2008 F3J World Championship - Juniors

I am not only immensely proud of the achievements of our F3J junior pilots, but am awed by the level of maturity & professionalism they have consistently displayed. Based on my observations of these gifted individuals, I think SA’s F3J future is looking very good.

The Junior team was formed during the initial selection process which commenced around mid 2007. Due the number of juniors involved actively in competitive RC gliding during 2006/2007, it was agreed that the juniors need only qualify for selection based on achieving 80% of the top score during senior qualification rounds. In the event that more than 3 juniors were eligible, a fly-off approach would be adopted as per the seniors. This is a reasonable approach as the results achieved by our top flyers are comparable with world standards, and the 80% was based on an evaluation of past international junior results. For the record, the juniors all exceeded this minimum. Initially 3 juniors (the same team as the 2006 Slovakia campaign) qualified – giving a number of senior pilots some serious challenge in the qualification process. Due to factors outside of our control, one of the juniors identified that they were unable to attend the WC early on, but we were fortunate to receive interest from another individual who soon qualified according to the same set of criteria.

The Junior Protea Team of Conrad Klintworth, Simon Tladi & Ryan Nelson were accepted on their qualification results without questions by the SIG/SAMAA. Soon after this, Ian Lessem was appointed by the pilots as their Junior Team Manager as per the previously agreed team manager process, and due to the fact that Ian has considerable experience in F3J & Junior World Championships, and was busy coaching Simon Tladi already (Simon incidentally won the first RC Gliding competition in 2008, competing on even terms with the seniors at the January Highveld Thermal League event hosted by ETB).

Late in 2007, the Juniors began an intense campaign of practices & competitive flying, Conrad converted early on to the Pike Perfect with devastating results to the senior flyers, Simon & Ryan staying with the X-Pro / Shadow combination, and also providing a strong challenge to senior pilots. It was clear that their youth had negligible affect on their piloting skill & these individuals stood proud as extremely competent pilots amongst the far more “experienced”. Strong support from their families and a self determination & inner strength that I have never witnessed amongst kids before, ensured that they remained with their practice schedules, each pilot continuing to improve measurably as the World Championships drew nearer.

The sponsors played a huge role – SAMAA’s Transformation & Development in particularly providing an ex gratia donation to significantly assist the juniors with their considerable expenses of competing internationally. The SAMAA T&D is mainly funded from the Lotto organisation & this year saw a considerable increase in funding that will permit this community focused SAMAA group continue to ensure a place for an aeromodelling future in South Africa. In addition, a generous donation from Basil Read was made to assist the Juniors & Senior towards transporting their model aircraft to the WC. Kaytie provided embroidery and printing services for team golf & T-shirts, which soon became much sought after items by teams from other countries – it was particularly amusing to see Daryl Perkins wear his SA T-shirt two days in a row; he claimed it brought him good luck in his landings! The MGA & SAMAA also provided funds for the FAI licenses & WC entry fees, whilst individuals including Peter Eagle, Rudolf Engelmann, Craig Goodrum, and Wolfgang Steffny all contributed towards assisting the team in terms of their own time & money.

Whilst funding was happening separately, the juniors continued practising, and reverted to low level thermal & landings using bungy launches. I often heard that each pilot completed 20 – 30 launch & land type practices per day, and I worried about their batteries being drained (no, not the model’s flight packs, but rather just the concern of individual burn-out), but these pilots persevered & even appeared to up the number of and intensity of their practises!

Suddenly the big day arrived, and with boxes & bags packed an excited group met at OR Tambo, departing for Turkey using Emirates via Dubai. I was bemused by the fact that Emirates insisted on their free luggage wrapping service due to the incredibly high incidence of thefts encountered at OR Tambo – made even more interesting as OR Tambo officially denied claims of excessive baggage theft the same week we departed?

After a loooong trip, we finally arrived in Turkey, passed out in our hotel & the next day were absolutely stunned by the amazing facilities provided by our accomplished hosts. A huge mowed grass field & massive tents, with onsite toilets, AC & restaurant serves only to scratch at the surface of this organisation – it was AWESOME! Soon the juniors’ models were extracted from the travel boxes & even though it was obvious that every baggage handler from Cape Town to Cairo had attempted to rubbish the contents, not a single model appeared damaged! The bungy was laid out & practice lines set-up with the towers getting to “grips” with the grassy conditions. Poor frequency control soon saw Conrad’s #1 Pike shot out of the sky & the explanation of the Russian helper that he had “his” peg on the board was not acceptable to the team. When Simon’s Ryan’s XPro was also shot down & virtually totalled, a brief but somewhat blunt word in the ear of the organisers was sufficient to impose rigorous Tx control. Chris, was able to rebuild Ryan’s XPro fuselage from jigsaw sized pieces in less than a day (!) & Ryan’s dad went on a mission to blow his 2008, 2009, 20… model budget by buying as many new models as possible for Ryan (obviously not for dad, of course!).

Initial conditions were excellent – a light breeze triggering strong thermals provided the SA team’s with virtual homeground advantage and first scores looked very promising. The afternoon weather soon took a turn for the vicious, when a strong wind started blowing & model carnage ensued. The lightly loaded models being struck by massive sink & simply unable to penetrate, these soon began dropping out far away from the field. Simon was one of the first to experience this & his Shadow smote a tree with considerable force, exceeding the material strength of most components by a fair margin and the resulting bag of bits were rendered somewhat useless for the remainder of the Championships. During this time, Ryan also “elected” to land in tree, but did so with a little more elegance – Craig scrambling to the top of a “very thin & bendy” branch before it was retrieved with hardly a scratch (dad’s blown budget was saved). During all this time & even with these set-back’s, the juniors mustered on as if they were veterans of world cups & showed considerable maturity & emotional strength far beyond their years.

Their social interaction with neighbouring teams was exceptional & Simon Tladi, in particular, soon had the entire WC eating out of his hand.

The results were extremely promising with Conrad lying 3rd overall until an unfortunate 9th round which saw 11 of the 12 pilots forced to land early due to oppressive sink & one pilot max the 10 minutes slot due to a high risk gamble – which dropped Conrad down to an unrecoverable 18th. The most amazing thing was that he came back to win his next slot – proving just how professional & mature a pilot this young man is. Simon Tladi was especially consistent, and although he achieved a few slot wins, the initial out-landing cost him severely in an incredibly closely contested event where a few seconds or only 5 landing points cost people many positions. Finally Ryan, flying in his first WC, was able to maintain his mid 20th placing throughout, & his ice cool demeanour behind those sunglasses were enough to scare a number of seasoned seniors! Their combined results were simply stunning, with a 5th overall position against absolutely world class pilots. In fact, I have to remind myself time & again that these are juniors – there humbling flying skill & maturity make it difficult to remember this somewhat minor detail.

With ongoing support from the gliding community, and financial support from SAMAA, the astonishingly high level of skills displayed by our juniors bodes well for a very bright F3J gliding future in South Africa.

Well done, Conrad (“rash”) Klintworth, Simon (“lightning”) Tladi, and Ryan (“chucky”) Nelson.
I believe that everyone will agree that YOU have made us all proud.