National Flying Competition

This years competitions was held in Whitianga, just like it was when I competed in them 9 years ago.  This time round I was not competing, nor was I driving over.  I flew WAM over, partly because I really didn't want to drive over and back, and partly because someone needed the plane over there so I was doing them a favour.  The plan was to leave work, drive out to the airport, pre-flight, grab the weather, and head off.  NZWT is about 55 minutes flight time away (as opposed to 2 and 15mins hours by car). 

Oh why was I going if I wasn't competing?  I was invited to be an assistant ground judge.  That means making sure the chief judge had the correct paper work and providing an extra pair of eyes when it came to judging spot landings.  It also meant getting up at stupid o'clock for the morning briefings and days standing around under a sweltering sun, but to get the chance to see NZs best private pilots compete was actually quite special (more about this later).

I got the ARFOR (area forecast) printed off, and it was pessimistic as usual:

VIZ: 30km, reducing to 6000m in SHRA, to 4000m in +SHRA
CLD:  Areas SCT CUSC 4000 tops 6000, becmg bkn afternoon and base lowering to 3000, base 1200 in precip.  Isol TCU/CB tops abv 10,000 developing inland this afternoon.  Areas bkn ACAS abv 6000.
WX:  Few SHRA developing afternoon, isol +SHRA over inland areas, clearing tonight.

My main concern was getting sucked into an embedded CB I hadn't spotted, but as things turned out there was no significant weather to speak of on the direct route I chose.  Wind at Hamilton was 250/15g20, which was fine because I could take Grass 25.

After getting all my gear stowed along with the planes cover and a set of tiedowns, I got WAM started, warmed up and airborne by about 1725.  Hamilton tower cleared me direct Whitianga so I turned right after takeoff and headed due north.

Once I was clear of controlled airspace I found time to take a couple of photos with my iphone.

Thames Basin with Coromandel Range in distance

3500 feet over the Coromandel Range, about to start descent.  NZWT is about 15 miles away directly in front
 There was a bit of traffic in the Coromandel Peninsula Common Frequency Zone (CFZ) but most of it was centered around Whitianga (remember this was Wednesday afternoon).  I started my descent with the intention of joining overhead but as I got closer the formation of 3 aircraft which were practicing over the airfield were very hard to spot so I chose to descend away from the circuit and join a wide left base.  As it happened I spotted them on the far side of the airfield when I was on base for 22 so there was no conflict.  I pulled off a decent landing (considering I haven't flown in a month), vacated the runway and found a spot to park the plane.  A couple of fellow club members who were competing and had seen me land and came over to help me cover and tie down WAM which was greatly appreciated.  We were then given a ride to the club house by a Mercury Bay Aero Club member who had an official car.  I checked in with the FlyingNZ Executive Secretary Karen (the big boss), met the Event Director Rob as well as my immediate superior Mike (all good people, a pleasure to work with).  I was told then I would need to be at the airfield by 0600 for the morning briefing.  Considering MCT wasn't till just after 0700 I felt a little let down, but I'd volunteered so it was time to put complaints aside and get cracking.

Morning sea fog on the airport just before sunrise
To condense two days of work down to a paragraph, I worked on the landing grid judging spot landings and then the liferaft and bomb dropping grid.  As I said earlier, this was the national championships so competitors had to win their club and regional competitions to be there.  I had expected a high standard of flying and I got it.  We had one day where the conditions were not ideal, the wind swung as much as 120 degrees so we had to change runways.  During that time several competitors had a quartering tailwind to contend with, less than ideal when you are trying to land in a box 10m long by 25m wide.

Two days of watching planes land just doesn't get old
I couldn't get any photos of the bombing or liferaft dropping, simply because it was too dangerous.  One competitor got his bomb within 2.5m of the centre of the target, I think the Air Force would be happy with that.

On Saturday they had planned a fun day, so I took the time to take the kids of the people I was staying with up for a short flight.  The weather couldn't have been more perfect, with no wind to speak of, glorious blue skies, and a glassy sea making it postcard like.  I didn't take any photos as I was more interested in making sure the kids enjoyed their trip.

After I dropped them off I took the opportunity in a lull in activity to head back to Hamilton.
Top of climb 3500 feet over the Coromandels.  Table Mountain in the distance
Looking west across the Firth of Thames.  There was an another aircraft somewhere down there heading to Ardmore

Almost home - about to enter the Hamilton Control Zone on a Rukuhia Arrival.  Height is about 2200 feet.
 I was a bit concerned listening in on the Hamilton frequency as I approached the control zone because there were about 7 aircraft waiting to depart and I didn't know if I'd be able to get in without holding.  As it was, they'd pretty much all departed by the time I arrived and I was cleared to join a right base for 18L.  I chose to perform a precision landing so I could get off the runway at Golf as there was a runway inspection vehicle holding at Echo.  I took a 60 knot final approach speed and touched down gently at 50. 

So, 2.2 in the logbook, two excellent days at the beach committing aviation, three good flights,  excellent weather, it really doesn't get any better.