Revalidated

It is a year since I passed my initial flight test for my PPL. According to South African air law, after one year, you need to revalidate your PPL (and thereafter every two years). This is done via a ground briefing/exam and a flight test. 

In the year since I got my PPL I have flown about 70 hours, 11 of that as dual instruction for my night rating and 5 odd hours in the sim. The rest, apart from a few jaunts in the SR20 with family, has been in my Sling 4 ZU-IBM. There have been a lot of local flights – practicing stuff, keeping current and proficient, and the odd long trip – most memorable being the flight to Cape Town and back in November last year, with a few family day trips thrown in here and there. 

I’m beginning to feel very comfortable in the Sling – it truly is an amazing aircraft to fly – responsive, capable and comfortable. There is nothing better than cruising along with only 1 finger on the stick and basically only having to think and the plane goes where you want. My landings are becoming more consistent (note, not necessarily better, just more consistent) and I’m gaining confidence in going to the smaller airfields that the club breakfast runs sometimes visit. 

I am not so complacent as to think I had the renewal flight test waxed though – I did a fair amount of practicing in the weeks before – lots of stalls, steep turns and precautionary landing drills. I’m keenly aware that these are perishable skills which many folks don’t keep because they only fly from point A to point B. 

I was due to meet the examiner at Tedderfield on Saturday at 10am – so imagine my reaction when I got into the plane at Baragwanath, turned the starter key… and nothing happened. A flat battery was not the ideal start to a flight test day. I had no battery charger in the hangar (yes, I know – this is a problem which has now been fixed), so I thought I’d simply hook the battery up to the SUV and jump start the plane. 

After about 2 seconds of consideration I realised this was not the best of ideas so decided rather to chargethe airplane battery from the car, disconnect and thentry to start. This brilliant plan was foiled by the realisation I could not fit the cables into the cowling without removing said cowling. So, having removed the cowling, hooked up the battery, started the car I then meandered off to grab a coffee and look for the radial engined Aircraft I’d heard landing 10 minutes before

Harvard at Bara
ZU-WEZ at Baragwanath Airfield (FASY)

30minutes later (sorry trees) – I disconnected the car, put the cowling back on, moved the car away and voila – enough juice to get the engine going! It’s a quick hop to Tedderfield which was in a benign mood (no crosswind), and I was able to meet up with the examiner. 

We went through the usual patter – logbook check, endorsements check, license check. Then the oral portion which I was expecting to be a bit theoretical but basically involved METAR/TAF interpretation and a discussion on where to find weather info. Then it was off to the plane.

The weird thing about flying in your own aircraft with an examiner is that everything you do feels like it is for show – even although it is what I do on every flight. We set off for the general flying area – did stalls clean and dirty (a complete non event – I’m always amazed by how there is absolutely no pre stall buffet) which were within spec, and a couple of steep turns. 

Then I was asked to do a forced lob which was interesting because I was able to fly a long downwind leg, then panicked because I thought I wouldn’t make the chosen field – I have new respect for the gliding capacity of the Sling. Whereas the Cirrus drops like a brick, the Sling is much more docile. Next was a precautionary – also fairly straightforward despite a less than ideal choice of field with an advertising billboard on one side and a row of trees on the other…

After recovering from the precautionary search, we headed to Panorama airfield to do some circuits. Nothing quite like doing circuits at a grass field when you have never landed on grass – fortunately grass was in short supply and it was mostly gravel…  Three circuits including an unexpected engine failure on climbout and on downwind and we were done.

Now I only have to make certified copies of most of my logbook and cast it into the ether for the CAA to look at and reissue my license. 

The best part of the day? When the instructor/examiner says at the end of the test – “I knew as we lifted off on the first takeoff that you’d pass” 

I am lucky to have both had an excellent primary instructor and a mentor who encourages practice and not simply point-to-point flying. 

Getting a lift – My first time in a Taildragger

My airplane needed to go to the AMO to have some work done. This, as most aircraft owners will appreciate, is a real pain. To achieve this 10nm flight requires two adults, at least one car and a fair bit of patience from the non flying adult.

The usual rigmarole – drive to Baragwanath airfield. Drop off flying adult at Baragwanath. Non flying adult drives (usually in rush hour traffic) to Tedderfield while flying adult preflights and flies the aircraft to Tedderfield. Both adults then drive home. Understandably, this plan is not too popular with the non flying partner because it can be a 2.5h exercise when we have better things to do.

