Trip report – El Mirador (FALQ)

Trip Report – El Mirador

I’ve been meaning to make this trip for a couple of weeks now – it’s a very manageable long cross country flight with a few challenges thrown in.

SkyDemon Routing – FASY – FALQ

The Monday public holiday seemed to be as good a day as any to make the trip – I tried to get some of the other club members to come along but no takers – so it was only the four of us in IBM for the breakfast run. 

My daughter was sleeping over at a friend and my son wanted to bring one of his friends, so I needed to do an especially careful weight and balance – these 14y old boys are not small. Yet again, I am amazed by the capability of the Sling 4 – if you can pack it, you can fly it. With 225kg (495lb) of people and full tanks too we still had 150lbs of useful weight available to us. Full fuel would mean that we wouldn’t have to refuel on the way home which is always a win. 

I’m very twitchy about mountain flying so made sure to get a proper forecast – it came back with the forecast for clear weather with light winds flowing from the interior down the escarpment. This seemed friendly for a VFR cross country so we got up early and set out for the airfield. There is always a moment of worry as you cross the ridge north of the airfield – there is a large area of low income housing where coal is burnt for warmth leading to a lot of smog which gets trapped under the inversion layer. As usual though, once we passed through it it looked promising, so we loaded up and set off. 

DateRouteDistanceHours Logged
17 June 2019Baragwanath (FASY)- El Mirador (FALQ)189nm2.0

The real benefit of the cold winter morning is the brisk takeoff performance – this coupled with the smooth air made the initial part of the trip really pleasant. We escaped from under the TMA (Class B) airspace and climbed to FL95. Of course, the oil pressure issue raised its head again as the oil temp climbed with the climb – I know that this is a known issue now so tried hard to ignore it – once we leveled off and oil temp dropped below 85, the pressure came right back up again. Go figure. 

Approaching Harrismith – FL 095

The prediction for clear skies was correct from the point of view of cloud cover – but there was significant winter haze which dampened the views somewhat. Despite only being at FL95 my oxygen sats were 91% so I insisted all don the Aerox oxysaver cannulae – it’s overkill but I really think there is no such thing as too much oxygen. I know I get a headache if I fly above FL95 for long periods. The cannulae are great but they are not pretty by any stretch. 

Crossing the escarpment we had a few bumps and a small downdraft but nothing significant at all – it is worth crossing well above the mountains – which top out at 6500ft in this part of the Drakensberg. We began our long descent to El Mirador, joining overhead and onto a left downwind.

El Mirador has a steep runway against a hill so it’s very much a one way in, one way out runway. Landings are on 24 and departures on 06. There is a ridge to the left of the approach which certainly gets your attention on downwind and trees on the undershoot for 24 which didn’t really bother me too much as the first 150m of the runway looked to be not mowed so I was aiming for a deeper touchdown. The runway is 800ft long and given the slope I felt that deeper landing was better than tangling with the trees. 

As it turns out, my concerns about landing deep were unfounded – we slowed VERY rapidly and I had to use quite high power settings to taxi up to the parking area at the top of the airfield. 

ZU-IBM parked up at El Mirador

At El Mirador, there is a cafe/bistro, a brewery and a chocolate shop. What more could anyone want? Breakfast was Eggs Benedict on a potato rösti (interesting but delicious) for me and farmhouse style breakfast and the obligatory milkshakes for the boys.

Breakfast at El Mirador

I managed to resist the urge to test the wares from the brewery but given that we’d burnt some fuel I was of the opinion that a couple of bottles of beer wouldn’t upset the weight and balance too much! 

Looking down 06 – trees at the end….
DateRouteDistanceHours Logged
17 June 2019El Mirador(FALQ) – Baragwanath (FASY)189nm2.0

The takeoff was more interesting than I anticipated. We were the only aircraft at El Mirador and we caused a minor stir among the visitors when we started up – had a whole bunch of folk leaning on the fence while we waited for the oil to warm enough for a run up. After doing the run-ups and Briefing (where I was careful to warn the passengers that it may feel very close to the trees but that we wouldn’t hit them!), we opened the taps and set forth down the runway.

What I hadn’t appreciated on the landing, because we were at taxi speed by then, was the large hump in the middle of the first third of the runway – which we hit going at 45kts and we were launched skyward a little before the Sling was ready to fly. This was somewhat disconcerting but fortunately I was able to touch down again fairly smoothly just in time for 55kts and rotation speed to come up. I elected to fly down the runway in ground effect, accelerate to 75kts and then climb briskly at Vy. As it turns out the trees were once again a non issue. 

As there was no other traffic in the area we climbed to 7500ft doing orbits above the field and then set course for Bethlehem, crossing the escarpment at FL125 (on oxygen again).The flight back was smooth again although at one point I was convinced the haze was too thick to allow VFR into the Johannesburg Special Rules area. 

Overhead Sterkfontein Dam
Haze in the distance covering the Vaal Triangle

On joining overhead Baragwanath we noticed quite a lot of smoke around, and as we were taxiing in we realised there was a huge bush fire threatening to cross the fence to the airfield. In good conscience we couldn’t simply park the plane in the hangar and leave so Scott and I helped fight the fire for the next 90min – hard work indeed. Many times we had it under control, only for the wind to pick up and fan the flames again. 

Fighting the fire back from the fence

Bara to El Mirador is a great cross country to get a taste of Drakensberg flying – but there are trickier airports we need to try – like all mountain flying, the Berg needs to be respected….

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