Chairman’s Report – 2014
How do we describe success ? In 2014 we ran a full season of air races all our favourite venues especially Abbeville and Alderney but also two new airfields, Popham in Hampshire and Perth in Scotland. The weather did its best to deter us from racing but we managed a full program sometimes under substantial threats. My water stained briefing notes and start line documents are evidence that it wasn’t all straight forwards.
In a year when fuel prices have reached an all-time peak there is no doubt that air racing participation needs careful planning to get the most out of flying time and costs. Changes to our handicap system have delivered opportunities to reduce octagon checks and therefore flying times. Experimentation with shorter courses also has some promise of cost savings. For sure we have to make it possible for prospective racers to see a viable entry level cost for becoming a racing pilot and I hope that 2015 will provide some opportunities to consider this.
The cancellation of the race school was disappointing but commercially sensible especially as we can cover training and check-outs for FAI licences throughout the season. But new members are critical to our future and I am hopeful that potential new members will at the very least get involved as ground crew if they fail to take to the air on first contact. Looking ahead many experienced members are returning to race in 2015, so four or five competitive pilots will be out there for this season. This is good news because a racing field of 15 aircraft definitely constitutes a race in my book and provides a measure of entertainment on the ground welcomed by host airfields.
In brief, the 2014 season had a slow start, only 6 competitors at Shobdon (some easy early championship points) and at Leicester some very bad weather early Saturday kept many entries away. Pouring with rain we stood in the café at 10:15am without a single aircraft on the apron. Then as if from nowhere the sun came out and six aircraft arrived in time for the briefing and two days racing and more easy championship points.
What a contrast then to arrive in Abbeville France for a sun drenched weekend, 13 racers enjoying a great weekend and the wonderful company of Serge Weibel and his supporting cast. Excellent hospitality and a locally organised war memorial flypast on the Sunday.
Our return to the Isle of Wight and to Sandown was full of expectation after some troubled times at this venue in the past. The weather threatened the Saturday race and the start line was a very unpleasant and wet place to be, but did not prevent 15 starters chase the Goodyear Trophy and finish in brilliant sunshine.
The southern course was also surprisingly challenging with a very variable race course profile. A fantastic family weekend for many competitors, regrettable only in that we might not be returning to Sandown any time soon.
Popham welcomed us for the first time, Airfield Manager - Gerry Smith doing a great job on the ground as we squeezed ourselves into the busy space between Solent Zone and Heathrow TMA. We managed this well although a phone call to NATS on Monday did indicate our close proximity to Solent had a few bells ringing, something of no consequence in the end but something we can improve on in our return to Popham this year.. don’t miss it, all you who went on holiday last year. Suzy Church owner of Popham was hugely enthusiastic at the prize giving and we are very welcome back this year.Shobdon and the Kings Cup was the usual crowd pleaser on a lovely sunny weekend, new members and pilots again took an early shower as the “Lancaster” got a repeat airing on the Saturday evening.
Close finishes here at Shobdon continue to demonstrate that the new handicapping software continues to improve. Mark Turner has contributed considerably to the technical arguments need to provide reliable and fair software for the club and engineered the resulting programs into a dependable if still developing system. All credit to the handicap technical team, Chairman-Cliff Hawkins and his secondees for very effectively benchmarking these procedures.
On then to Scotland and Perth for the first time in the middle of independence referendums. Two races successfully run whilst it is fair to say the Scottish Aero Club and the airfield management were on a steep learning curve. The Air Ambulance based at Perth also added some entertainment to the organisational challenges.. but we got there in the end and the weather held off just long enough for us to complete a successful first visit to Scotland.
With a Grand Finale in Alderney where there is so much co-operation it is almost embarrassing. This is much driven by our adopted son Ralph Burridge and our organisation is supported so well on the island, by the States of Guernsey and by our sponsors Aurigny, Reynards, AEL Avgas, Bavarian, this venue is of course “special”. Some close racing ensued and just one second separating John Kelsall, the winner of the Schneider Trophy from second place returning racer Nigel Reddish further evidence the new handicapping system is providing a challenge for pilots.
The club does need to continue to re-invest in equipment and assets that can support a credible championship. So with advances in handicap software we need faster computing power and more accurate GPS data. Fortunately we can support this through excellent financial management from Dave Lee our Treasurer and a prospective surplus for the second year running in 2014.
On this point it is clear that the future development of the club relies heavily on increasing membership in any category. Last year we met a number of people including one very young enthusiast who eventually got a navigators seat with Michael Wingenroth. I would be keen to see such enthusiasm supported by an additional class of membership, who could benefit from receiving the online excellent “Aeroracer” publish by stalwart committee member Dan Pangbourne. Ground crew are in short supply this year and it is alternative none racing membership that could fill these roles to great effect and with impartiality.
Airfields generally continue to welcome us back and to the point that we may have to introduce a two year cycle for some venues. There are also possibilities of engaging with other events that would allow us to run races in conjunction with these to good effect. More news on this as we move into 2015.
I want to avoid a long list of thank you’s here because there are so many. But Judy Hanson who’s behind the scenes efforts are hard to quantify because they are so important.. is intending to retire. We have recruited another hard working volunteer Pete Chilcott as the apprentice and during the season he will be working alongside her to learn the ropes. Peter already contributes enormously to the Club as Webmaster, Social Secretary and Turn Point Marshall.. !!
So we have New season ahead of us with many challenges.. but the prospect of improved numbers of
racers and close finishes. All we need now is the weather to be on our side as ever. I hope that we can build on the solid foundation we have in committee with an excellent work sharing ethic. I would like to that all of the committee retiring or up for re-election for their support and understanding throughout 2014.
I wish you all a good seasons racing and an interesting and informative symposium.