With this unhappiness in the back of my mind, I took a cheeky chance and asked on our club group if anyone was around and would be able to fly me back to Bara – and there was more than one taker (I was surprised – Tuesday morning isn’t the time of day you’d expect folks to be around wanting to fly…). So it came to be that I got my first flight in a new type and my first flight in a taildragger.

Demetre and his 40kg Rottweiler Buck kindly offered to fetch me from Tedderfield in their Glasair Sportsman– Buck is a keen aviator and hops into the back of the Glasair when the door is opened for him – I’m told he behaves quite well. My dog would not be a great passenger…

Glasair Sportsman 2+2 – Photo by Charles Jackson on Flickr – Licensed CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.

I’ve only been in the right seat on a light aircraft once or twice since I began flight training – it is not a comfortable spot. Added to that the fact that you can’t see over the cowl made me quite nervous – but I need not have worried – the Glasair feels powerful and once the tail came up the picture looked as I was used to.

I did a little flying on the way back and was impressed with how stable the aircraft is and how solid the controls feel. Demetre has his panel done really nicely with a large EFiS from Advanced Flight Systems, an iPad Mini built into the panel running SkyDemon and a Garmin 795 in front of the copilot.

The very disconcerting and unusual sight picture presented itself again on the landing – it really felt like we were about to go off the side of the runway but we weren’t. Thanks to my fellow JLPC club member what would have been a long ordeal was made simple and easy. As he said, “you have to use an airplane like a car”. Apparently this is a common practice in the club with guys helping to ferry aircraft around. Hopefully I can return the favor at some point.

Admin months

May and June are busy months from a flying admin point of view. My medical (which needs to be done annually) expires at the end of May. My PPL needs to be renewed by the end of June. This makes this a bust couple of weeks.

To renew my medical requires an annual audiogram, lipogram and eye test. To be honest, I can’t see why these need to be done yearly (perhaps with the exception of the eye test?). Having to go through a medical every year at my age (42) seems superfluous – especially since I know I’m in good health.

There are aviation authorities which are moving away from regular Medical’s for PPL holders and others which are simplifying these (think the FAA BasicMed plan). But our authority tends to be on the healing edge of the curve, not the bleeding edge so it must be done.

This year my medical has turned up two unwelcome harbingers of being over 40 – firstly my myopia which has been present since I was about 6 has turned and it is starting to trend back toward normal which means that presbyopia is on it’s way. Fortunately, my arms haven’t begun getting shorter just yet.

Secondly my cholesterol has increased. Quite a bit. So will have to do some intervention there. I guess if the worst part about having a yearly medical is that it can pick up potential problems early, then maybe it isn’t such a bad thing…. It’s still a PITA though.

From the point of view of my PPL renewal – well, it is simply something that must get done. In South Africa we need to renew/revalidate our PPLs after 12months initially then every 24months. It shouldn’t be a big deal, but i need to practice the maneuvers and get them down pat. Fortunately, the Sling is so docile they shouldn’t be an issue at all….

Breakfast in Villiers

It’s a public holiday – Worker’s Day and those of us who work are restless to get some air between us and the ground. There is some discussion in the club WhatsApp group about a suitable location for breakfast – some guys want to go to Thabazimbi for the NGK Meifees (May fest) but many of us are a little twitchy about flying to a town airfield and leaving our aircraft there, being transported to the festival ground and having to rely on folk to bring us back to the planes again.

The majority decide to descend on Lekoa Lodge which has had some good reviews on a local aviation forum – the airfield on the lodge property and the prospect of a lodge breakfast win us over so we gather at 8am. There’s Roger in his (new to him) Turbo Arrow, Matthew in the veteran Mooney M20C, Demetre in his Glasair Sportsman and us with the kids in the Sling.

After no small amount of faffing around, we get going – we’re the slowest of the bunch so we line up on runway 13 at Baragwanath. It’s a gorgeous morning – a little hazy but calm and cool so the Sling accelerates rapidly despite being four up with full tanks (heck, we’re still 140kg under max gross) and we rotate and set course for the Heidelberg (HGV) VOR. I always try to route via at least one defined navigation point on cross country flights – it’s too easy to go direct. As we change over to the Special Rules South frequency we hear the Arrow lining up – he’ll pass us before too long.

It is immediately obvious that many others had similar ideas to us and there are a fairly large number of aircraft in the area. My eyes are on stalks and I’m hoping everyone is doing good position reports. I try not to facepalm every time I hear “…any traffic, please advise..”. The air is smooth and we climb to 7000ft as we route south of Tedderfield and towards HGV. Out of the corner of my right eye I see Roger in the Arrow pulling alongside and ahead – he’s cruising at 145kts while we’re at 120.

