Photo Report – 24th Zagreb Kup Precision Landing Championship

By me
All photos me too, copyrighted

Looking back on it (even though it still has a month and a bit left to run), this year has, aviation-wise, been almost a complete joke. One of the rainiest years since record keeping began in Croatia some two centuries ago, it has produced no less than three major floods, interspersed with unusually frequent (and surprisingly violent) cyclones and depressions that had – in some cases – dumped a year’s worth of rain in just a few weeks. Scenes such as this and this had kept most of our grass airfields closed and flooded for days on end, trapping all of our money-making aircraft and rendering them unable to flee to the paved safety of the country’s major airports…

Likewise, man-made disasters had conspired against us as well, with the country’s long-standing economic crisis now running into its seventh consecutive year – with very little light only dimly visible at the end of the tunnel. Apart from a general reduction in life standard, spanners thrown into Croatia’s GA works include soaring fuel prices, increased maintenance costs – and, not least of all, stepped-up efforts by several operators of popular paved airports to collect increasingly exorbitant fees and charges in order to alleviate their own financial difficulties.

An yet, despite all of this, the local GA scene is operating like there’s no tomorrow (likely because if the weather continues like this, there probably won’t be 😀 ), with a new bizjet, new skydive Cessna, new glider and towplane all having arrived in country within the past few months. Flying clubs are on a roll as well, with mine already having beaten its previous flight time high, set – ironically – in 2013 :). Skydive flights, airshow performances, panoramic flights, private rentals… all seem to be coming back on track despite the worsening living standard (with only flight training letting the side down).

Much of the same could have also been seen during the 24th Zagreb Cup precision landing championship, held at Lučko Airfield (LDZL) on Saturday 11 October :). A yearly small-town event whose sole purpose is to have some good-natured fun (and enjoy a good BBQ afterwards 😀 ), the competition had this year attracted an all-time record in aircraft and competitors, numbering at four Cessna 150s, three Cessna 172s and 24 competing pilots respectively. While this doesn’t sound like much compared to some of the larger and more formal competitions held elsewhere in Europe, it is still of one of the main aviation (social) events of the season, and had this year easily topped the 2013 competition, where we had a showing of only five aircraft and just 18 pilots.

A handy visual guide to everything you need to know about the competition. Closest to me is the landing field used for the purpose, drawn up in lime powder on the right side of RWY 28L. 72 meters long in total, it is marked off in several 5 meter wide grids, plus a two meter wide “zero mark” that represents the ideal touchdown point. For 20 meters on either side, the grids are further split into one meter wide segments – as shown here – to aid the judges in determining the exact point of contact. Further back behind the field are three of the seven competition aircraft – parked on RWY 28R – with the competitors monitoring progress on the runway’s edge.

As nearly every year so far, the competition had been blessed with beautiful summer-like anticyclonic weather, sporting clear blue skies, temperatures of around 25 degrees Centigrade – and lighting conditions to die for. The only thing missing compared to last year was a stiff 15 knot crosswind, replaced this time by a light, variable and refreshing breeze – quite welcome when standing in the sun for several hours 😀 .

Even though this meant we’d miss out on the visually attractive landings of 2013, my shutter finger was not left to stand idly by, with my role as assistant judge allowing me the occasional opportunity to play around a bit… 🙂

The first group of competitors (minus C150 9A-DMI standing to my left) prepares for take-off down RWY 28L. Since they were departing individually, for reasons of safety the lead ship had to be the fastest of the group – C172 9A-DFH – with the three slower C150s at the back sequenced by their pilots’ precedence on the competition roster. Of note, since the competition field took up half the width of the runway, all competitors had to take off from an intermediate position – roughly 200 meters from the threshold – to avoid blowing the flags and lime away…

To avoid running over the above – and the occasional judge – on the way to the intermediate position, the competitors had to taxi past the field on the left side of the runway, which had conveniently brought them to within a few meters of my position – thus allowing me plenty of opportunity to play with various compositions as they rolled by. One of these had inadvertently ended up being a study of the minute differences and options available on the Cessna 150 during its production run…

One of life’s rare opportunities to stand in front of a (slowly) taxing aircraft on the primary runway of a (somewhat) busy airfield with a camera in one hand and a cool beverage in the other!

A crowd on final like we’re at a proper airport! Even though the competition specified a separation standard of one and a half minutes between successive aircraft – enough to have four machines evenly spaced around the circuit all at once – different piloting techniques and approaches had invariably eroded it from time to time…

“Caution wake turbulence”. They may not be fast jets and there’s no smooth tarmac under their tires, but it nevertheless makes one happy to see them! Interestingly, by the time CCG had turned onto the crosswind leg, the lead ship of the group – Cessna 172N 9A-DHL – was already turning final…

Even though it happens only rarely, it is not unseen for contestants to have occasional tailstrikes during these sorts of competitions. Thankfully, in this case the actual strike was very light and brief, with only the tail tie-down ring making contact with the ground. Had it not been there to kick up the grass, we likely would have never noticed…

Deja-vu from 2013… even though there was almost no wind for the entire duration of the competition, occasionally some of the contestant had made a hash of their final “no flaps, no power” approach, forcing them to stretch their glide as much as possible and plonk the aircraft down on its last few Newtons of lift. While this does look somewhat dramatic, the competition rules allow it up to a point, provided the wheel in the air is at a height less than its diameter and not for more than 5 meters horizontal distance.

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