The 22nd FAI WRFC 2022 officially opens with registration and the Practice Week (Monday to Saturday) from 07 to 12 November 2022. Teams start to arrive in drips and drabs from all over South Africa, Europe and South America. A total of 36 teams from 11 countries arrive. Unfortunately, the team from Namibia experienced problems during their trip to Brits and had to withdraw.

Unseasonal heavy rain and low cloud set in over Gauteng and the Northwest Province on 07 and 08 November, delaying the arrival of the many Cessna aircraft that needed to be ferried to Brits in advance of the teams’ arrivals. Fortunately, Wednesday turns into a spectacular day, coinciding with the arrival of most international teams and their aircraft. Validation flights for the international pilots get underway and go quickly and smoothly and most teams are able to start flying in no time.

At registration, each team member receives a fantastic goody bag and a set of three training routes. These training routes are the routes that formed the South African Nationals in June 2022, intended to give the international teams a good flavour of what to expect in the area next week.

Most of the South African team have been training for months in advance, trying to make the most of the home ground advantage, ourselves included. As a team, we have been taking turns to create new routes amongst ourselves to try cover as much ground as possible. These routes range from the mining areas between the towns of Brits and Rustenburg, to the unpopulated wilderness surrounding Borakololo National Park, to the defunct ODI runway that is now a drag strip north of Pretoria, to the agricultural areas surrounding the Hartebeespoort Dam. These sessions are particularly useful to practice timing at unknown turnpoints and to familiarise ourselves with the many informal townships and mining areas that have bloomed enormously since the map was last updated. This is Africa and while the map may take years to be updated, the towns certainly grow by the day!

Iaan and I save the training/ nationals routes for Practice Week, so that we could get back into the mindset of our route planners and boost our confidence a bit in the final week of preparation. What we don’t realise is that the recent and enormous amounts of rain have turned the normally dusty and dry region into a green and bushy swamp. Every open area is covered with pools of water, riverbeds that have been dry for months are now overflowing their banks. We are looking for photos that we have seen before, but the challenge is immense due to the abrupt change from drab brown grassland to green shrubbery.

We manage to fly one full route on Wednesday and another on Thursday, getting into the competition mindset and ensuring that our procedures and tools are in place and working as expected. On Friday, the weather starts to turn again and those who set off early enough manage to get in their routes. We are unfortunately a bit slow off the mark and as we approached turn point 2, a light drizzle starts. We quickly change our plan to a familiarisation flight. We remain near the airfield, avoiding the isolated rain showers, focused on reviewing areas that we know could be used as starting points or could be tricky finish points. As the day progresses, the rain continues to come in waves, isolated showers turning into large storms, showing no sign of letting up. Some teams are able to continue with spot landing training between showers, while some manage to time their routes between the rain but most teams have to focus on theory and groundwork.

Saturday dawns overcast, and heavy rain continues throughout the day. Fortunately, we feel satisfied with our training up to this point and are comfortable to not attempt any flying for the day. One aircraft has some issues when some particularly intense storms leaked onto the instrument panel. The two teams sharing it have to promptly get used to another aircraft in a handful of short flights between rain on Saturday and Sunday.

With the Opening Ceremony on Sunday, no flying is planned for any teams, aside from the above exception. We spend the day preparing Bonsai, our Jabiru, washing and polishing her, inside and out and double checking all our tools and spares. The rain continues on and off all day. We are very relieved that we are able to keep Bonsai in a hangar for the duration of our stay. She is not particularly watertight either and it is rather unpleasant to fly while sitting on wet cushions!

The Opening Ceremony is held on Sunday afternoon, with Karl Jensen, retired airline captain and long time EAA322 member, as the MC. The South African team congregates moments before the ceremony to continue our tradition of handing out the Protea Blazers to new team members.

It is a truly special moment as our mentors welcome us to the team, putting on our blazers and lapel pins. Soon after, we group ourselves into countries and the opening ceremony begins with the Parade of Nations. This is a truly unforgettable moment as we finally get to wear our green and gold and walk past our family, friends and supporters after all of our training. We are heartily welcomed by our Competition Director, Rob Jonkers, by the Brits Flying Club Chairperson, Lohan Otto, by Hans Schwebel, president of the GAC, and the International Chief Judge Ralf Grunwald.

Soon after the speeches, team mate Nigel Hopkins and friend Jason Beamish fly a fantastic aerobatic display in their Extras in front of some dramatic cloud signalling another thunderstorm fast approaching.

The competition is declared open. Just in time, everyone makes their way back into the clubhouse as more heavy rain starts to pour down. For a change, we feel relaxed and prepared. Our training feels complete and now all that remains is to go out and fly our best! As an added bonus, the weather forecast for competition week looks great. We can’t wait!

Below is a collection of photos from the week. Thanks to Nicola Orford-Warwick, Bronwen Klaas, Rob Jonkers, Barbara Freibose and others for their photo contributions.