I think my aircraft may have forgotten me. The last time I flew was with my daughter on Christmas Eve. We did at least do this properly by wearing Santa hats and by going for milkshakes at Rand Airport (FAGM).
On Boxing Day, we left for 3 weeks of holiday catching up with friends in London (Bromley) and Germany (Reit-im-winkl – great skiing, 9/10 would go back).
Then January hit with a vengeance and what with having to do calls to make up for the ones I didn’t do while being away and the usual January schlep of getting the kids settled into their new school year (with all the concomitant drama), flying definitely took a back seat. I was able to do some circuits on the 27th and wash the dust off the plane (and my skills) in time for this weekend’s installment of the Speed Rally Series.
Once again, we gambled on the skies being fine for an early morning commute to the race – and won, again! Along with Steve, who would be navigating for me, we lifted off from Baragwanath into the morning air – eastbound all the way, I was regretting not installing sun visors – these have to be a high priority upgrade I think.
|Date||Aircraft||Route||Flight Duration||Total Hours|
|01 February 2020||ZU-IBM||FASY(Baragwanath) – FAWI (Witbank) -RACE- FAWI – FASY||3.7||192.5|
It quickly became apparent that we were not the only punters heading for Witbank – the special rule frequency was alive worth folks reporting positions en route to the airport – it makes sense since it is a 40min flight for most competitors and there was to be a large field – almost 40aircraft. Having landed (very hard – worst landing since PPL I think), we topped off with fuel (a requirement for the race) and made our way to the briefing. It’s great to catch up with fellow racers after the Christmas break – we feel like we’re becoming part of the scene now which is good.
The route and conditions were explained as were a few minor alterations to the scoring system. A new feature for the route and to improve spectator involvement is to have the racers fly over the airfield at turnpoint 4 before heading out on the clockwise leg. This did raise some concern for me due to the fact that the last departures would be happening as we were overflying but the minimum altitude for the turnpoint was high enough to not conflict with the departing traffic.
After the briefing we went to the aircraft to await our papers and to have our contraband sealed – there are no GPS units, other maps, cellphones, iPads allowed so they are sealed in a plastic bag which is handed in unopened at the end of the race. The PFD is also covered except for vital instruments and magnetic heading. Papers (maps, turnpoint photos and GPS track loggers) are delivered to the crew 20min before departure, which allows the pilot and navigator to plot times, identify ground features and familiarize themselves with the route. 10min prior to departure is engine start and we all taxi from our assigned parking into position behind the preceding aircraft.
On the previous outing, we had been heavily penalized for undercutting a turnpoint and we were determined to (a) not undercut any turnpoints and (b) to fly straighter, more accurate legs. Steve worked carefully on the timing while I highlighted the living daylights out of my map with identifiable features which would help us with lateral positioning. The pilot is really under the cosh for this because I only have 10minutes (because 10min of the preflight time is taxiing and it’s frowned upon to taxi into other aircraft while gawping at the map). I’ve also resolved to not be distracted during the pre takeoff period and to ensure complete checklist compliance which means no maps.
15 seconds after the plane in front of us, we got waved off and the race was on. Our strategy of trying to identify as many features as possible seemed to be working out for us. I was especially keen on using river features which fortunately was easy given the good quality of the maps and the fact that the rivers were running well after the rains. We were also pleasantly surprised at how green the area is – this is the Highveld and it is known for being brown, and flat. It was neither and we had to take a lot of care to remain clear of the granite outcrops.
I like to fly low for these events (500-600’ AGL) because it is easier to identify turnpoints and features. The chaps we were following (at least, until we passed them) were taking low flying to an extreme. At one point I was genuinely concerned that they would be unable in their C172 to outclimb one of the valley walls. I simply cannot understand the advantage to taking such risk. It’s all fun and games until you hit a power line. I’m happy that 500-600AGL is clear of obstacles but I’ll never fly that low in a valley. The other problem with guys flying really low is that we struggle to see them due to our low wing, and they couldn’t see us due to their high wing – this makes me nervous and we had to step laterally a few times to keep horizontal separation and visual spacing.
Time flies in these events (yes, I did that on purpose), and we were third across the line – which we were amazed at – line crossing position does not equate to actual position due to spacing requirements on takeoff but we were thrilled nonetheless.
We were very happy to be informed that we had indeed come third in the overall handicap placing and 10th in the navigation accuracy. To give an idea of how well people fly, our accuracy was 1.90% i.e we flew 148nm on a 146.8nm course. And this was only good enough for 10th! Our new approach definitely worked and we’ll be refining it for events to come.
Sadly we were unable to stick around for the short course racing due to concerns about convective activity and we had a considerably bumpier trip back to Baragwanath landing (unusually) on runway 13.
There is a massive butterfly swarm passing through Johannesburg currently – so we needed to spend 45min cleaning off the aircraft. Many butterflies contributed to this flying activity……
Adding 3.7 hours to the logbook has brought me to within 5hours of 100h in type, and within 3hours of 200h total time. Getting there……