It’s a short hop to Lekoa – 69nm and it isn’t long before we are calling 10nm out. We pass quite close to a microlight which I’m sure was a little higher than the 6500ft he said he was at – I’m terrified of hitting one as many are not on frequency.

Irrigation circle off the right side – Canola?

As we approach Lekoa I hear and see the Arrow turning base but for the sake of completeness we do the proper overhead join 1500ft above and make a left downwind for the uphill runway 10, despite not having visualised the windsock.

Turning base at Lekoa Lodge

The runway at Lekoa is prepared gravel and slopes quite steeply uphill so Roger has decided to accept a slight tailwind and land uphill. We see him exit the runway as we call midfield downwind and then it is our turn. Matthew reports overhead as we are on short finals. – I crane my neck and I can see him well above us.

This is one of the steepest runways I’ve landed on (yes, the sample size is very small) but it remains disconcerting to be well below the ridge on roundout facing a stiff uphill – I plant it firmly down, keep the nose off as long as possible and retract the flaps on rollout to keep her down. We roll up to the end of the runway and join the Arrow on the side of the strip as Matthew’s Mooney rolls out onto final approach.

Miss Daisy with the Turbo Arrow III (ZS-KFM) and the Mooney M20C (ZS-DWU) at Lekoa Lodge

With the airplanes secured and with Demetre about 20min away we head down to the lodge. We’re offered a ride but we decide to walk – to work up an appetite for breakfast.

The lodge is very much centered to the hunting clientele one feels, but after a period of time almost long enough for us to get into a serious discussion about solving the world’s problems, breakfast arrives. It is OK, not fabulous but entirely acceptable nonetheless.

Breakfast time…

We make the trek up to the airstrip and decide that given the nature of the rough on either side of the runway we’ll pull the aircraft one by one onto the strip and start up, taxi to the end and then leave one by one. As I’m idling in the middle of the runway waiting for an acceptable oil temperature while everyone else stands and watches, it occurs to me that it would have made more sense to pull all the aircraft out, line up at the end and then depart but hindsight is a wonderful thing.

Walking down the airstrip – because why not?

Once again we are stuck between the wind and the slope and again decide on the downwind option – I don’t like the idea of starting a takeoff run at the bottom of a hill and then still have to clear the rest of the ridge once airborne. Density altitude is well below 7000ft and as mentioned previously the slope is significant so down the hill we go.

Demetre managed to catch some video of us on the takeoff run…

Initially I had wanted to do the scenic route over the Vaal Dam on the way back but the breakfast delays meant we are somewhat time pressured so we route direct – there is less traffic due to the increased levels of turbulence – fortunately nobody feels ill and we make it back to Baragwanath in about 35minutes – the Arrow turning downwind even as we are on short finals despite having had to wait for us to depart before even starting up, ah well, speed isn’t everything and we were making a good 130kts over the ground so I’ve nothing to complain about.

In oil pressure related news I had the plane at the AMO earlier in the week – they checked again for leaks and confirmed that the pressure regulator and valve are functioning correctly. We had no oil issues at all on this flight so I’m inclined to think that the issue may be resolved, or at least relegated to ‘not critical’ status. I’m told that The Airplane Factory is trying to get approval from Rotax to go back to using the elf 10W40 oil they used to recommend – the Aeroshell Sport PLus 4 that Rotax stipulates is mainly for the 915is model – rumor has it that before they started using the Aeroshell there were no issues with low oil pressures and I’m not the only 914 Driver with the same problem. Interesting..

Troubleshooting Low Oil pressure

Oil. It’s quite important stuff in engines, especially in aeroplane engines. Considering the only thing keeping us up in the air is the engine it makes sense to keep a close eye on the oil.

He who is without oil, shall throw the first rod

Compressions 8.7:1

I have an issue with a low oil pressure reading. It would be less irritating if there was some oil floating around in the cowling, or a stripe down the fuselage, but no. Not a drop.

Initially it seemed like the pressure dropped with altitude which made us suspect that there may be an issue with the breather pipe, but the oil system on the Rotax is somewhat more complex than the wet sump on most aviation pistons. The engine is a dry sump system. The oil resides in the oil tank (perhaps unsurprisingly) and is pumped from there to the oil filter via the oil cooler by the oil pump which is driven by the camshaft. Oil returning to the sump is pumped back to the oil tank by blow by gases, the Turbocharger has oil pumped via a secondary line and the oil drains from the turbo sump to the oil tank.

