African Pilot - July 2004

Daimler Chrysler SA Aerobatic Championships 2004 - Text and photos by Pete van der Spek.

Some of the best pilots in South Africa gathered in East London over the weekend of 3,4 and 5 June to compete for the coveted aerobatic trophies. It wasn’t just about pride; it was about being good at what they do. It wasn’t about being better than anyone else; it was being good at the job in hand! It was camaraderie and being with other pilots who enjoy flying and talking about aircraft. It was great.

Covering this type of event for the first time, I did not quite know what to expect and was actually surprised to watch the pilots flying quite high. Then, I figured out just why! Doing snap rolls and stall turns and flat spins can turn into problems and therefore, height is the one thing that is needed.

The discipline of championship aerobatics is not the same type we normally see at an airshow. Instead, the pilot flies two different routines, namely, known and unknown. Over the two days of competition, each pilot has the same routine to perform and needs to fly the routine as closely and precisely as possible. The judges immediately pounce on any hesitation or wrong move and points are deducted. The judging is very strict in accordance with overseas standards so that anyone that scores a score between 75 and 80 percent will probably do well in the world aerobatic championships.

The other criterion is to fly in the “box”. Ok, that might sound strange to some but it’s fairly straightforward actually. On the ground are markers that mark out a “box” and the pilots need to keep within that box or lose points and also to not stray outside the upper and lower heights designated.


Thirteen pilots from all over South Africa entered and the intrepid pilots did some fine flying. The star of the weekend was Glen Dell in the only aircraft of its type in South Africa, namely the Slick 360. Glen performed extremely well over the 2 days and finished up 1st in the advanced section. The aircraft is very agile and had the other pilots queuing up to try it out after the competition.

Happiest of all the pilots was Findlay Smith from Cape Town. Competing in his very first competition, he finished a credible second in the sportsman section. Nice to see a novice flying in this demanding regime.

As far as camaraderie is concerned, the best example is Ian Billing sharing his Trade Centre Zlin 50 with Helmut Ludwig when the latter’s aircraft conked out on him a week before the Nationals. The fact that the nationals were held at East London paid dividends for the pilots in that they had a ready workshop handy and could make repairs when needed (and they were) – a point not missed by local man, Mark Oostingh. He was the main driving force to have the championship at East London so he must have felt justified….

The results were :

Advanced :

  1. Glen Dell Slick 360
  2. Helm Ludwig Zlin 50
  3. Ian Billing Zlin 50

Intermediate :

  1. Chris Twyford Pitts
  2. Stan Oliver Yak 55

Sportsman :

  1. Laszlo Liskay Zlin 142
  2. Findlay Smith Yak 52

The team to represent South Africa at the world championships in August was announced. The team consisted of :

  • Glen Dell
  • Helm Ludwig
  • Cocky Beneke
  • Chris Twyford (Manager)
  • John Gaillard (Chief SA and World Judge)
  • Trish Ludwig (Judge)

Saturday saw the fun part of the weekend where the public were invited to an open day (free of charge – yes that’s correct – free) and they were able to watch the pilots putting their aircraft through their paces. Of course, the height and box factors were removed and both Mark Hensman and Glen Dell did their best to scare the hell out of us mere mortals on the ground with some very capable and controlled flying – albeit much lower than the previous two days. Both guys have an uncanny sense with their respective aircraft and had us WOW’ing time and again. All that saw it will long remember Mark's rolling short finals. To top it all, Mark came past with canopy open and waved to the crowd. He promptly lost the ear coverings to his headset. When asked why he opened the canopy, he said, “well I had to wave didn’t I?” – what a showman! Niels and a few of his friends had a collection of interesting aircraft there to take sponsors for flights. Niels and friends own a beautiful Tiger Moth and an Auster and he doesn’t let anyone pass without giving them a rundown on the aircraft.

Probably the best looking aircraft there was Mark Oostingh’s Extra, decked out in the South African flag and looking just stunning – as the ladies said, “very pretty”.

The event was sponsored mainly by Daimler Chrysler and they must be congratulated for the foresight and help, in keeping aerobatics alive in SA. They are also sponsors of the airshow that is held in East London every 2 years.

When I asked Glen why so few aircraft fly in the event, he said that probably the cost of owning an aerobatic aircraft was the main reason. He suggested that aircraft could be syndicated – each aircraft could be owned by X number of pilots and each has a turn flying his/her routine. It certainly makes good sense. John Gaillard mentioned that moves were afoot to get all the Yak 52 pilots in the country to enter a Yak 52 competition – but the idea was still in it’s infancy. Watch this space!

African Pilot - July 2004

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