Cross Country flying

Die Uys Huis Padstal (#30) Airfield

My aircraft is back from annual inspection – what they say about the first annual is all true, sadly – was a lot more expensive than I was anticipating due to the 5 year rubber change, but that at least is done (until the next time – when I may also be looking at a BRS repack……). On the plus side, my plane is back and fit for flying again!

On the basis of the sticker shock from the rubber replacement we decided not to do any cosmetic work apart form installing the sun shade film on the canopy which has helped a lot to keep the cabin cool. I did this myself – it only took 2hours to apply it – a very fiddly job but the end result is satisfactory and seems to do what it is supposed to. It’s a PVC friendly static cling film that advertises 5% visible light transmission. I think it looks quite nice.

Ready to go – note the window shades – very sexy.

Of course, following a long absence, the desire is to get airborne as soon as possible – talk in the climb was leaning toward a breakfast run and what better way to shake out the cobwebs than a good cross country?

Date Aircraft Route Flight Duration Total Hours
22 September 2019 ZU-IBM FASY(Baragwanath) – FAUys(Uys Huis Padstal) – FASY 3.4 170

As often happens, despite initial enthusiasm, actual numbers declined significantly and when Sunday dawned it was only going to be myself and Matthew to make the trip to the excitingly named (/sarcasm) Uys Huis Padstal in the Eastern Free State. This is about the closest strip to the Golden Gate National Park and the hamlet of Clarens which is a haven for the art and craft beer (and lately, Gin) cognoscenti. Of course, we wouldn’t actually GO to Clarens, merely to the farm stall for breakfast. Clear skies greeted us and we decided to make it a scenic trip and route from Baragwanath via Harrismith to Clarens – giving us the chance to see the Drakensberg, Sterkfontein Dam and the Golden Gate National Park.

SkyDemon Routing FASY – GAV – FAHR – Uys Huys

We also anticipated that we’d get some good tailwinds to offset the increased trip distance. There was some discussion about filing a flight plan and we decided that in the interest of safety we would – and I achieved something I very seldom get right – having my flight plan accepted first time – I almost always end up making some minor error which causes rejection. After delaying Matthew while I warmed up – the Rotax takes a lot longer to get to an acceptable runup temperature than the Mooney does, I was first to climb out into the smooth morning air. The Mooney has 30knots advantage in cruise speed so I knew it would pass soon – as it turns out I got a good head start and had gone around 40nm before I caught sight of DWU easing past on the right.

ZS-DWU Too close for missiles, I’m switching to guns….

In retrospect, we probably should have filed as a flight of two – ATC spent quite a lot of time warning us about each other. As we passed the Vaal Dam we picked up a brisk tailwind – I was showing 40knots at one point, which pushed my ground speed over 150kts, off a TAS of 130kts, which I was quite happy with. My cruise speed is higher than I’m used to because there has been a change in how I’m running the engine.

Decent groundspeed…

In a service letter dated December 2018 Rotax have recommended that operators of the 912/914 series of engines with constant speed props avoid running high manifold pressures with ‘low’ engine speeds. Previously I was under the impression that one could run with the throttle wide open all day with the prop in the cruise setting (5000RPM). Apparently the guidance now is to avoid manifold pressures over 30” with engine speeds of less than 5250RPM. In fact, they reckon you can go all day long with the engine at 5500RPM and 35” MAP – maximum continuous power. (For reference, takeoff power is 39” MAP at 5800RPM). For ‘economy cruise’ I’ve been told to aim at 32” MAP, 5250-5300RPM which equates to about 85% power and a fuel burn of 26lph, down from 27.5lph at max continuous power.

Approaching Harrismith from the North, 7500ft

Our plan to do some sightseeing was foiled by poor visibility – usually from about 20nm north of Harrismith one has good visuals of the Drakensberg – not this time. We routed south over the Sterkfontein dam but even here, the mountains were but a blurry disruption on the horizon. Matthew routed further south over the main body of the Golden Gate park – I couldn’t remember how high over a national park you have to fly so i decided not to overfly. With the significant winds I wasn’t terribly comfortable overflying big hills with potential for rotors, so I was happy to route direct to the landing strip.