The oil pressure is measured by a sensor ‘distal’ to the pump and there is a pressure regulator. The pressure regulator may be the source of the issue – it contains a spring and a ball bearing which regulates the pressure. When we looked at the engine analysis graphs again it appears that there is a better correlation between oil pressure and oil temperature, rather than altitude.

Oil pressure in blue plotted against oil temp (Purple ) and Altitude (green/yellow)

This may mean the problem is easier to solve. Maybe. As temperature increases the viscosity of oil decreases – which may make it harder to pressurize if there is some issue with the seal, pump, oil cooler bypass etc etc.

What this really needs is someone with real know-how to test fly the aircraft, possibly also inserting a mechanical Bourdon tube type gauge into the system and comparing pressure readings. What I wanted to do was to try and replicate the problem with the altitude factor removed – and this would mean flying in the pattern at high power until the oil temperature rose enough to decrease the oil pressure.

So this is what I planned to do. Of course, having an issue to solve on the aircraft almost certainly means that no time will be available to fly so it is 10 days later and time to test fly. That was the plan anyway. Of course, on arrival at the airfield I found it blanketed in mist despite the late hour (9:30am). Not a problem, I had another job to do and that was to try and get a fuel stick calibrated.

I had a great idea for this job – take a hose pipe, stick it into the tanks, siphon out as much as I could then sump the rest out. Well, that plan did not work at all. Firstly I could only siphon 25 litres from the tanks before the hose was uncovered and I couldn’t push it further into the tank (admittedly, I was loathe to force it in in case it did damage to the float gauge). Also, siphoning petrol is no fun at all. I got quite a lot of fuel in my mouth and in my nose which caused me to smell like I was living in a fuel tank for the rest of the day.

I decided to compromise and drain until the area directly below the filler port was dry ( ‘to tabs’ if you will) and then measure how much fuel it would take to fill the tanks to the brim again. With a known tank capacity (84 litres) I could subtract this amount and have the fuel level at tabs. As it turns out, if the tabs are dry, there is less than 35litres in the tank. Good to know. I like having some kind of scientific estimation of fuel tank volume. I used a big piece of wood, marked it as I filled the tank 12.5 litres at a time and then transferred these marks onto a wooden dowel stick.

Primitive Dipstick

While I was sorting this out, the fog had lifted to low overcast but that seemed compatible with circuit flying so I started up and headed out. On climbing out from the field I couldn’t help but notice the rather large storm approaching about 30km away – this was going to put a spanner in the works. Still, I was able to do about 5 circuits at high throttle settings, getting the oil temp up to 82 Celsius / 180 Fahrenheit- without causing a low oil pressure alarm – the pressure did decrease though – as shown in the Savvy graph below.

Top graph is Oil Temp against Pressure – seems to correlate somewhat doesn’t it?

The incoming storm put paid to the 30min flight I was hoping for and I put her down very quickly – into the teeth of the Cb outflow – not my best ADM moment but safely down and we crammed the plane into the hangar just as the first drops were starting to fall.

It looked worse than this in real life!

There will be no flying for the next two weeks but after that I’m popping IBM across to the AMO for the oil change and they will check and possibly change the oil pressure regulator – which will hopefully sort out the issues. To be honest I think it needs a climb to altitude and thereafter a throttle back to allow oil Temp to decrease a bit to fully troubleshoot. Time will tell. In the meantime, I need to wash my hands. Again. Blood petrol….

That Sling Smile

Yesterday I was fortunate enough to be able to take my friend Ari flying. He may not know it but he’s actually my aviation mentor – one heck of a nice guy who has a knack of thinking about general aviation in ways I haven’t thought of. He’s a commercial instrument rated pilot with more than 1500h and he flies a FIKI Cirrus SR22T with his father.

One reason we are buddies is that we have similar outlooks on general aviation safety and doing GA correctly. My feelings on these are borne out of lots of reading – his I suspect are from lessons learned in years of flying. It can be daunting flying with a significantly more experienced pilot in a non instructor/examiner situation (OK, it can be very daunting flying with an examiner) because one feels like one’s skills are on show – this was the first time I was to be PIC in my aircraft with him (I’ve flown in his aircraft many times). You don’t want your first flight with a new passenger to be your last flight with that passenger..

Special Sling preflight pose – lifting the elevators to view the control rod attachment bolt

I must confess to feeling that the Sling was a little shabby compared to the extremely well equipped G5 Cirrus but hey, an airplane is still an airplane – and I’m a proud owner.

