Borrego Sun - Since 1949

Hammerheads Grace Skies


Last updated 4/24/2024 at 9:11pm

Those daredevil, gravity defying, insanely talented pilots were back in Borrego for the Spring Roundup, hosted by the International Aerobatic Club (IAC) Chapter 36 San Diego Hammerheads from April 18 – April 20.

This year's contest featured 36 contestants flying 30 aircrafts. Despite the warm temperatures, folks were enjoying the competition.

Returning pilots Rory Moore, Phillip Gragg, Alex Huey and Bryan Jones made their appearance, setting high standards as usual, with the absence of well-known pilots such as Jim Bourke, Susan Bell and AJ Wilder, who had to miss this year due to prior commitments. But new competitors flying in their first contest made themselves known.

With their dynamic expertise, vertical dives, rolls, graceful maneuvers, exploitation of aerodynamic and gyroscopic forces, pilots flew with precision for the judges, led by Chief Judge Michael Church.

"It was a great contest! Many thanks and kudos to Matt Sparks and the crew: Harald Schäfer (Reg), Dan Chripczuk & Craig Jones (starters), Bill Hill & Bryan Jones (scorers), Matt Dunfee (tech inspection), Jeff Granger (practice flight boss), and dozens more," Church said. "For aircraft, we had a bit of everything: the usual mix of Decathlons, Great Lakes, Pitts, Extras & Lasers, a Pitts S-1C, a Velox, a glider, a Sukhoi (the first in more than a decade), a Yak 55, and a Game Bird (the first at Borrego)."

After the five quite competitive competition categories, many looked forward to watching the Hammerhead finale, a four-minute freestyle with trailing smoke by experienced Unlimited pilots. The four-minute free has no limit to the number or style of figures and can be flown with smoke and music in order to add points for presentation. The competition consists of flying for four minutes. Any long or shorter could be subject to penalties that can drop a pilot from first to last. However chaotic it may look to the spectator, it is judged to standards like the rest of the competition.

Top awards went to Christian Del Ray (flying a Pitts Special S-2B N6035B), topping Aaron Benedetti by nearly 50 points.

Other top awards went to Brooks Mershon (flying a Sukhoi Su-26M N26KX), Advanced Power; Phillip Gragg, Intermediate Power (flying a Pitts Special S-2B N5FV); Brian Pham (flying a Pitts Special S1-SS N71AC), Sportsman Power. In the Unlimited Power category, David Watson (MX Aircraft MX2 N451EE) bested the other two contestants by over 100 and 200 points, respectively, Ekaterina Volkov (Extra 300S N330X) and Rory Moore (Extra 330SC N37SC).

The volunteers for the competition deserve a lot of praise. Jessica Hackler, Palmer Timmons, Tom Hogan, Alexis Nahama, Kevin May and many more came out just to volunteer. They certainly help make this competition possible, sticking through the intense heat, still able to help judge the competition.

Pilots will be back for the annual Akrofest Competition, to be held in October.

The Akrofest Competition in October is a premier event, as the chapter touts their aerobatic box as "the world's finest aerobatic box – built to CIVA standards, designed to host the world championships, and practically visible from space," said IAC President Bourke, who is also one of the top stunt pilots.

Chapter 36 is one of three IAC chapters operating in Southern California, founded in the 1970s. IAC is a non-profit organization, as are all its member chapters. They are also a division of EAA, an organization that promotes the sport of aerobatics, provides standards for measuring the quality of aerobatic flight, and is the central governing board for contest aerobatics. IAC also works with the FAA in matters regarding aerobatic flight and associated regulations. While IAC operates at a national level, local chapters within the organization operate at a regional level.

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