Solo at last!

108 Landings. One hundred and Eight. This is how long it takes to teach an old dog new tricks. I flew(yeah, I know) through the upper air work – stall spin checkout done at 10h. But I’ve been in the circuit for the last 3months and 17hours trying to get the simple landing right.

Weirdly, the abnormal landings have been relatively easy. The 50% flap landing is a breeze – managing to nail that almost every time. The flaps up landing is downright scary in the Cirrus because it requires a a spurt of power JUST before touchdown to level the nose and that 90kts over the threshold feels VERY fast. Recovery onto the runway with simulated failure after rotation – easy. Glide from downwind to full flap recovery – easy. But the run of the mill 100% standard flap landings have been a disaster. Why, I’m not sure – the ongoing issue is me pulling back too early and too aggressively and cutting power at the same time so invariably either ballooning or being perfectly placed for the landing 3ft above where I should be with the resultant *positive* touchdown.

But suddenly it came right. I did another 100 or so landings in the flight simulator trying to get that coordination of reducing power gradually and gently pulling back and it has come right. So right that after 9 trips around the circuit, my instructor suggested I drop him off at the tower and have a trip around the circuit on my own. The weather was playing ball with a variable 7-8knot wind mostly form the left so I thought about this for about 3milliseconds and agreed.

The first thing you notice is that when you’re one-up in the SR20 is that she’ll actually roll forwards at 1000rpm without requiring 1500RPM to break free. Which is nice. My goPro’s died in the run up bay but amazingly my checklist and run ups were up to scratch. (Although the cockpit seemed at LOT warmer than it was – suffice it to say I was drenched in sweat with jus the slightest of tremors) As though by magic, the circuit was empty (just as well as there was some guy who was aggravating ATC no end by not complying with any instructions) – even the scheduled 737’s seemed to be miraculously absent. I taxied onto Runway 07 – in between some lapwings who seemed miraculously unconcerned by the 70″ rotating prop passing meters from them – seriously, what dumbass bird sits (not standing but sitting) ON the piano keys? (They only moved when I flew over them on short final).

Then the words I’d been waiting for, “Juliet Alpha Bravo, runway 07, cleared Takeoff, report right downwind 5500ft, good luck sir!” (I love FALA ATC – they are really nice guys considering the scale and variety of traffic they deal with). Full throttle, temp and pressures in the green, good fuel flow and off I went. 70kts comes quickly with one on board , rotate and the climbout was only marginally brisker than I was used to. (Insert brief moment of panic After takeoff checks at 400ft, clear left, ahead and right and crosswind turn, GO. 155deg, landmark sighted, clear left, clear ahead, clear right and GO for downwind turn.

5500ft early on right downwind (with two up we only make circuit height at mid runway), power to 60%, level off. Before I could report downwind TWR comes on “Juliet Alpha Bravo, right base your discretion, report final approach number 1, no traffic to affect”. Downwind checks, flaps 50, HOLD THE NOSE, fight the balloon, fight the secondary balloon and trim… Grab phone, take selfie (remember the flat goPros), dump phone, find base leg landmark. Clear left, clear ahead, clear right, 100kts, 50% flaps, 30deg turn… NOW!

Rollout on 335deg. Throttle to 30%, check under 100kts, flaps full, pitch for 90kts. Look for extended centerline, approach segment clear, finals clear, start gentle turn to final. Roll out on runway heading at 500ft AGL. 4 reds. Oh sh*t. Power in, pitching for 85, the 4 reds become 3 and then 2 reds and 2 white.

“Juliet Alpha Bravo, final approach 07”

“Juliet Alpha Bravo, runway 07, clear to land”

“07, clear to land, Juliet Alpha Bravo”

Too much throttle, pull back a bit, nail 77kts over the fence. Those bloody lapwings are still there! Get lost you bloody birds. Which they did. Exactly as I flew over them…

Throttle gently to 10%, fly into ground effect, hefty boot of left rudder for the crosswind correction, cruise down runway 3ft above, cut throttle and doesn’t she just settle magnificently onto the runway like the docile little beauty she is.

