The President’s Trophy Air Race (PTAR) is South Africa’s biggest air race and attracts a huge number of interesting planes that we don’t see in other race formats. It has evolved over the years and is now similar to the Speed Rally but the route is longer and it takes place over two days, Friday and Saturday, giving an opportunity to improve your overall standing.

Unfortunately, Bonsai can’t hold enough fuel to complete the longer route at full speed, so we offered to help out at the event instead. This year’s race was held in Ermelo in May 2021 and had 60 entries – we couldn’t wait. The first day starts with the fastest planes first, with everyone taking off at 30 second intervals. The second day starts with the slowest aircraft first, based on handicap speed and is a crossover route. This means that around the halfway mark, the planes fly back across the airfield. In the same style as the Speed Rally, the handicap and slowest first format means that everyone finishes around the same time over the airfield, making for an extremely exciting finish.

Friday morning dawned and it was absolutely freezing. Luckily the marshals’ shirts were big enough to fit over my 3 jersey, jacket and scarf combo! Our main job of the morning was scrutineering, and we split up into 5 teams of 2 with a little over 30 minutes to scrutineer 12 aircraft per team. Sounded simple enough! Well, it quickly descended into chaos as we figured out that some of the pilots confused their parking bays with their race numbers, some planes were too big to park in the designated spots and had moved and some were just nowhere to be found!

Sunrise at PTAR- Day 1

After scrutineering we had a short break to watch the last take offs and then it was back to work as we manned the finish table where crews returned with their loggers and we released their contraband. The fastest plane first format of Day 1 meant that the teams arrived in drips and drabs and we got time to chat to the crews and hear their stories about the route. Interference on the loggers meant that the scorers had a huge amount of work to do, delaying the results to late in the evening. 15,000 steps later, we were exhausted but ready for a spit braai and an early night!

On Day 2, the parking bays were re-ordered into a straight line and the pilots now figured out the parking positions, making our job much easier. We also had weather delay the start, giving us more time to complete scrutineering. A much smoother start meant we got to spend even more time watching the take offs from the start line. There is nothing like watching 60 planes taking off in a row!

Lined up- Day 2
Take Offs!

Even more exciting was the cross-over route and as the last plane took off, the first plane crossed over the field. It was exciting to see how they were bunching and catching up to each other around halfway through the course.

The finish was a real sight to see with all 60 planes finishing over the runway within minutes of each other. As the top 10 landed, we marshalled them into parking spots and gave them a last once over to check for contraband. Loggers came in quick and fast and everyone disappeared pronto to get ready for the banquet dinner.

So many trophies

The work hadn’t quite ended yet and we spent a significant amount of time finding and ordering the significant display of trophies to be handed out at prize giving with the help of the voice of aviation! Continued logger interference and a hasty rush to get the results complete in time meant that there were unfortunately some errors in the results announced at the banquet but in the end some of our favourite teams tied for first position overall! Congratulations to Leon & Martin in their Harmony and Apie & Frederik in their Bosbok!