Redbull hangár

Redbull hangár

2012. július 12., csütörtök

Air rally around Lučenec

My last interviewee, Edit Tóvári mentioned to me the air rally. She pursued this sport so well in the past that she was a three-time national champion with his mate (Edit was the navigator). Seeing my interest, she invited me to the next race which was held at Lučenec airport (Slovakia) and in its environs. Edit couldn’t join me finally, but arranged a passenger seat to me at one of the competing pairs.

Text and photos: Gabriella

With whom I flew: the Zorkóczy - Zamencsik duo

We started from Farkashegy aerodrome (located close to Budapest) on a hot Saturday morning. Thanks to the 120 knots (220 km/h) speed of the Cessna, we arrived to Slovakia in 50 minutes. During this sightseeing flight, I could inspect Budapest's bridges, East-Hungary’s and the Slovakian chess board-like plow lands from a bird’s-eye view.

Town of Vác with the Danube and the basilica on the right

It was interesting to hear as the flight controllers pass us to each other, speaking a strange code-language which was unknown to me. As Krisztián told me later, probably they did the radio communication properly as we didn’t get a cortege by Slovakian MiG-29s. We heard a cheery „jó napot kívánok” (Good morning in Hungary) from the Lučenec aerodrome tower instead of the usual  „dobrý”. The owner of this voice was Feri, the Hungarian speaking flight controller who helped our landing. 

Landing at Lučenec aerodrome

The other nine competitors arrived soon after us, with a surprise guest among them: my friend, Gergő, who was participating in the rally event as a deputy-navigator. The most of the pairs who entered, have raced together for a long time (like the Zamencsik-Zorkóczy duo, who has took the mickey out of each other for three years), as the very complex tasks and the many opportunities to make a fault require big concentration and smooth cooperation from both parties. It isn’t similar to the autosport rally, where mostly the co-driver discovers the sessions, taking notes and later the driver just has to follow his instructions. The division of labor is equal in this sport.
The competitors examined together the area geographical map after arriving, what the briefing followed, where beside the program of the race, the actual weather conditions, the configuration of the terrain, the planned time of the lunch was mentioned too. Twenty minutes before the start, every pair edited their route and the checkpoints of the race on their own map, using the the given definitions.

Briefing. Kálmán Horti on the far right with István Matuz on his right - they are the organizers

They fixed the photos of the ground objects and the checkpoints onto a piece of plastic above the dashboard (some of the checkpoints pics are false sometimes – another trick), they have to mark the ground objects’ place on the map during flight – if they find them at all. The leading judge, István Matuz designed the route after a prior inspection of the area. He makes the competitors’ life complicated with such tricky definitions of checkpoints like „30 degrees from the church tower, 270 degrees from the transformer-house, and the intersection of these direction there will be a little bridge”. Another opportunity to make a fault, that distances are given sometimes in knots sometimes in kilometers, and the ground objects are not so charecteristic, so it's not easy at all to recognize them. They can be a high-stand for hunters or an average house in a row for example. Also happens sometimes, that the competitors have to follow the line of a dirt road or fly an exact arc between two checkpoints.
The rules weren’t born in the mind of the organizers of course, they use the rule book of the International Air Sports Federation (FAI). The competing pairs are started in two minutes minimally. They have to give their planned race speed to the judges previously, because this is how the referees can calculate, in which second do they have to reach the checkpoints. A satellite tracking system follows their moving and records precisely their height, speed, route and time.

On board part of the satellite tracking system, also known loggers (new ones at the bottom and old ones for spare on the top)

The organizers cannot follow it in real time, but later download data from the on board devices and check how precisely edited the route of each competitor and how accurately they followed it. The software can calculate even the penalty points from the data. They can get penalty points for flying over the checkpoints over 2 seconds (3 points for every plus second) or flying above them too high or too low (200 points), missing them (100 points), deviating from the route with more than 90 degrees (200 points), not finding the ground objects by the photos (30 points/each). Even, there is an extra task at landing: they have to land on a field on the runway which is divided into zones, touching the asphalt as close to the 0 point line as possible. So the winner pair is who has the least points, but as you can see, it’s easy to collect some hundred points. They can use only the basic navigation to it with visual flight rules (VFR). Use of additional navigation devices is forbidden, even me wasn’t allowed to sit into the plane during the race, avoiding to create any advantages by my presence (for example observing a ground object).
Flying the route lasted approximately 1 hour 40 minutes and the competitors got tired in the long concentration. Although they were happy with the lull, but the heat didn’t make their job easy. I’m quite sure, that they’ve lost some kilos during the race like the F1 pilots.

The pairs got five more minutes after landing to finish the editing on the map, marking all the ground objects. It happens sometimes, that a duo lost their way after the first checkpoints because of wrong navigation and they get the maximum penalty points for the further checkpoints and the landing task.
Anyway, as I was watching the evaluation of the results on the laptop, it come up to my mind, that the American pilots could have had a similar hard job in Vietnam when they were discovering the enemy’s territory – although they were often under fire during it. But the atmosphere wasn’t hostile here at all, the participants have known each other for a long time, it’s a very good community, joking is constant. I can rarely invited to such a cheerful lunch like it was. Most of them fly only in his/her free-time (the navigators also have a pilot license) only a few does flying as a job. As I was speaking with the competitors, I felt, that their goal is to conquer rather themselves than the other pairs, outshining their own performance again and again.
Which is good, because the goal of the rally flying is the same. As Kálmán Horti, one of the organizers said it strikingly: „to develop an intensity in the pilots in their own flying”.
He is considering a cooperation with the Slovakian rally flyers to establish a common championship, because it would increase the number of the participants and some further Slovakian race venue could be in the race calendar beside Lučenec and Nové Zámky.

There was military parachute training at the aerodrome in the past, some parts of the building keep its memories:

A corner of the canteen - furnished with parts of an An-2 (Slovakian paratroopers jumped out from this type)

More photos can be seen here: