It was time. The WAAC had arrived and the two of us, Eugene Du Preez and myself had arrived in Ploiesti, Romania for the 13th FAI WAAC held from 15 to 25 August thereby continuing the tradition of having a team represent South Africa in this format of competition.
Eugene du Preez, Angela Le Gonidec and Leigh Le Gonidec.
The SA contingent consisted of Eugene du Preez, Leigh le Gonidec, Quintin Hawthorne, Johnie Smith, John Gaillard and Roger Deare.
Altogether there were 56 pilots representing 18 countries. The usual big teams had arrived too, namely France, Russia, UK and the USA with the locals, Romania, also putting in a strong team.
The Ploiesti Romanian Aero Club facilities.
Ploiesti is situated about 40 minutes' drive north of Bucharest and hosts the Romanian Aero Club facilities complete with two runways, one grass and one very nice tar runway. Abundant hangarage and newly built briefing facilities really made this a world class contest venue.
Organisation was fantastic and it was good to see that there were plenty of volunteers involved, all of whom belong to the Romanian Aero Club, which is a government sponsored club with, I might add, with an eye-popping government grant which allows them to have in their arsenal a fleet of Extra's just for their aerobatic section. (Are you listening Minister?)
The Extra 330SC flown by Eugene du Preez.
Preparing for my flight in an Extra 330SC.
Eugene and I wasted no time in booking our practice slots. Eugene using the Romanian Extra 330SC (YR-EXA), whilst I 'borrowed' one of their Extra 300 to get going until my steed arrived which was the British Team's Extra 330SC (G-IISC). At least I could get familiar with the box! Of course the downside to renting someone else's aeroplane is not being entirely familiar with them, so it makes flying them well a challenge.
As the start date drew closer, we were joined by the South African judging contingent. John Gaillard was the contests Chief Judge, ably assisted by Roger Deare calling contestants into the box and judge Quintin Hawthorne with Johnie Smith as his assistant.
Eugene and I at the opening ceremony.
With the official start and briefing underway, lots were drawn for the flying order with me pulling last to fly for the Free Known sequence, an agonising two day wait for my turn. Eugene somewhat luckier draw, an earlier slot 29. Of course there was the formal opening ceremony with the highlight for the South African team being when Quintin officially handed Eugene his National Colours in the form of his Green Jacket.
The SA competitors discussing contest tactics with fellow competitors.
So the competition was off to a flying start with the Free Known program. Eugene put in a good performance with his 71% and mine a little more disappointing shall we say, never the less, it was early days with still 3 unknown programs to fly.
Through the next 3 programs Eugene continued with some good scores and I managed to slowly claw my way back up the ladder. The idea being to just fly consistently and of course NO ZERO's as they say… but ok, I did pick up one due to 'brain fade' but thankfully not too expensive.
The flying standards throughout were generally very good. The French and Russians usually at the top as well as some excellent flying from the American team. It's worthwhile pointing out, these teams are generally 'full time', government aided and also with the benefit of having their own aircraft.
All in all the weather was hot and clear which worked in our favour, except for when the 2pm thunderstorm struck on 4 of the days, but that did actually provide a welcome break for the judges and pilots alike. Although the mind games do get a bit tricky when you're left wondering if you will actually fly or will you be further delayed.
By the end of the 3 Unknown programs Eugene had done us all proud by keeping up with his good scores and in the end finishing 23rd, a great effort for his first International outing and with me a little further behind at 36th overall…. and now ready for the comp :) )… oh wait, its over!!
Overall it was a fantastic contest with great camaraderie between all the pilots, all sharing info, all having a laugh with some great new friendships formed and all without a doubt expressing their wish for another contest at the same venue.
Of course, what's the point of having a nice airfield and lots of aerobatic aeroplanes lying about without having a closing airshow? So we were treated to some freestyle by a few of the contestants, a C130 demo and some Yak formation complete with pyrotechnics setting the airfield alight.
In the end, the Russian Pilot, Roman Ovchinnikov took home the spoils with an overall score of 78%, Bastien Le Roux second and local ace Andrei-Mihai Serbu bringing home the bronze for the Romanians.
The Team Medals went to France in 1st, USA 2nd and Romania 3rd. (as we technically didn't constitute a full team, we weren't in the running)
In the end a great time was had and of course, thanks to all the support and messages we received throughout the contest from all and sundry back home.
We've learned a few good lessons that hopefully we can pass on to the future teams.