Australian Light Aircraft Championships

The Darling Downs Aero Club in Toowoomba hosted the Australian Light Aircraft Championships last week; with pilots and planes flying in from across the country to participate in a series of challenging competitions designed to test pilot skills. The event, held annually and organised by the Royal Federation of Aero Clubs, gave amateur pilots a chance to test their skills as they strive to take out the title in a variety of championship events.

This year, pilots and planes flew in from Tasmania, Western Australia, and Newcastle, and competed in streamer cutting, formation team flying, forced landings, and spot landings. The aerobatics events were cancelled due to a lack of entrants. Severe winds on Thursday and Friday made for extremely difficult flying, and provided a challenge for pilots to overcome, particularly in the spot and forced landing competitions. The pilots stepped up to the challenge in spectacular fashion, taking on the wind and each other in an attempt to lay claim to one of the titles on offer.

The spot landing event required pilots to land their plane evenly on a 10 metre strip of runway, scoring 50 points if they hit the mark, and losing 10 points per 10 metres outside of that mark. Darling Downs Aero Club’s own Greg Wilson took first place, with Western Australia’s Jim Di Menna and Toowoomba’s Mark Guth claiming second and third.

Forced landings simulate an engine failure landing on a shortened strip of land, where pilots are required to cut power to the engine and glide to a landing, avoiding a bunting fence and landing on the 10 metre, 50 point mark, losing points per ten metres outside of the mark, and being disqualified for either using power during the landing or for knocking down the fence. Western Australia’s Michael Stenson proved too much for the competition and claimed first place in the forced landings. Ed Ten Broeke of Tasmania took second place, with Peter Horsborough of Newcastle coming in third.

The streamer cutting event called for pilots to drop streamers out of their planes, and spiral down toward the ground, ensuring they cut their streamer 4 times as fast as possible before the 1000m mark. The event, one not for the feint of heart, was won by Tasmania’s Peter Fenton with the fastest streamer cut, and New Zealander David Campbell coming in second, and Ed Ten Broeke from Tasmania claiming the third.

The formation event was almost cancelled, with the last-minute arrival of the Tasmanian team allowing it to go ahead. The competition was close, with both teams performing excellent executions of the vic, right and left echelons, and the free formation figure eight during the competition. The Newcastle team, flying out of Rutherford near Maitland, proved to be the better team on the day, taking the win over the boys from Tasmania. The team’s victory is made more significant by the fact that pilot #2, Peter Horsborough, was competing with the team for the first time, having only received his ticket three months prior to the event. Peter also took the win as overall champion for the event, cementing his place in the Championships.

During breaks between competition, pilots both local and interstate, ground crew, kitchen staff, and mechanics were exceptionally happy to discuss various aspects of the event and competitions, as well as covering information on the planes present at the club and those visiting from interstate, the running of an airport, various aspects of piloting, and club membership and activities. Australian Motorsport Magazine staff member Nicole Jenkins was given a chance to participate in a forced landing practice with pilot Dave Kunkel of Newcastle. The Darling Downs Aero Club invites anyone interested in joining friendly local pilots to find them on facebook, or call during business hours on (07) 4634 2777.

Offering their support as line judges, Gatton University’s 205sqn RAAF Cadets spent Friday and Saturday assisting the judges with their determination of points in both the spot and forced landing competitions. Also in attendance were the Air League, now based out of the Gold Coast, but originally in Toowoomba. The Toowoomba squadron of the Air League was the first for the state, and sadly has not been in operation for many years due to a lack of volunteers. Keen to see the squadron returned to its former glory, the Gold Coast squadron have begun taking expressions of interest for people wanting to join. Open to children aged 8 to 18, the league provides children the opportunity to earn their badges in a variety of aviation specialisations, such as theory of flight and navigation. The club is a not-for-profit organisation, and needs only seven members to begin a squadron in Toowoomba. Anyone interested in enquiring about the Toowoomba squadron can contact Wing Captain Walter Savell; at oc.goldcoast@airleague.com.au