobatics need for momentum and energy retention while achieving a level of accuracy and grace that would be appreciated by the eagle eyed judges with score boards in hand.
There was much interest shown country wide, and especially from many of the Durban boys, specifically Dave Greer and Russell Conradt. Dave Greer, sometime previously, had suggested an interesting ‘Half Pipe’ sequence which we felt would be a great variance on the traditional aerobatics routines. This uninterrupted sequence includes the following: a dive to the horizon pulling up into a stall turn, dropping back down onto the horizon, completing a roll, and pulling up into a stall again, back down into a loop, back into the stall turn, dropping down half rolling and pushing through inverted, back into the stall turn inverted, half rolling out and finishing back on the horizon. This sequence was included in the competition as a format where the real test would be energy management throughout the sequence, as opposed to a single manoeuvre with less energy retention required by comparison
A week before the event there were frantic calls between committee members and pilots alike as to what the weather was going to do, was it going to rain?, and most important was the wind going to blow in the right direction for us to be able to fly at Red Hill, the T.O.S.S. home flying site. Guessing the wind in Cape Town is a hazardous affair at the best of times as you can quite easily achieve the 4 seasons in one day based on which part of the peninsula you just happen to be visiting at the time. It's why we like the Cape so much!
The first day of the competition dawned clear and windy just as required, but with a Southerly vent in the wind, rather than the perfect South Easter that was required. Following an entry sign in and confirmation of frequencies, everybody got a great ‘goody bag’ which included a T-shirt, cap, pen, water bottle and a small torch amongst other things, all compliments of a group of very generous sponsors who are listed at the end of this article .
The 16 pilots who had entered awaited a briefing by the judges and Contest Director. Chief Judge was John Lightfoot, and he was more than ably seconded by Johnny Calafarto, who has much power aerobatic experience and judging, and Andrew Anderson, who has much slope experience from past events, and as far back as the last Nationals. Apart from Marc Wolfe, Damien Hinrichsen, Dave Greer and Russell Conradt, few if any of the other entries had any competition experience.
At 10AM the first round was started and the first competitors went down to the south slope at Red Hill which is not ideal as the wind still held to the South much to the CD's distress. There was however enough lift for the guys to complete the first round sequences. Although not ideal the first round was completed and as if on order, and much to everybody’s delight, the wind swung into the South East and the Cape Doctor began to work its magic. A moderate 30 km/h breeze blew straight up the slope for the next two and a half hours, much to everybodys glee and the CD's evident relief, manifested by something resembling a jig performed in the car park overlooking the slope.
The predetermined format was to get two pilots up at a time and have them coming through consecutively, one manoeuvre at a time. For those who have not done this type of contest tandem flying before, it can be a wee bit unnerving, as the need to spy on your competitors successful manoeuvre can be a distracting to say the least.
It takes real focus to keep your eyes and mind on your own plane, while awaiting your turn for the next manoeuvre. By the time all contestants had completed round 1, there were many surprises with some of the less experienced pilots posting points well ahead of a good few of the experienced slope guys who were expected to do a darn sight better. The time well spent in weekend practice sessions was evidently paying off for some.
It was decided that we should have a shorter lunch and try to fly another two rounds while the wind was still favourable. As Anton Benning and Mike Basson were the first pilots in the second round, they launched and climbed for height, but the wind quickly turned Southerly and conditions became shocking in a matter of minutes. Disgruntled competitors and judges alike decided to wait out a possible wind shift later in the day. During this grounding period competitors got much useful feedback and tuition from the judges who gave advice with regard to the calling of a manoeuvre and the importance of the “caller” in the whole scheme of competitive flying.
We had tended to neglect the important role of a “caller” in our practice sessions so it came as quite a surprise to find out just how important a good “team” of pilot and caller can be on the slope. Further advise from the judges included leaving a gap between the ‘commencing’ and ‘now’ calls when performing a manoeuvre as any deviation or wing wobble after ‘now’ was called would cause you to loose points even though the pilot had not even started the manoeuvre. All this added vital information to pilots in the future rounds, which most pilots viewed as being flown far better than the first round. At 4PM we finally conceded to the weather which had not budged an inch from the Southerly direction, and called things off until the next day. Everybody moved down to ‘Dixie’s, a picturesque local watering hole where we enjoyed ourselves with a few cool ales and where the judges were feted with meals and drinks in an unashamed attempt to soften them up for the next day’s scoring. Sadly this did not work! This was our official event dinner and was taken to with much mirth, resulting in some pilots being a bit worse for wear the next morning, while still sporting huge grins and nursing a well earned headache.
