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..