We had a secondary objective and that was to test the Aerox system I acquired recently – it seemed prudent to do this with an experienced supplemental oxygen user. We came prepared – he had 2 oximeters and I had 1. Of course, true to form mine was DOA, although after 10years of hard use in my day job meant I shouldn’t be surprised. It is time for a new one anyway as the LCD display isn’t very readable in the bright cockpit. In addition we had an emergency cylinder in case the main cylinder didn’t perform as expected.

For a change the weather was playing along really nicely and although the visibility wasn’t really good, the air was smooth as we climbed energetically away from BaraG – had a good 750-800fpm climb rate which impressed my passenger. There was no other traffic in the training area and we started our climb after exiting from under the Johannesburg TMA. Information approved our climb and handed us over to the area controller (Centre) and I handed control over to Ari. For the last day in March it was still pretty warm – was showing an OAT of 21 Celsius at 10000ft but the Sling trundled on at 400fpm through 11000ft with the Airmaster Prop in Climb and 34” manifold pressure on the throttle.

We routed south as we climbed, out over the Vaal River and Parys, enjoying the views (despite the limited vis) and the smooth air. Climbing through 10000 feet I popped the pulse oximeter on and was quite alarmed to find my sats were 89%. I wasn’t expecting it to have dropped so low at a relatively low altitude. I didn’t feel any adverse effects although I don’t believe time of useful consciousness is an issue at this altitude. However, it seemed like a good idea to get the oxygen on which we did.

Looking silly with a poorly applied Oxysaver

Let it be said that one looks a little ridiculous wearing an oxysaver cannula – but you look a lot less ridiculous with the cannula on than slumped over the controls with two fighter jets on your wing. The oxysaver allows pretty low flows – <1litre per minute at altitude up to 15000ft – by using a small reservoir so it’s relatively economical to run once you’ve forgotten the initial outlay for the equipment!

Above the inversion @11500ft south of the Vaal River

Area control came on asking us to stop our climb at FL125 due to other traffic on the airway above us which was a little disappointing but the density altitude was already well over 14000ft by this time, so I didn’t think with a service ceiling of 16000ft we’d get much higher anyway.

Heading back into the smog…

At this point we noticed that the oil pressure had decreased to 1.6bar from 2.5bar. Lower limit of normal is 2bar on the Rotax 914UL. This was obviously not something to take lightly. Initially we thought it could have been due to the warm conditions – oil temp was normal and CHT’s were within limits. Still, we arrested the climb and throttled back with no improvement. The best call at this point was a 180deg turn and route back to home base keeping a good lookout for potential off airport landing sites.

We had to descend to avoid busting airspace and as we descended below 9500ft the oil pressure recovered to normal and stayed there, going up to 3bar as we leveled off at 7000ft. Given that there was no other indication of abnormality we felt it was reasonable to do some maneuvering while keeping an eagle eye on the engine gauges.

I did two steep turns (PPL standard @ 45deg) and thereafter Ari did 2 at CPL standard (60deg). That man can fly an airplane – made the wake on the second attempt in an unfamiliar aircraft. He was raving about the control responsiveness and the inherent balance of the Sling – I think he was quite impressed – high praise indeed from someone who has hundreds of Cirrus hours. “It feels like I have an RV Grin,” he said as we cruised back for the overhead at Baragwanath. I dubbed it the “Sling Smile”

Steep turns – fun!

One touch and go then a full stop landing and it was time to put the plane away. I did get some constructive criticism of my crosswind landing – I need to try and land upwind of the centreline rather than ON the centreline – this makes sense as it gives one a few more metres to deal with any squirrelly behaviour after touchdown.

All in all a successful morning’s flying. The oil pressure reading remains a concern but I’m waiting on the AMO to comment. We suspect it may be a grounding issue or a problem with the oil breather pipe. We had a good look around the inside of the cowling and there is absolutely no oil leaking anywhere and no oil stain on the belly of the plane. Time will tell – the joys of aircraft ownership…

Weather 1 – Me 0

I was supposed to fly to Middelburg(FAMB) this afternoon to camp at the AeroClub of SA Airweek being held there this weekend. The weather, it seems, had other ideas.

I was delayed by 30min at work this morning and by the time I arrived at the airfield the storm line was developing. I hung around finding things to do on the plane until 16h00 local by which stage I could probably have found a route but the flying time would have meant an after dark arrival – and I’m not night current at the moment – not landing at an unfamiliar field at night thank you very much.

