Two South Africans, Danie Minnaar and Dave Mac Gregor flew the South African Flag during the 23rd FAI Hot Air Ballooning Championships held from 18 to 26th August in GroŖsiegharts, Austria.
Dave Mac Gregor is the owner of Drakensberg Ballooning and winner of SA championships 2017. Dave represented South Africa in 2014 at the Hot Air Ballooning World Championships in Brazil. He has also participated in the Albuquerque Balloon Festival in the USA and in 2017 flew in the Lorraine Mondial Balloon festival in France.
Danie Minnaar who was placed second in the SA National Ballooning championships in 2017 and this took first place had his first flight as a passenger that resulted in him pulling a balloon out of a river. As a youngster he flew gliders in high school and fixed wings with his dad. Danie has represented South Africa twice in the Hot Air Balloon Championships, in 2012 in Battle Creek USA and in 2016 in Japan.
This international competition is only organised every second year. Only the best teams from around the world are qualified to participate to compete for the title of World Champion. Brazil hosted the 2014 event and in 2016 it was held in Japan.
This year's event, the official Hot Air Balloon World Championship of the Federation Aeronautique International (FAI), was hosted by the Waldviertler Ballonfahrer Club, the most experienced ballooning club in Austria attracted more than 105 participants from more than 30 countries. A balloon event of this size has never been organised in Austria ever before.
During the competition flights are scheduled to launch in best weather only twice daily, early morning (5 a.m.) and late afternoon (5 p.m.). Tasks are set for pilots to accomplish before each flight and typical task may be any of the following:
Fly in. Competitors find their own launch points and attempt to drop a marker close to a set goal or target. The result is the distance from the marker to the target. The closer you get the better you are.
Pilot Declared Goal. Competitors attempt to drop a marker closest to a goal declared by the pilots 20 minutes before take-off. The closer you get the better you are.
Judge Declared Goal. Competitors attempt to drop a marker closest to a set goal selected and declared by the Event Director.
Fox Hunting. A pre-defined balloon starts in front of the starting field of the competition pilots. The participants have to follow this. After the landing of the balloon, a target cross is laid out by him, which the competitor pilots must approach and label by dropping a marker.
The Agony of Choice. The Event Director declares several set targets. It's the pilot's decision during the flight where to drop the marker.
Minimum Distance. Competitors try to fly the shortest distance from the common launch point in a set period on time.
Maximum Distance. Competitors try to travel the greatest distance from the launch point within the maximum time allowance.
Tasks one to twelve were completed on 20 August with Switzerland's Stefan Zeberli in the lead. Danie was placed 86 overall and Dave 105 overall. However, during tasks 16, a Hestitation Waltz, Dave dropped his marker only 1.73 metres from the target making that the 10th best result in the task and by the end of the day he moved into 104th place. Danie however did not have a good day and finished in 93rd place.
The South African's luck did not improve and at the end of 22 August and with 23 task completed Danie had moved down to 97th place whilst Dave was back at 105.
Danie was placed 15th place for task 25. However that did not help to improve his overall position at the end of the day and by the end of the competition they were still in 97th and 105th places respectively.
The major difference between team SA and the competitors from most of the bigger nations are that they compete regularly and are usually sponsored and have funds to fly more. None the less Danie and Dave did us proud and flew their hearts out.
Dominic Bareford of the UK took the honours followed by Stefan Zeberli of Switzerland with Sergey Latypov of Russia in third place.