Friday, October 22, 2004

Johan Ehlers on the 2004 World Scale Championships


Report on the 18th World Championships for Scale Model Aircraft, Deblin, Poland. 23 July to 1 August 2004.
--Johan Ehlers

The 18th World Championships for Flying Scale models was held at the Polish Air force Academy in Deblin in Poland from the 23rd July to the 1st August 2004. Preparations for the participation of the South African Scale Team started in January 2004 even before the composition of the team was finalised at the Scale and Jet Nationals which was held late in March 2004. As usual, the transport of the model boxes proved to be the biggest hurdle to overcome in order for the participation at the event to be realised. There are no direct flights to Poland. Getting there entails a flight to some or other capital in 'Western' Europe followed by a 'commuter' flight to Poland. Initially KLM agreed to transport the boxes for free as additional baggage, as was done so many times in the past. Upon later enquiry about the boxes and the 'commuter' flight the offer to transport the boxes was retracted. Enquiries with British Airways, SAA, Lufthansa, Swiss and a few others resulted in the same negative answer. President Busch, Osama Bin Laden and the aftermath of 9/11 were all held up as excuses but the bottom line was that the boxes were not going to get there for free.

Meanwhile the team had crystallised as Glen Roberts, Koos Pretorius and Humphrey le Grice with Johan Ehlers as Team Manager and first and only reserve. Enquiries with freight companies and baggage brokers all brought in quotes to the order of R24 000 to get the boxes there and back. (Freight is calculated on a mass or volume basis depending on which criterium is the most lucrative for the freight company. Our less than 75 kg of boxes added up to an equivalent of more than 400 kg by volume). An appeal to the SAMAA Committee for some additional funding fell on decidedly unsympathetic ears and the participation of the team hung in the balance. The team obtained a short term loan for the amount needed from an interested party, but Glen decided that all things considered, he would rather resign from the team under the prevailing circumstances. A quick meeting between the remainder of the team brought the decision that Johan would take Glen's place in the team and function as manager as well. This also ensured a scene by scene replay of the almost forgotten 1996 refurbishment of Johan's ancient Turbulent. Thanks to some groundwork by our chairman, Bob Skinner, the Polish Organisers accepted our by now late entry without penalties.

Team transport was finally arranged by the long suffering Yzelle of Harvey World Travel, Montana, Pretoria with British Airways since they granted us a 10% discount on our airfare due to our status as a sports team representing the country. Baggage Brokers won our box transport contract due to the good price, enthusiasm, friendliness and always quick response of their Mauritzio.

After obtaining an 'International Carnet' from SACOB, to facilitate the duty free importation and exportation from Poland and re-importation into SA, at a (mostly refundable) deposit of more than R13 000, the model boxes were delivered to Baggage Solutions a week before the departure of the team to ensure that they would be in Deblin upon our arrival. The team said good-bye to family and friends on Wednesday evening of the 21st July for the overnight flight to Heathrow feeling strangely unencumbered by the absence of their model boxes in the departure hall. Arriving unrefreshed by our cramped accommodation on the flight, we decided to make a sortie into London and went on one half of the London Bus tour to see some of the sights and hear some of the sounds of the great city before rushing back to board our flight to Warsaw. Thanks to the long summer days at that latitude we could make the 120-odd km to Deblin in two hours in our little 1000cc powered Corsa in daylight along a secondary road passing through a village every now and then and quickly learning the basic road rule in Poland i.e. 'Faintheart is the one to give way'.

Upon our arrival at the base we were welcomed by the organisers and shown to our pretty good lodgings which were only a stroll away from everything. All other formalities could wait for Friday. After a good nights' sleep we could sort out our registration, meet up with our model boxes and start assembly of the models while meeting old and new acquaintances as they started arriving. The model storage/display was in a large hangar with sufficient space for each team in its demarcated area while the models were separated from sight-seers by proper barriers. The three daily meals were served in the 'Casino' and these proved to be of good quality and sufficient quantity most of the time albeit a bit cheesy, sausagey and cabbagey compared to our SA taste. The first Team Managers meeting was scheduled for Friday evening and after welcoming speeches by the whole hierarchy of officialdom involved, each of which was translated in English, the normal arrangements were explained as well as the fact that the judges were going to be very strict regarding the aerobatic/non-aerobatic status of aircraft. The draw for the flight order was made and RSA was the last name out of the hat.

Saturday was set aside for scheduled to the minute test flights for each team according to a set program as well as model processing. We spent some time during the morning in Deblin town to unsuccessfully change some travellers cheques. Our turn was around 14:00 and nothing untoward presented itself except some minor needle valve adjustments that were necessary to compensate for the lower altitude of the venue compared to our home conditions. Processing also went off smoothly with Humphrey's FW 190 safely within the weight limit of 12 kg. The Opening Ceremony followed at 18h00 and this was about one and a half hours long with a parade lap around the sports field followed by innumerable translated speeches of welcome, the taking of the oath of good sportsmanship by one of the contestants on all our behalf and also the taking of an oath of unbiasedness taken by one of the judges on all their behalf. Thereafter one of the Polish team had to run a lap with a burning torch (stick with flames type) and then climb a long ladder to light the 'Championships Flame'. We were also entertained by a few 'Lazy Eights' over the stadium by a restored Polikarpov Po 2 . After the ceremony entertained continued in the form of a folk singing and dancing group of the University of Lublin doing their thing in the amphitheatre behind the stadium. This was barely completed when we were whisked off by bus to the runway for an impressive formation aerobatic display by the Polish Air Force team in their 'Istra' jet trainers and then to the 'Pilots House' barbecue venue elsewhere on the base where there was food, drink and music a plenty.

