February 20-27,1999 - Hamilton Airport, New Zealand
The holding of the World Precision Flying Championships in New Zealand was quite a coup for the organisers. This was only the third time the competitions have been held in the southern hemisphere. New Zealand had bid to hold the 1996 championships, but were unsuccessful, and those competitions were held in Fort Worth, Texas. New Zealand did fairly well at that time, with Mat Wakelin coming away with the landing trophy, Greg Ward winning the low-houred pilots (less than 500) section.
The competition was based in Hamilton. This is the traditional venue for the New Zealand national competition. The central location allows access to a variety of terrain for the navigation work, and Hamilton International Airport has a suitable amount of grass for the landing competitions. I understand that most of the New Zealand Precision Flying and Rally Association organisers also live in the district which makes it convenient. From the point of view of a large international competition, Hamilton city, has the accomodation and resources to support a large competition.
For the 1999 championships, 81 competitors from 23 countries attended. In addition there were supporters, judges, jury members, and helpers numbering in the hundreds. Even 24 personnel from the New Zealand Army attended, to assist with communications. Most gathered in the days leading up to the official opening on February 20th. Some competitors arrived early to practice in the local conditions.
I attended the official opening, taking along my camera. The first thing I noticed was more Cessna 150/152's than I'd ever seen in one place before. Teams hired aircraft which were sourced from all over New Zealand. I was a little early, and took the opportunity to wander around the flightline(s). As well as the 150's, there were a few 152's, Cherokees, and then more exotic aircraft like the Wilgas, and a Socata TB-9 Tampico, and the Koliber 150. While looking around, I got roped into taking photos of the Swiss team in front of their aircraft. That's them walking across the airfield, just before they nabbed me. They each had a camera, and no two were the same!
The official opening started with a march on. Each team was led by a 'Marching Girl' bearing a sign identifying the team. Precision marching of this kind is a very New Zealand sport, and is a women only competition, very different to the military style of marching. The teams gathered in the carpark, and then marched out to the ramp in front of the Waikato Aero Club (which served as the base for the competition). I made sure (of course) to get a snap of the New Zealand team who can be seen to the right. That's Greg Ward from Canterbury (who retained his Junior Championship) with Mat Wakelin and Dee Bond-Wakelin (of North Shore), Helen Beard (one of the Judges) and Gordon Hughes (from Waikato). I'm not sure where the newest member of the team, Daroish Kraidy of Auckland, got to.
The next stage was the Powhiri. That's the Maori term for a 'welcome'. Although mainly friendly these days, its origins are in the time when visitors might not have come with amicable intent. The Powhiri starts with a Karanga or call, inviting the Manuhiri or visitors to come forward. The next step is the Wero, or challenge. Two Toa (warriors) step forward and lay a token on the ground in front of the approaching visitors. If the token is picked up, this indicates the manuhiri are friendly - if it is not, then the vistors intentions are seen to be hostile.
Bill Ottley, as the FAI representative was the most senior of the visitors and accepted the Wero. As the Wero began it was noticeable that most of the teams broke ranks, and cameras appeared as if by magic. I think this was a unique occassion for many of the visitors. The Kapa Haka group conducting the Powhiri then performed a Haka and several Waiata (songs). As is normal for both Maori and Pakeha (European) occassions, the next event was the speeches. As well as FAI representative Bill Ottley, the speakers included representatives from the organisors, local government, and the New Zealand Governor General, Sir Michael Hardie Boyes. To round things off, anthems were played, and flags were raised.
Several displays were then held. The RNZAF aerobatic display team, the Red Checkers, entertained the gathered crowd (of several hundred) with their new CT/4E aircraft. Shortly after they landed to join in the festivities. Mat Wakelin then gave an enthusiastic demontration if dead-stick aerobatics, completing his performance by landing and running his aircraft up to the ramp. He can be seen to the right immediately after the conclusion of this display. Chris Thoms also made some high speed passes in his award winning Neico Lancair IV.
