Nigel Hopkins is the reigning South African National and Unlimited Aerobatic Champion and a well as a South African Airways flight captain and SAA training captain and a known face at Durban air shows. Photo: Supplied
Nigel Hopkins is the reigning South African National and Unlimited Aerobatic Champion and a well as a South African Airways flight captain and SAA training captain and a known face at Durban air shows. Photo: Supplied

Durban - A South African air ace kept his cool when his aircraft broke up at the start of a stunt flying sequence, parachuting to safety over France.

Nigel Hopkins, the reigning South African National and Unlimited Aerobatic Champion and a well known face at Durban air shows, had to bail out of his MX2 stunt plane in mid-air when he noticed something was wrong on Sunday.

The Pretoria resident, a South African Airways flight captain and SAA training captain, was in France for the 28th French Aeronautical Federation World Aerobatic championship.

The cream of the world’s aerobatic pilots gather in Châteauroux, in the central region of France, for the competition from August 20 to 29.

Hopkins, 42, posted a message on his Facebook page letting everyone know he was safe.

“Thanks so much for all the support, it’s overwhelming. Mixed emotions right now. Many asking questions, until we have more info basically my aircraft broke in flight at the start of an aerobatic sequence and I managed to bail out and parachute safely,” he wrote.

The British Aerobatic Association posted on its Facebook page that Hopkins had been training with the British team.

“Hopkins had an in-flight failure and managed to escape under parachute. I am pleased to report that Nigel is fine and having a well-earned beer,” the post said.

Members of the international aviation chat group, Avcom, claimed the plane’s engine mounting bracket tore out of the aircraft’s carbon fibre structure.

Durban aviation photographer and regular contributor to the Daily News, Brian Spurr, described Hopkins as a brilliant pilot.

“The aircraft was destroyed. Probably his experience and sense of coolness led to him making the right decision,” Spurr said.

Hopkins and his plane were flown to Europe recently.

He then flew from Luxembourg to Poland on August 5.

Last Monday he arrived in the UK to join the British team and train with legendary pilot Klaus Schrodt.

He arrived in France on Friday.

Hopkins has notched up an impressive string of achievements in the aerobatic world.

He recently piloted the SAA Airbus A320 with the Flying Lions Aerobatic team in close formation for a crowd-pleasing low pass in Namibia.

He has flown at the Al Ain International Air Show three times, finishing second at the 2010 Aero GP as well as second in the Grand Aero Challenge events in Hungary, where he placed first and second.

In September 2010, with Mark Hensman, he performed in Laiwu, China, at the Chinese Air Festival as the newly formed Team Xtreme! Hopkins placed second in the freestyle contest.

In May 2011 Team Xtreme flew at the World Air Masters event in Dazu, China, where Hopkins was crowned the inaugural Masters Champion.

In 2012 Hopkins returned as a regular on the SA Air Show circuit flying a breathtaking freestyle display in the MX2. Last month he was crowned SA National and Unlimited Aerobatic Champion.

How the MX2 tandem sport stacks up

The MX2 is a carbon fibre, two-seat tandem sport aircraft produced by MX Aircraft of North Carolina, US. The MX2 has been used by competitors in the annual Red Bull Air Race World Championship.

The low-wing cantilever monoplane has full span ailerons and a conventional landing gear with a tailwheel.

It is powered by a 260hp (194kW) Lycoming IO-540 flat-six piston engine with a three-blade tractor propeller.

Optimised for aerobatic speed and agility the MX2 can pull a G-load of about 12 Gs, giving it tight turns and loops and a range of aerobatic manoeuvres.

An MX2 raced a Supermarine Spitfire around the Isle of Wight for the 70th anniversary of the first Spitfire produced. The Spitfire won. – Source: Wikipedia

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