Sunday saw the start of flying at a civilised 10:00 due to the position of the sun relative to the flight line and static judging soon after the first flight. All aircraft close to the weight limit were weighed again after their first round flights. Johan was the first of the team to fly just before 18:00 in quite a breeze which was however straight down the very wide runway. A solid flight gave a score just below 1400 points. Flight scores were posted within ten minutes after the end of a flight.

On Monday Johan spent more than two hours in various banks in Deblin town during the morning and with the aid of two interpreters eventually managed to change some travellers' cheques. The Turbulent was static judged and Humphrey and Koos flew their first round flights late afternoon and last flight of the day respectively. Humphrey also scored a useful 1396 and Koos a very good 1449 to herald the end of round one. A number of 'big' names got a rude surprise when they scored zero for their non-aerobatic options with their aerobatics capable aircraft. The weather was hot and fairly humid for the whole time up to this point.
Tuesday saw a complete weather change with cool, continuous rainy weather. There was no sympathy from the officials and the show continued as per program. Johan flew his second round flight in a steady drizzle with at least the wind straight down the runway. The flight score was slightly less than the first flight score, despite it feeling better than the first. Humphrey flew in worse rain which necessitated the use of a plastic shopping bag over the Tx to protect it from the pelting rain. During the landing roll, pulling the throttle stick right back caused the bag to pull the retract switch resulting in a slow retraction of the undercart. Not good. Koos flew in less rain, with a strong 30degree off the runway wind and the score was also not what we wanted. No weight checking was done during this round. Static judging was also completed around this time, but posting of the scores were delayed to ensure that all three static judges had time to scrutinise the scores before signing them off as correct.

Once the static scores were posted a number of anomalies were noted, among them a mediocre score of 1497 for Humphrey's FW 190 which was fourth highest in Canada in 2002. An amended static list was posted during the following day, to be followed by a final one with the excuse that 'the computers communicated with one another incorrectly' during the process of computation. At least Humphrey's static score improved to 1662! At this point the team was placed in fifth position behind Germany by only 24 points.

The third round flight order was flown in the reverse order of individual positions as computed at the end of the second round. The rain had stopped but a blustery wind was now blowing at right angles to the runway direction. The flight line was shifted to a wide taxiway/run-off at right angles to the runway. This direction made over flying the spectator area and TX-control virtually impossible for the faster flying aircraft. Johan was scheduled to fly near the end of the daily activities. On the flight line, while choking the trusty OS 90 FS which had run without missing a beat up to that point, there was one revolution with compression and then nothing as if the elastic had snapped. Nothing would work and the flight scored zero. It was up to Humphrey and Koos to do the job. A semi-seized exhaust valve was later identified as the cause.

The next morning Humphrey did a splendid job to fly a 1478 flight score under less than ideal conditions to clinch fourth place for the team, since none of the Germans could improve on their previous round scores. Koos' third round flight was not one of his best and a nose-over on landing on the runway verge did not do his score any good. Last flight of the competition was flown by the 2000 and 2002 World Champion, Andreas Luthi of Switzerland. After his flight he was pulled in for a weight check. This resulted in consternation and controversy. His model was over the weight limit. No amount of de-fuelling and shaking and poking in the innards of the model would get it below the limit. He was eventually disqualified as far as his third round flight was concerned. The German team, with much to gain with Max Merckenschlager in the second place, lodged a protest to have him also disqualified from the second round as well. The jury ruled that since his model was not weighed after the second round, there was no proof that it was overweight at that time. Protest dismissed. Andreas was World Champion for the third time in succession albeit with some undercurrent of discontent from certain quarters.

Saturday was spent on a sight seeing tour to a turn of the previous century country mansion at Kozlowka followed by a picnic in the woods. Late afternoon saw the Prize Giving and Closing Ceremony based on the template of the Opening Ceremony with young ladies in traditional costume presenting certificates, medals and bouquets to the first three placers in the F4B (Control Line Scale) and F4C (Radio control Scale) classes for individuals and teams. With the Po 2 puttering overhead we marched out of the stadium to spruce up for the Closing Banquet.

This was a grand affair with a few speeches, some more folk singing and -dancing by the university group as well as some serious solos and duos by opera artists. The evening came to an end with a spectacular fireworks display and it was once again time to say good-bye to old and new friends till perhaps we meet in Sweden in two years time.

Sunday was a lazy day during which a visit was made to the Majdanek Concentration Camp in Lublin to satisfy the morbid curiosity of some members of the team. Monday dawned cold and rainy and after packing up and ensuring that our boxes were ready for transport, we took our leave of the organisers and set of on another death defying road trip to Warsaw where some uncanny navigation in defiance of non-signage got the team to the airport with time to spare.

Shopping for mementoes passed the time 'till we could board the delayed flight to Heathrow and rush to the departure point for the flight home. At Jhb International our arrival was spiced up with the news that our luggage did not run fast enough between the two connecting flights and would arrive later. Koos was fortunate to get his on the Wednesday, while Johan and Humphrey had to wait till the Next Monday evening and Tuesday morning respectively to receive their 'pre-soaked for wash' luggage. All due to a freak thunderstorm at Heathrow on the previous Tuesday, if BA is to be believed. The model boxes arrived safe and sound during the same week together with correctly filled in documentation which allowed the deposit to be liberated from SACOB.

The Word Championships once again was a great experience in a very foreign country with fine people, fantastic evenings with friends and serious days of competition. We were a close knit team with excellent team spirit, where each member contributed to a great result despite all the obstacles along the way. Sincere thanks to friends, family and colleagues who all supported and sacrificed to make this trip possible.

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