A day in the sun

The Waikato Aero Club hosted the regional flying competition over Friday and Saturday. Members from Central Aero Clubs (ranging from Tauranga to Hawera and points in between) converged on Hamilton to determine who would be representing our area at the National Championships down in Canterbury next February.

I turned up at a reasonable hour to help set up the landing grid on Grass 25 Left which was designated as the grid runway. Grass 25 Right was set up for the bombing and liferaft dropping competitions. Setting up the grid involved delivering a caravan to a spot adjacent the 50 point bullseye box on the landing grid, setting up an awning, constructing a temporary "fence" at the assigned threshold which contestants must avoid or be marked down. We used dry Toi Toi shoots for the fence because being a natural fibre they would be stiff enough to stand upright (or so we thought at the time) in the breeze and yet be flexible enough not to harm an aircraft should they bust through it. Later we had to add some brush of some description to the fence because the Toi Toi kept blowing over as the wind picked up. Adding toilet paper to the fence made it easier to see on finals.

The competitions got underway around 9am on Saturday. I was assigned two boxes to look after on the landing grid. For those of you who have not flown in a landing competition, I shall endeavour to explain. A landing grid is essentially just that, a grid the competitors try to land in. The grid consists of two threshold markers, and around 25 metres inside those markers the grid begins with a series of 10 metre wide boxes. The box in the middle of the grid is worth 50 points, and each subsequent box outside it is worth 10 less points until you get to 0.

The wind was initially blowing at around 6-8 knots straight down Grass 25 Left, but as the day wore on the wind intensified to be around 12 knots at the end of the day.

The competitions that I took part in judging was to be: Junior Landings (student pilots), Senior Landings, Forced Landings, Men's Circuits and Women's Circuits.

I must say, the standard shown in the Landing and Circuit competitions was of a pretty high standard. The usual rise and sink of Grass 25 caught a few people out, it is very difficult to fly a stabilized approach because both the sink and rise are quite pronounced.

However, the most fun we had was the Forced Landing competition. By the time it was run which was around midday, the wind had picked up to 12 knots straight down the runway, and the forecast 2000' wind was 20 knots with only a 20 degree offset which meant little shear and a fairly steady wind to deal with. For the uninitiated, the competition starts at around 2500 feet above the runway where the throttle is closed and the pilot glides the aircraft along the appropriate flight path to land in the grid scoring maximum points, then they climb away to a height around 2000 feet and do it again. However, a lot of the pilots misjudged the low finals groundspeed and sink on the threshold and several of them got very close to the fence, one individual actually put his wheels through the brush but after deliberation among the judges it was agreed that he had not been through the fence because the brush poked up above the Toi Toi shoots which were measured at 1.2m. Never-the-less, pilots were either running out of energy and landing short or carrying too much speed and floating through the grid.

It certainly was gratifying to me to see a bunch of club champions having as hard a time at it as I did back at the club competitions.

After 7 hours in the sun and 3 applications of sunscreen, our job was done and we carefully packed up everything and hit the bar for a well deserved cold one. I did manage to take some photos, so will post a selection soonish.