The proposed route – see the problem?
Waiting for the rain to stop….
Shortly after deciding to NOT fly to MID…

Tomorrow is another day……

Obsessive Radar checking – a trip to Zebula

My brother-in-law’s family have a place in a game reserve called Zebula – we have driven up with them a couple of times before for the weekend – the house is great with a pool and a jacuzzi and it is good to hang out with family. The reserve has an airstrip which is well frequented with breakfast runners – the lodge will pick you up from the airstrip, deliver you to the buffet breakfast and return you later to your waiting aircraft.

Every time we have been before I’ve looked at the airstrip and thought – “this would be a great fly-in spot.” The strip has a bit of a reputation for being difficult – mostly because it gets very hot in the Limpopo Bushveld and the gradient on the airstrip almost requires a one-way in, one way out philosophy.

On Friday my sister suggested that we fly in and join them for the day on Saturday or Sunday, so we rustled up some cold meats and drinks and I started to have a close look at the trip. Zebula has a 1400m/4500ft , 13metre wide runway which is at 4300ft elevation and slopes fairly steeply from the midway point of runway 08 to the threshold of runway 26. My major concern was density altitude – I knew we’d get in just fine but it was the flying out that had me concerned – more on that later.

Of course, having a trip planned for a Saturday morning was bound to annoy the weather gods and Saturday dawned with a 400-600foot overcast; OK, it was reported as BKN but to all intents and purposes it was overcast. Very occasionally there was a slight break in the cloud and I could see it wasn’t very thick – so we were almost tempted to try and blast through it. This would have been a mistake. After making hourly determinations I decided it was best to delay for 24h. Which, as it turned out, was very much the correct decision. Sunday was clear and the flight was on.

Routing – FASY – Zebula

Baragwanath to Zebula is a leisurely 105nm – of course cannot be flown straight line as there are TMA’s to be avoided. We loaded the cooler bags, swimming kit and ourselves and set off. Today I was expecting the slightly longer takeoff run but IBM shot up enthusiastically and it was sad to have to stop the climb at 7500ft. We cruised over the west of Soweto, over Orient Glider airfield (where not even one glider was out of a hangar yet) and then through the Magaliesberg flight training area – where I did the majority of my PPL training. Entering the GFA, we were out from under the TMA so we climbed up to FL95, above the scattered cumulus which was starting to develop and into some cool, smooth air.

Clouds below
Yes – there is precious little in the way of horizon here

30 minutes later we were top of descent for Zebula – the windsock was essentially indicating mostly crosswind with a slight tailwind component – I elected to land with the mild tailwind to make use of the uphill slope. Unfortunately we floated quite a bit on roundout and I ended up landing at the top of the hill (with plenty of room to spare) – I think the wind shifted a bit more towards the tailwind – as we were securing the aircraft someone landed a 182 downhill into the wind. The tailwind component could not have been more than 5knots and my MAUW landing roll is 400m so yes, I had some wiggle room.

Cool.
Wrapped up for the day – Zebula – YAK 18T on the left!

As we arrived at the lodge, some cumulus was starting to develop – one large one in particular to the north of us. I called up the weather radar feed – sure enough this was developing into something. I spent the rest of the morning checking the feed every 30min to keep an eye. At the mercy of the weather, with no ability to stay late if need be, it is important to keep a close watch. Unfortunately having to worry about the weather does detract somewhat from the relaxation aspect of a morning in the bush – I would be more relaxed if it wasn’t the whole family.

Fortunately, the weather didn’t develop into anything more than clear sky cumulus. When time came to leave the bases were at FL100 with 4/8 cover. Leaving Zebula presented a bit of a quandary. The wind had shifted so it was now aligned with the runway. The uphill runway. Additionally my daughter decided she wanted to sit up front so I needed to do a quick recalculation of the weight and balance – which still came in within the envelope. The wind was of sufficient strength that I didn’t believe I could justify a downwind takeoff – especially with an air temp of 36 Celsius and a calculated DA of over 8000ft.

The Sling will clear a 50ft obstacle at MAUW at 7500ft DA in 690m so I reckoned if we added 10% for the elevated DA and another 20% for the slope we would be clear of 50ft obstacle (the trees at the end of the runway) in 900m, well short of the 1400m available. The wind was about 10kts which would give us back another 5% so in my mind we’d be fine. In fact, we lifted off marginally short of halfway (just at the top of the sloping section) and climbed strongly at Vx to the extent that I was turning on course as we passed the far threshold. I’m continually amazed by the takeoff perfomance delivered by the little Rotax 914.

Clouds above
Approaching the Magaliesberg Northern Ridge

I had hoped to climb to FL105 or FL125 for the trip home to get some cool air but the cloud bases were around FL100 so we stayed at FL85 – which was a lot bumpier than the family have experienced – precipitating some nausea on the part of one member. Again we routed over the glider airfield (OK, about 3miles to the west thereof) – it is lovely to see the gliders below and the guys launching with the winch.