Northern part of Sterkfontein Dam
Fairly typical Eastern Free State terrain

The landing strip at the Uys Huis Padstal appears on paper to be fairly straightforward- 1500m (4500ft) x 30m wide. In practice, it’s a little more complicated. I had planned to do a low level runway inspection which is always quite a lot of fun. There are very tall trees on the undershoot and the wind was a little squirrely. Most of the width of the runway is unusable because it is right next to a fence and the surface showed signs of previous attempts to grow grass on the field. Still, it looked land-able so I set up for the approach as Matthew joined overhead. This would be one of the worst landings I have had in my aircraft…

I could say that there was a big gust, but essentially I landed too fast, got a little bounce, and then a big bounce, and then I went around. I am a huge fan of Thomas Turner’s ‘once bounce rule’ (You are allowed ONE bounce on landing only, the second bounce is a go-around) and didn’t fancy appearing in the pages of the local aviation forum as ‘Another Sling nosewheel collapse.’

A baulked landing tends to mess with your head a little. Coupled with some tricky terrain under the downwind and the aforementioned squirrelly wind, it took quite a bit of positive reinforcement to myself to make another approach. It’s funny how something which has no bearing on the current landing approach (the previous landing approach) can cause anxiety – I wonder why it is so difficult to close the book on the last landing? There have been a number of incidents, including one recently at an airfield down the road from ours where a number of go around/baulked landings have been made before the runway excursion/crash/nose gear collapse on the last. It’s so important to make each landing a clean slate, but that requires significant mental strength. Often we feel pushed to get around quickly and land, or embarrassed that we made a go-around and then we set ourselves up for another poor attempt.

In this case, I made a wide pattern, flew a longer downwind and made sure to have the speed and glide slope nailed. This meant I was a little closer to the aforementioned trees but the profile was better and the landing was safe. Not good, but safe.

DWU at rest – after a lot less difficulty than I had with the landing….

By this stage we felt we’d earned out breakfast and were pleased to see the breakfast buffet laid out (R100 each) – the food was OK. The farm stall prices were reasonable but we didn’t buy any produce. I had lime marmalade on my toast with breakfast, which was unusual to say the least – I like a tart Seville marmalade but this was quite something else….

Uys Huis Padstal

Our breakfast was marred somewhat by the fact that as we were sitting outside, it was getting harder and harder to keep items from being blown off the table by the gusty wind which was, of course, blowing directly across the runway. We decided not to wait too long before departing. Takeoff was interesting – with the Draco incident prominent in my mind this was the time for perfect crosswind technique, but with due consideration to the state of the surface decided on a combined technique – crosswind and soft field. The trick here is keeping the nosewheel light without lifting off too early as I felt that an early liftoff would result in a lot of sideways drift before good aileron authority. As it turned out, it was exciting, but not unsafe at all – I was able to establish a significant crab angle immediately after liftoff and the strong wind gave me some stellar climb performance.

We filed at FL105 for the return trip to get some cooler and hopefully less bumpy air – I guess one out of two was enough… air temp was a comfortable 13degrees but the turbulence was moderate to severe – I bumped my head a few times, and I was not terribly upset to land safely back at Bara.

While this was a great post maintenance shakedown flight, I’m not convinced that it is worth the effort to fly 125nm for a breakfast unless the location is spectacular or the food exceptional – this was neither. We are looking actively for better alternatives for fly-in destinations – there are a number of airports close by that have great food, but the scenery/location isn’t spectacular. Many offer challenges which make the trip worthwhile. The other activity we are considering is packing a picnic and going somewhere for the joy of picnicking alone.

Of course, there is no bad experience and I feel this trip exercised my skills and expanded the envelope of where I’m comfortable flying – I know I can handle a 20kt crosswind if the runway is wide, which makes means there are more days I’ll be able to fly from the home airfield.

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