After the great fun of the first ESA-ECB Air Rally in October 2020, we were impatient to arrange another one. So, after only a few months, we launched the 2021 ESA-ECB Air Rally.
Dive with me into the memories of this exciting competition!
The 2021 ESA-ECB Air Rally was made possible by the invaluable support of:
Why an Air Rally
In October, we arranged this type of contest for the first time. While there were a few things that we knew we would need to fine-tune, all participants had a great time and were enthusiastic about the Air Rally. Indeed, it’s a great way to keep navigation skills and situational awareness honed. Naturally, the use of GPS is strictly forbidden.
You can read more about this type of competition in my previous post here. In this article I will simply say that flying an air rally requires you to fly a route as close as possible to your flight plan. Basically, It’s about being at the right place at the right moment!
One of the key aspects for the success of a Rally is the route. In facts, waypoints must be challenging enough to identify. At the same time, they must be at a sufficient distance to prevent conflicting traffic and allow for a certain duration of the flight. Luckily, we had a friend of the Deutsche Flugsicherung to help us there and design the perfect route.
In our route, we had fountains, castles and even the final straight line of a car test track to conclude triumphantly the race.
All of them proved to be challenging, but if you made your flight plan well and followed it to the letter, it was achievable by all pilots.
Finding some balance during Covid-19 times
We initially planned May 8, hoping that the pandemic situation would be lighter. Sadly, the then-new Delta variant made things more complicated. Despite all restrictions, we managed to carry on with our event and had the great honor to be supported by very special guests:
Filippo Barbero and Filippo Fontemaggi, former Italian Airforce pilots, supported us as judges, and Elena Barsottelli, one of the most talented aviation photographers, documented the whole ESA-ECB Air Rally for us.
Sadly, no audience could attend and we had to cancel the presentations that our guests had prepared. I hope this article and the video below, will transmit all the enthusiasm and energy of the event. We hope to hold all presentations at the next occasion!
The pilots, the planes, the start
Finally, comes the moment of the race. Pilots receive the explanation of the rules and soon start their planning. Each crew is different from another: there are commercial, private and even student pilots. And the beauty of the Air Rally is that it’s so unique that flight hours don’t necessarily matter.
For this edition, we also had very different planes: a few 4-seaters (a Piper, a Maule and a Mooney) and many 2-seaters (Diamond Katana, Aquila A210 and the beautiful historic Ercoupe 415-D).
When the time for planning is over, we reconvene in front of the terminal and assign the starting time. Ori and I are the first to start with a declared speed of 115 kts.
I have already checked the Piper PA28 that will take us through this challenging route. The engine is warm, the red and white livery of the plane shines under the morning sun.
We hop on, but first let two special passenger accommodate. As the stress to fly the route as precisely as possible wasn’t already enough, we invited our Airforce guests onboard (please note that we were all already vaccinated and tested negative to multiple tests). I had already checked the weight and balance in case they trusted me that much.
And indeed, I took it as a very big sign of trust when they happily sat in the back of the plane.
The engine starts smoothly, we taxi to the holding point of RWY 26. As the plane accelerates on the asphalt the emotion leaves pace to concentration. The route officially starts on the first waypoint in Dieburg. I make use of the few minutes available to adjust the power settings and the elevator trim.
It’s a very clear day. As we enter the race track, I can see the bend of the Main river where the Aschaffeburg castle (our next waypoint) is located. I rely then on this visual reference and focus on my speed. Ori measures the time with its cronograph. I ask him a check when we are about 2 miles from the target. We seem to be doing fine.
Bias and illusions
Off to the next point! The next one is probably the one target that worries me most. Indeed, it is the fountain in the garden of an old German palace. I think I know the palace, but this makes me even more worried: there are so many historic buildings around Frankfurt. I may convince myself (and my navigator) that the target is that one castle with which I am more familiar rather than the correct one. In the end, the difficulty of a Rally lies all here. Trusting your planning and instruments more than your instinct.
Bias and illusions can trick us during a navigation. Many pages have been written about the subject and, thankfully, I read some of them.
As we get closer to our supposed target and the target time, we scan the ground intensely. In my recollection now, I may swear to have spotted at least 5 fountains!
But eventually there she is! In the front of the Philippsruhe Palace as described.
Intense traffic, difficulties over Ronneburg, and finally on ground
As more planes taking part to the Rally depart, also the radio chatter becomes more intense. I pay particular attention to where Tiago with his fast Mooney is. Fortunately there seem to be always proper separation.
In such context, it’s important to use the frequency for concise meaningful information. On each waypoint, I declared my position, the following reporting point, the heading and expected time overhead.
After the Ronneburg Castle, we were supposed to make a left turn. However, we found ourselves a few hundred meters left of the castle and had to make a right turn instead. This caused quite some difficulties to find the following one, the farm , but eventually we managed. Sadly, not without accruing some delay on that leg.
Once found the solar farm, we confidently headed to the old Frankfurt airport, located in the district of Bonames. The airfield was opened by the Allied Forces and was used until 1992. Although converted now to a public park, the runway is still paved and the markings well visible.
We crossed the centre of the long asphalt strip right on spot and turned South for the final two waypoints: the stadium of Offenbach and the straight of the Opel test track.
As I landed the PA28, I realised the intense effort that one hour of such navigation meant. I felt truly satisfied for managing to keep the attention so high regardless of the final ranking.
On adifferent note, I was also quite happy for flying around two of the best pilots I may possibly know without being shouted at for some mistake!
The final ranking
Thanks to the great work of Mikel who coded the algorithm for the score, we had the ranking in matter of few minutes:
1st place: D-EMUX – Crew from ESA Aviators
2nd place: D-EXDA -Crew from Frankfurter Verein für Luftfahrt
3rd place: D-ETLK – Crew from Hanseatischer Flieger Club Frankfurt
Following the overwhelming positive response, we just can’t wait to organise the next Rally!
Don’t miss the video below for a visual report, and don’t forget to subscribe to the channel for more updates!