North of Brits
Engrossed in her iThing

Landing at Bara was very enjoyable – with the very rear C/G we did a wheelie for ages after the mains touched down – there is incredible elevator authority down as far as about 38kts – in fact on a proper short field takeoff the nose will unstick at 40kts.

The “Concrete Tower” – an important VFR reporting point in the Magaliesberg General FLying Area

Another new airport into the logbook, another family trip living the Sling lifestyle. The only negative aspect is that the pitch part of the autopilot is STILL not working properly, which is proving to be somewhat annoying. I need to look at that again this week.

The next trip is to Middelburg (FAMB) for the EAA aviation week. Can’t wait.

Breakfast in Parys

To say that the year thus far has not been great for flying is no understatement. As soon as MGL Avionics opened this year I sent my EFiS in for hardware upgrade and that took 2 weeks – where I (obviously couldn’t fly). As that came back and it was re-installed, the wet season arrived with a bang. We’ve been laboring under a ridge of high pressure which has been driving warm moist air from the Mozambique Channel down over Gauteng with resultant overcast and showers. In fact we had about 3 weeks of continual 7/8 to OVC (mostly on the weekends). However, the first signs of the late summer/early autumn period are starting and we’ve had a week or so of fantastic flying weather.

We thought we’d take advantage of this and do the “Sunday fly out to breakfast” thing. This was to be the first time we’d all gone flying as a family and would be a good test of IBM’s load carrying capacity. It should be noted that she’s no Cherokee 235 but with a useful load of 465kg four up is definitely a viable option.

Sunday dawned clear despite the forecast high overcast, so we loaded up and set off for the airfield. The preflight was accomplished fairly quickly thanks to my two helpers who are getting quite good at removing the plugs, covers and the 40kg of water ballast I keep in the rear when flying solo. After the obligatory fiddle with the goPro’s we were able to start up.

PreFlight assistance?
DateAircraftRoute of FlightHoursTotal Hours
24 Feb 2019ZU-IBMFASY(Baragwanath) – GAV –
FAPY(Parys, FS) GAV – FASY
1.4126.4

There was a fair amount of activity on the field as we taxied out – someone was preflighting a Samba XL, my neighbor across the taxiway was (still) fighting with the autopilot in his Jabiru and someone was doing circuits in a Robin. For only the second time since I moved to BaraG winds were favoring runway 13 and we launched without issue. I expected a significantly longer takeoff roll being four up but it wasn’t a big issue – what did get my attention was the slower climb performance – my usual stick deflection produced a Vx climb at 65KIAS as opposed to the more routine 75KIAS but there is a ridge to the south of the airfield which needs to be crossed….

Hard to get this one wrong – straight lines for the win!
4 up in the Sling

Having negotiated the ridge we made a leisurely climb to 7000ft, progressed through the surprisingly quiet GF and made our way to Parys. There are only about 20nm between the edge of the Special Rules Area (7000ft southbound) and Parys, but we needed an even flight level – and for reasons best known to myself, I asked Info South for FL85 which meant that 2min after reaching, I was asking for descent. (It would have been more clever to ask for FL065

Crossing the Vaal into the Free State – FL085

Parys was busy with a Baron back taxiing and two gyros inbound. I performed a textbook unmanned join, with an extended downwind to allow the Baron to depart and landed with the two gyrocopters hot on my heels. Then we had a humorous moment where the only taxiway off the runway was blocked by an aircraft taxiing out – this required some negotiation but fortunately we are all nice folks…

Miss Daisy resting at temporary parking
Montgolfier’s Restaurant – Parys Airfield (FAPY)
There is always time for more photos….

The restaurant at Parys has recently been put under new management and is now called Montgolfier’s. It’s very relaxed, cool and comfortable with a great view of the temporary parking and runway. Food is reasonably priced and tasty, service is as quick as you’d expect for a leisurely Sunday breakfast – all in all a great experience.

Cessna C185 ZS-PHT
PA28-235 (Cherokee) – ZS-DVG

As we started up to head home, the gliders were being pulled out, so we weren’t too surprised that it was a little bumpy – nothing unmanageable of course, but the thermals were starting up. Back at BaraG we landed uneventfully again on RWY 13 (The Sling LOVES a rear CG for landing – #Wheeliesfordays!).

For a first time family trip, it was great – and the rear seat passengers remarked that they’d be prepared to spend more time back there..

