At Leaseweb, we have become pretty fond of airplane aerobatics. This perhaps stems from our CEO Con Zwinkels, who has a passion for planes and often takes employees, customers, and partners up in the Leaseweb Extra 330LT aerobatic airplane. We have also been sponsoring the Leaseweb Texel Airshow since 2012 – an amazing aviation event which pulls in crowds in the thousands.
In this guest blog post, multiple Dutch champion Hendrik Jan (HJ) Overvest discusses his recent win at the Belgium Open Aerobatic Championship 2019, where he flew the ‘Leaseweb’ Extra 330LT to victory!
The Belgian Open Aerobatic Championship Koksijde (BOACK) is a fun and well-organized event with a strong cohort of competitors. The championship event consists of three flight programs: Free Known (or ‘qualifying’) and, the most interesting category, Unknown: which has a sequence that cannot be practiced in advance. That final category is the deciding factor in most competitions. A jury assesses the figures based on correct flight sequence and accuracy. One point is deducted for every 5 degrees of deviation from the figure, and those deductions can really add up. Each figure also has its own power category (difficulty rating) to ensure fair assessment in the final score. This jury-based sport can be compared to dressage, a highly skilled equestrian sport involving predetermined movements. In this case, the arena is replaced by a ‘box’ of one cubic kilometer – not much room to maneuver when you’re flying at 300 km/h! Pilots can also lose points for flying outside the ‘box,’ if only because the jury can’t see the figure as well.
At a relatively late stage in the game, just one week before the event, it was decided I would be flying the Leaseweb Extra 330LT in this competition. Leaseweb couldn’t miss out on the chance to participate in a well-attended event in Belgium. I’ve been flying airplanes for over 30 years now, but never the Leaseweb Extra 330LT. To go back to my horse-riding metaphor, this aircraft is like mounting a fine steed from the very best bloodlines; but you can’t just hop on and take it to the races. Long story short: we had a week to ‘get used to each other.’
The first flight program was the Free Known; in this category, everyone can design their own sequence, within strict criteria for difficulty. I had spent the previous week designing my sequence; my competition had spent the last six months on it. The results for that category reflected that difference. Fourth place: a bit disappointing, but close enough that I still had a chance to make up for it. Thanks to my extensive experience in competitions and air shows, and the amazing performance of the Leaseweb Extra 330, I saw potential.
The pilots had to fly the first ‘Unknown’ figure on the second day. We were on a level playing field here; no one can practice this category in advance. It was complicated, in the sense that it offered lots of room for figures to end up the wrong way around. In those cases, the jury has an easy time assessing the results: zero points! The figures also had to be flown in a complex sequence, which didn’t simplify matters at all. To my surprise, I was the only one who managed to fly the whole program without any zero-point results. Not only had I caught up to the competition, I had pulled ahead – even though my lead was small. Defending the first-place ranking changed the whole dynamic of the competition for me.
The second ‘Unknown’ was scheduled for the third day. A bigger crowd showed up that day since the weather wasn’t quite as nice for sunbathing on the beach. That meant it wasn’t great weather for flying either, but that’s part and parcel of a competition. Moreover, the wind had shifted 180 degrees, so the orientation of the flight program was also rotated. That meant visualizing everything all over again – i.e. visualizing where I had to fly the different figures and in which direction. Basically, you do that by running through the program in an imaginary ‘box’ in your mind, which is the only way to ‘practice’ without actually flying the sequence. And it must be said: everyone shared the same wind disadvantage. It’s always a funny sight to see all those pilots, concentrating intently, waving their hands around, rotating their heads in the flight direction, walking in circles across the platform. The sub-optimal flight conditions (low-hanging cloud cover) were only relevant for the first few pilots; the weather cleared up completely later on. Even so, the very first pilot won this category. I came in second, giving me enough points to maintain my lead from the previous day.
All in all, it was a successful event for the pilots and a great one for the spectators. I not only won, somewhat to my relief, but also look back at my efforts with great satisfaction. Flying a competition in an aircraft like the Leaseweb Extra 330 does create certain expectations…
Hendrik Jan (HJ) Overvest