The Central Area Rally

It's a fancy name for the regional flying competition, this year held in Hawera.  I was asked to be Chief Ground Judge so I tagged along with the rest of the Waikato Aero Club competitors.  Competitor Evan and I flew down in JGP.  I was PIC for this leg, we'd planned to fly direct to Hawera from Hamilton but the Taranaki weather had other ideas.  We diverted to the coast and descended to get under some pretty hefty clouds, the visibility dropped but we were still well above the legal minimums.  By the time we were approaching the New Plymouth control zone we were at 900 feet but the visibility had stabilized at around 3-4nm and we'd regained some altitude.  The cloud base was about 1500 feet and we cruised through New Plymouth airspace at 1200 tracking along the coast as the Stratford gap, the fastest route to Hawera, was well and truly closed.
After a flight of 1.6hours and some doubts as to whether or not we'd make it past New Plymouth we arrived overhead Hawera and joined for runway 32.

Competition day saw clearer skies but fairly strong winds, gusting up to 22 knots.  I had doubts about whether the competitors would be able to do well, but for the most part they proved me wrong, and it was a closely fought battle for most of the morning landing competitions.  The afternoon saw a switch to the bombing and liferaft dropping.  The target area was a field in an adjacent paddock where the actual target was obscured by hay bails.  That was something new,  I was glad I wasn't competing.  The pilots must have found it difficult too because most were fairly wide of the target.

After a day getting sun and wind burned, it was good to relax at the prize giving and congratulate the club members who had placed in their respective competitions.  The Aero Club got a reasonable haul too, with 3 firsts, a number of seconds and a third.

The trip back on Sunday morning saw the wind almost 180 degrees from what it was on the Friday but no less strong, although there were showers the cloudbase was much higher than on Friday, allowing us to shoot the Stratford Gap.  On our descent into New Plymouth to refuel we saw 147 knots ground speed on the GPS.  We had considered stopping into former weather man Jim Hickey's cafe to get a coffee but the favourable weather conditions meant we had to cut our stay short.  Evan flew us home and it was great to have such an experienced pilot and all round nice guy to share the flight with.

I really enjoyed that adventure.  I've never been to Hawera before (either in the air or on the ground) and the trip through up a couple of curve balls which we dealt with safely and without drama (but with much hard thinking and planning beforehand).

Here's our track for both legs of the trip:

I want to close with a note about our trusty mount ZK-JGP.  She is almost out of hours and requires a substantial investment in order to remain airworthy.  The powers that be have some decisions to make that could potentially see her mothballed.  Whatever her fate, at least she is going out a winner as she carried Evan and his dispatcher Jess to their victory in the Liferaft Drop competition.  I may never fly JGP again and I feel sad about that.