Daredevil pilots take to the sky for world championship

MALALANE – The Unlimited World Aerobatic Championship kicked off with a lively evening at the Crocodile Lapa.

The 29th edition of the championships are being held in South African skies for the first time ever and Malalane proved the perfect location to host it.

For the past few weeks, TSB Airfield and two other locations were used as practice grounds and locals were treated to spectacular aerial displays.

The championship was officially opened on Saturday evening at Crocodile Lapa near town and gave competitors a little taste of South African culture.

A local cultural group created an upbeat atmosphere with marimba music, singing and dancing.

A local cultural group entertained the guests with traditional song and dance.

Judges and other officials led the procession of competitors who displayed their national flags as teams were introduced.

The South African team during the flag procession.

The foreign guests were enchanted by the African performers, while smartphones and cameras captured every moment of the performance.

SA pilot Nigel Hopkins read the creed of sport aviation controlling body Federation Aeronautique Internationale (FAI).

SA pilot Nigel Hopkins welcomes his fellow competitors.

He also welcomed the visitors and thanked the attendees for their support after he survived a serious flying incident in 2015 while training for the previous edition of the championships.

READ: World’s best aerobatics pilots to compete in Malalane

“It’s the people who are here who brought me back, it’s the passion for flying that we all share. Thank you for giving me the courage to come back. Fly safe and have a good competition,” he said.

The president of the Commission Internationale Voltige Aerienne, the aerobatics division of the FAI, and head judge, Nick Buckingham then officially declared the championships open.

Head judge Nick Buckingham read out a creed of ethics for the judges and officials.

He told the attendees that the first WAC was held in 1960, with nine countries and 29 pilots involved.

“There has been a world aerobatic championship every other year since. Here tonight, I can truthfully say, are the best aerobatic pilots in the world. It’ll be a great pleasure for the judging panel to watch and judge,” he said.

The last WAC was held in France in 2015 and was a huge success. The current world champion is Alexandre Orlowski of France.

“Maybe you can do it again if you try, but there will be a number of people trying very hard to stop you,” Buckingham joked.

The first flights took off on Sunday morning and pilots will be competing from around 09:00 to 17:30 or 20:00 until Friday. The last competition flights will take place on Sunday from 10:30 to 15:00 with a medal ceremony at 15:00.

A special area for spectators has been cleared next to TSB Airfield and parking and entrance is free. Spectators can bring their chairs, blankets, binoculars and picnic baskets and also browse the stalls that will be set up on Saturday and Sunday.

For more information, visit www.wac2017.co.za.

Retha Nel

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