“Juliet Alpha Bravo, nicely done sir, left alpha three, ground clears you Alpha, Sierra to the helipad for instructor pickup”

<a data-flickr-embed=”true” href=”https://www.flickr.com/photos/mikeblackburn/38020952864/in/dateposted/” title=”Post solo 28 Nov 2017″><img src=”https://farm5.staticflickr.com/4561/38020952864_1a4ee3fcd3_b.jpg” width=”1024″ height=”768″ alt=”Post solo 28 Nov 2017″></a>//embedr.flickr.com/assets/client-code.js

And thus am I now solo. And I forgot to enter my 0.5h solo PIC time as PIC time in my logbook. Le Sigh. I’m now endorsed for solo flight in the circuit at Lanseria Airport. I am warned that often the circuits go a little pear shaped after first solo and it may take time to get back again – but nothing can take away from the experience of going solo for the first time.

Why do I fly?

I’ve been sitting on this one for a while now. I wanted to write it in response to Fly Like you Mean Its post “Why do We Fly”, but I’ve been really busy doing talks for congresses and sorting out the various things needed to keep the house up and running…

If there’s one thing that my merry band of 4 (or is it 3) readers really need it is the story of how I ended up learning to fly. To be honest, it was always going to happen at some point. For as long as I can remember I was that kid who was mad about everything aviation related. My father used to take us to the airport (Johannesburg International which at that point was called Jan Smuts Airport and has gone through a number of name changes since) and we used to stand and watch the planes from the open (Shock, horror) observation deck.

I vividly remember the Pan Am and South African Airways 747SPs there, and once going especially to see Concorde passing through. We went to air shows at Rand airport (FAGM) and Grand Central (FAGG), I had posters and pictures of aeroplanes and for as long as I can remember i was playing on flight simulators. I could identify just about every commercial aircraft, airliner and military jet based on a quick glance. Have you seen the video clip of the child on the Etihad flight deck who knows where all the buttons are and what they do? I was like that kid.

Come time to choose a career I was told by an educational/vocational psychologist that I would be bored doing flying (I still harbor a bit of a grudge against that guy) – I didn’t qualify to go to the AirForce due to being short sighted, so I ended up doing Medicine and Anaesthesiology – which I love to bits – but the bug never stopped biting.

I went through a phase where I almost bit the bullet and started flying but for some reason I got scared – I visualized dying in an aircraft and the impact that would have on my family – but that was also at a time when I suffered from depression so I suspect that logic wasn’t terribly good… when I turned 40 my friends bought me a “discovery flight”. It took almost a year to use it – and then I was hooked. The rest is history.

So why do I fly now? It is actually the hardest thing I’ve done for a long time. The physical coordination required has me working really hard – i know it will be better in the furniture but for the moment I’m reveling in the challenge of co-ordinated flight. When I’m in that seat with my left hand on the sidestick and my right hand on the throttle, nothing else matters. It’s great escapism. It is great for focus. Inattention and loss of focus is punished by the aircraft and is immediately obvious. I love this challenge.

You’d think that given my day job, I would like a hobby that DOESN’T require full time attention… but this is different attention. And that effort and attention is rewarded when I turn my head to the side, see the wing moving as we ride the pockets and bumps in the air, and realise… I am flying this plane. I’m actually flying after all these years.

And THAT is why I fly.

Clear skies and tailwinds.

Being photographed by others while flying

I was pleasantly surprised while browsing through the “Seen at FALA” Aviation photography forum to see a shot of the aircraft I usually fly (ZS-BOR) against some pretty impressive cumulonimbus clouds. I was even more surprised to see it had been taken when I was flying the plane – i.e a photo of a plane being flown by me. (Probably not a big deal to most, but a first for me)

3L9A0105a-res

This photo was taken by Omer Mees (check out his Flickr here) 

This is on the upwind leg of the circuit out of 07 at Lanseria (FALA) He was kind enough to send me high res versions of these photos. It appears as though we were very close to the clouds but in fact were miles away – this being merely foreshortening resulting from the telephoto lens.

I hope this isn’t the last time someone shoots us flying!