With the formalities concluded, the crowd then retired to the nearby Aeromotive Hangar for a social hour. The hangar was a little crowded, so I didn't take many photos. To the left can be seen the the Governor General, Sir Michael Hardie Boyes (in the grey suit) chatting with officials. In the hanger I found British team members John Fisher and Malcolm Evans talking to David Abraham, the sole Irish representative.
Outside the work continued - aircraft were prepared on the flightline, and the fuel truck made its rounds.
The competitions consisted of several navigation tasks (and a practice day) and two landing days. The weather had some interesting effects. It was such a dry summer that the aerial photographs of some of the navigation targets had to be redone. The look of the targets had changed changed considerably as they dried out. The landing competitions also had to be moved as they disintegrated, and watering was required. Ironically, one outing late in the week (to Wharepapa South) was cancelled due to rain.
I went out to the watch the landing competition on the afternoon of February 24th. A bus ran from the Waikato Aero Club down to the landing grid. The first thing I noticed was the queue of aircraft waiting their turn to take off. This pointed downwind. A marshall then directed aircraft from the head of the queue out onto the active runway where they turned and took off. This provided an excellent opportunity for some action photography. It also provided some interesting effects - like the Wilga with the extra appendages.
A little further up the field was the landing grid. This was the first time I had attended this sort of competition, and it makes quite a spectacle. The grid is marked out in 5m graduations for + and -50m. At the 0m mark a quantity of chalk serves to illustrate a hit on the mark with a cloud of dust.
A good crowd of spectators was gathered to watch the various attempts. I noticed several seriously sunburnt individuals - clearly to intent on the competition to apply a little protection to themselves. Its interesting to note the different styles utilised by the different competitors. Some make a curving approach, some make a drop from on high, some come in low and keep the power on. The level of success varied too. Most competitors were on the grid, but one or two were short, and many went long.
The landing competion was in three sections. A standard landing, a flapless landing, and a barrier competition. The first two are fairly self explanatory. The third involved a 3m barrier being placed at the -50m mark. In practice this was a couple of poles with a string of flags which competitors flew over before making their landing. I saw the barrier dropped on several occassions when competitors got too low.
The most amazing part was being so close to the active aircraft. The grid was only 15 or 20m wide, and was lined with officials. A watcher sat on set divisions of the grid. Closer in, more observers made a measurement on each of the competitors who were closer to the mark. Several cameras recorded each attempt. And of course the judges sat and watched all the activity. A small portable control tower provided by the Airways Corporation kept track of movements, and was positioned next to the grid. It was really something to see the aircraft flying in and out amongst all these people. The aircraft came thick and fast. The tower recorded 81 competitors passed through the grid in 68 minutes during one section of the competition. Precision flying indeed. For a photographer it was quite stunning to have all these opportunities parade past my lens. It was different to see so many aircraft in the circuit.
Interestingly the airport remained open during the competition. The competitors used the grass parallel to the main runway. While I was watching the competition I saw three civil operators come and go - a Mt Cook ATR-72, an Ansett Dash-8 and a Sunair Navajo.
The eventual outcome of the Championships saw Poland win (for the eighth time), with New Zealand in second place, and the Czech Republic third. A prize ceremony was held at Vilograd's, a local restaurant set in a vinyard at Ngahinapouri.
Individual winners were Janusz Darocha of Poland followed by Daroish Krady of New Zealand and Jiri Jakes of the Czech Republic. In the Women's competition Nathalie Strude of France was the winner, followed by Dee Bond-Wakelin of New Zealand and Ines Meier of Switzerland. Amongst the low houred (under 500) pilots, the competition winner was Greg Ward (New Zealand) followed by Hakon Fosso (Norway) and Johan Nyler (Sweden). The navigation competition went to Hungary (Laszio Bodis) with Poland in second (Michalski Ryszard) and third place (Janusz Darocha). The landing competition was taken out by Croatia (Zelimir Trifunovic) followed by New Zealand (Daroish Krady) and Slovenia (Robert Verbaci). The award for sportsmanship went to Sofia Svellossanova of Russia.
© 1999 Phillip Treweek, all rights reserved