Every year in early June the Royal Aero Club of Spain organises this challenge, open to all pilots from any nation. The task is for the crews, pilot and navigator, to navigate with precision, both position and timing via set way points as laid out in the rules for that year; there are two spot landing competitions which are included in the overall score. This year, 2007, a total of 22 aircraft were entered, not all for the entire week as the rally was held over several days, 5th to the 10th June, assembling at the airport serving the city of Leon on the Tuesday to be welcomed that evening by the President of the Aero Club de Leon, D.Andres Mateos de Paz in their magnificent club house situated in the city centre, a reception and fine meal followed; this was a great start and was an indication of what the week had in store, good hotels, fine food and the very best of company, fellow pilots working hard testing their skills whilst flying all around Spain, passing over the lush agricultural areas in the North down further South over the oak forests, famous for the black pigs which eat the acorns resulting in very special ham, over to the East, great fields of sunflowers and then many miles over the olive trees as well as of course various vineyards of several famous well known wine regions. The tour could be subtitled and 'Food and Wine Tasting Tour of Spain'!
The Royal Aero Club of Spain (RACE) and its President, D.Jose Luis Olias have built this annual rally up to what it is today, well organised, safe and enjoyable. RACE in recent years have succeeded in encouraging general aviation activities in Spain, holding the World Air Games in conjunction with the Lausanne based FédÉration AÉronautique Internationale (The World Air Sports Federation) and World Aerobatic Championships whose General Aviation Commission President is also Spanish, D.Pedro Cabanero. In July 2007 the new World Champion is Spain's own Ramon Alonso flying a Sukhoi 29 with the Spanish Team coming second. RACE itself owns its own Sukhoi 29 and encourages aspiring aerobatic pilots to achieve top aerobatic skills. D.Jose Luis Olias accompanied the Rally this year in this Sukhoi giving flights to any pilot with the Rally when time permitted.
The Spanish Air Force always enter one crew flying one of their Beechcraft BE33 Bonanzas which are used for newly qualified pilots to gain navigation experience before being posted to their squadrons. They also provide a support aircraft, usually a CASA CN235 which transports the judges from place to place as well as spares and baggage. The aircraft and crew are there to show the flag and are included in every aspect of the week. The Aero Club of Portugal entered several teams led by their President, D.Manuel Silva Salta, always made very welcome. Just two other nationalities were represented, Argentina and France, a single pilot from each who teamed up to make a single crew. There were several husband and wife teams, all doing well.
Each aircraft was given a GPS 'black box' recording every section of the flight, the judges led by Pedro Cabanero flying in the Spanish Air Force CN235 arrived before the first aircraft, setting up their 'office' in the terminal or club buildings ready to download the results from the GPS recorders, within 5 minutes of the pilot reporting in his flight track was there to be checked and his individual printout given to him, any queries that there might be could be immediately checked and the answer given, simple, efficient and very accurate. Digital photographs were also taken by the crews at waypoints as a final check.
This year was typical with four stages, Leon to Salamanca on the Wednesday, Salamanca to Cordoba on the Thursday, Friday it was Cordoba to firstly Beas de Segura(Jaen) for a spot landing competition and then onto Mutxamel(Alicante) and then on the Saturday Mutxamel to Lillo(Toledo) for the final spot landing competition. There are three assessments made for all the crews, firstly accurate navigation, then timing and finally the spot landings. Points are added for every error, resulting in the lowest scores being the winning scores. An example was one day the leading crew gained just 14 marks, an incredible achievement considering that timing is to the second. Scores in the thousands were also 'achieved' by some teams!
Overall the standard of airmanship is high, the outright winners were Roberto Blanco (Royal Aero Club of Santander) and Jesus Mas Marin (Aero Club of Alicante) who achieved the lowest score for the week of just 286 points flying a Cessna 152, closely followed with 298 points given to Antonio Farre and Pablo Manuel and third place went to Carlo Eugui and Miguel Serrano with 568 points.
Each evening the winning team for that day were awarded a cup and then on Saturday evening the final prize giving ceremony was held at the Royal Aero Club of Spain's headquarters, Cuatro Vientos Airport, Madrid after the final speeches and meal, a fitting end to a great week. Crews flew home on the Sunday after a relaxing breakfast and late start.
Do not forget, next year will be another 'Vuelta Area de Espana', Aerial Rally of Spain, this is a well run annual event and overseas pilots will be very welcome, details from www.real-aeroclub.org or firstname.lastname@example.org
My sincere thanks to D.Jose Luis Olias, President of the Royal Aero Club of Spain (Real Aero Club de Espana RACE) for inviting me on this amazing annual event. Thanks also to D.Pedro Cabanero, President of the Lausanne based FAI-GAC who was chief judge and with his team controlled the whole of the Rally making sure it was run according the rules and with regard to safety and the good standing of Spanish Aviation.
Thank you to the crew of the Spanish Air Force CASA CN235 ALA 35 based at Getafe who welcomed me on board their aircraft, Teniente Raul Madrid Manrique, Teniente Juan Lopez Tello, Manuel Pedrero Plaza (flight engineer) and Gorka Martin Eguren (load master). Raul Madrid has now left the Air Force and is with Netjets, Europe flying the Hawker 400XP, the next step on his career. Juan Lopez is a fast rising star in the Spanish Air Force, soon to be promoted, Coronel and no doubt General in years to come! Manuel Pedrero is one of the very last flight engineers in the aviation World, a real professional. Gorka Martin made sure I was safely attached to the aircraft at all times when the rear cargo door was opened in flight for me to take air to air photos, once low level from Leon to Salamanca and again over the sea between Alicante and Benidorm. This crew were a fine advert for the Spanish Air Force (Erjercito del Aire).
My thanks too to all the pilots and crews who took part in the Rally, for their welcome and friendship and all the places we visited and were made so welcome by the local aero clubs, namely Leon, Salamanca, Cordoba and Alicante.