Sunday’s wind direction was forecast as South Westerly which would mean that we would have to hold the event at Soetwater in Kommetjie. The Contest Director was seen driving like a possessed madman around the peninsula at 6AM in the morning, in an attempt to see if the wind was I fact from the South West, when a call came through from Theunis van Niekerk asking, “ Where you bru, it's South East!”
The entire fleet of contestants arrived for their breakfast of champions, bacon and eggs breakfast rolls, which the fantastic caterers had supplied on the slope. All were only too happy to see that the wind was firmly out of the South East and the lift conditions were excellent. Once again the flying kicked off at 10AM with more than perfect conditions that were never supposed to exist.
The pilots got stuck in doing their very best and it seemed, in certain cases, put themselves under more pressure as they now had scores to defend from day 1.
The callers on day 2 did a much better job and things were a lot more accurate, clean and smooth, although the judges seemed to have stepped up the scoring and were a little more brutal in their allotment of scores. The wind continued to deliver the goods and with some good air traffic control by Martin Keightley on the slope front and his team of Georg Lerm and Nic Steffen in the control area, things ran smoothly and we were ahead of time allocated for the round.
With round two completed we decided to make the most of the favourable conditions and head straight into the ‘Half Pipe’ sequence. Russell Conradt was so excited by the idea that he was seen diving into some fynbos with Dave Greer in hot pursuit. Discussions are still rife as to what that was all about!
For some this was quite nerve racking and the inverted stall turns and negative push into the final stall turn got the better of quite a few pilots. A certain pilot, while being so focused into his first stall turn almost forgot to do his roll on the first pass and if it wasn’t for his caller, he would have totally left it out. Some of the lighter planes which were not ballasted tended to suffer from blow back towards the slope and insufficient energy to really carry through to the next stall turn. The half pipe sequence went quite quickly and the executing of it probably didn't take much more than a minute per pilot.
With the contest completed it took a little while for the scorers to tally the final scores, while all pilots and judges had a good old tongue waggle. It was during this period that the wind shifted back to Southerly and blew out all the flying for the rest of the day. Somehow we were granted us just enough wind from the right direction for 2 days in a row to get the whole event completed as originally envisaged and the CD thankfully saved a few more grey hairs in the process.
Kevin Farr Chairman of T.O.S.S. then took the floor and thanks to wonderful support from the Hobby shops here in Cape Town, proceeded to hand out prizes to each and every competitor. The overall laurels went to Marc Wolfe who placed first, and received an impressive silver floating trophy, which he has to return to defend next year, as well as a first placed trophy which he gets to keep as winner of the inaugural Two Oceans Slope Soarers Aerobatics Event. He was followed in a very strong second place by Damien Hinrichsen and in third place by Steve Meusel,
who both received trophies to take home and hang on the mantelpiece.
Out of the Durban duo, Russell Conradt placed a great 4th and Dave Greer flew beautifully into 9th position. Discussions are already at large over the possibility of similar trials in the Durban area in preparation for next year’s event, so that overall as a slope soaring community we can continue to improve pilot skills on a country wide scale. The official event closed off at 2PM and the competition crew were left to ponder about next year’s contest while gazing down at the slope through sunburnt eyelids.
A very generous thank you to all our sponsors:
Grant Lyle and Fragram Tools
Russell Conradt from Durbs by the sea
Dave Greer from Durbs by the sea
Iris van der Vlist
Grant and Belinda Crosby Emery
Jeff and Rose Steffen
Theunis van Niekerk
and basically the entire TOSS crew who made this all possible.
Thank you to all who made sure that each and every pilot and received a prize and the judges received bottles of champagne to soften them up for next years event. Now that's what I call forward planning.
So to all the slope soarers out there, next year... be there!
PS: A rather large Gallery will be added to toss.co.za shortly