Taking Miss Daisy to Springs

I have been looking for an opportunity to take some family members flying in ZU-IBM. There is a heck of a lot going on at the moment with year end functions, prize-givings, concerts and the like and there simply isn’t a lot of time. When the Springs airport fly-in came up though we decided to make a morning of it. Some family members preferred their beds to an early flight so it was only myself and my son braving the trip to the East Rand. 

I tend to overthink trips to unfamiliar airspace. I’ve only been east of OR Tambo Johannesburg International Airport (FAOR) once and that was a long way wide of the airspace doing my night Nav exercise – this route would call for a very close skirting of the airspace around this large international airport. 

Undaunted though we planned to route from Tedderfield to Springs via Suikerbosrand Nature reserve (incidentally I have not been there since I was about 12y old) – I thought it would give me a chance to do some radial intercepts onto the HGV VOR using the “virtual VOR” feature on my MGL iEFIS – it creates radials based on the GPS position, so one can navigate using VORs without having a Nav radio per se (this will have to be fixed if I’m ever going to use this aircraft for IFR though)

Routing from Tedderfield to Springs giving the Buffer zone a wide berth

Saturday morning’s weather was fairly typical for a Saturday morning at this time of year – beautiful at 04h45, and overcast by 06h30. Fortunately the stuff was thin, was clearing from the east (good news since this was the direction of flight) and it looked like a good day to commit aviation. 

DateAircraftRouteDistanceTime(hrs)Total(hrs)
24 November 2018ZU-IBM
(SLG4)
FATA –
FASI
38nm0.7113.7

I try to involve my kids in the preflight process as I think that the more eyes there are scanning the aircraft, the greater the chance of picking up something – but we both had to stop and gawk as a flight of 4 motor gliders taxied past and departed to Springs – they’re quite elegant and looked like they had some pretty impressive initial climb performance. 

In Cruise Selfie 

Then it was time to set sail – in the video below one can see the smile on my son’s face as we accelerated down Runway 29. The routing was easier than I imagined it would be – and much quicker too – by road Springs is a good 90min drive – took us about 24min all told.  Being total newbies to the fly-in scene we were impressed by the number of aircraft joining the pattern from all directions – generally professional piloting meant that we were able to build some good situational awareness and no surprises appeared (apart from the unexpectedly strong crosswind on the downwind leg)!

There is a bit of pressure landing at a busy field when you know everyone is watching your landing – fortunately we didn’t need a broom to taxi the aircraft off the runway so we retained some credibility. Which I lost for us by asking where we could park…. “Um… in any open spot?” So we pulled up next to a very pretty RV8 (ZU-RVA) and shut down. 

Scott with IBM on the flight line at Springs – Check out that sexy RV8…

Then it was time to wander around and have a look at the aircraft – there was a good representation of general aviation in SA – everything from a Trike to a Cherokee 140, to C210 on the type certified side and lots of Vans Aircraft (Mostly RV7A’s with a spattering of RV-6/a’s and two RV-10’s – not to forget the aforementioned RV-8), A couple of Slings, Jabirus and some Kitfox aircraft on the NTCA side. A Robbie R44 and an Alo II kept the motor gliders company too. 

ZS-CNY Cessna C210
Polaris LSA
FASI_ZULSA_241118
“Sport” cruiser

FASI_ZUMTB_241118
Vans Aircraft RV-10 ZU-MTB 
FASI_ZSOZI_241118
Citabria ZS-OZI

Sadly we were not taking part in the navigation rally and we didn’t have time to stay and watch the departing traffic so it was back to Tedderfield for us.

DateAircraftRouteDistanceTimeTotal
24 November 2018ZU-IBM 
(SLG4)
FASI – FASY
– FATA
551114.7

We wanted to stay well clear of the busy corridor between springs and Rand Airport so I decided to head south until passing over Heidelberg airport and then route for Baragwanath (FASY) airport – which is to be the new home of ZU-IBM for a touch and go before returning to Tedderfield. 

As we were doing run ups at the hold for RWY 03 at Springs there was some commotion on the airport frequency – apparently one of the motor gliders based at Springs had had an engine problem on departure from the grass runway and had completed a safe off field landing – I guess this is bread-and-butter stuff for glider pilots?

We had an uneventful trip back to Tedderfield- did one (average) touch and go at BaraG and then perhaps my best landing to date in the Sling at Tedderfield. I discovered an unexpected advantage of having my son with me – he could hop out and open the hangar, avoiding a shut down and hot start ! – Kids have their uses sometimes… 

We’ll be looking for more fly-ins to attend in future.