Level 2 lockdown is real in South Africa. This allows further movement and (good news for some) the purchase of alcohol and cigarettes. Most importantly, the restrictions on general aviation have been lifted – we can fly between provinces (states) and can fly with other people in the aircraft.

To celebrate our new found freedom the three usual suspects (Matthew, Roger and myself) decided to do some interprovincial flying. A strong cold front had caused some scattered snowfalls earlier in the week in some high lying parts of the country and we were hoping to spot some snow on the Drakensberg.

Because we’d had good times on our previous trip to El Mirador last year, we decided to reprise the route.

DateAircraftRouteFlight TimeTotal Time
22 August 2020ZU-IBMFASY(Baragwanath) – FALQ(El Mirador) – FATA (Tedderfield)3.9211.9

Matthew and I would be flying from Baragwanath and Roger would fly with some friends from Rand Airport(FAGM). I was able to convince (not much required) my son Scott to join me for the first time this year. We’d planned a leisurely start because of some low cloud that was forecast to burn off around 9am. As 9am approached we were sucking our cheeks and gazing at the still present cloud. Around 09h20 it seemed to be lifting and some blue was appearing so we decided to launch and see how it went.

The broken undercast – not great for non instrument rated pilots

And initially, it went well – but as we exited the general flying area we noticed that we’d crept lower and lower in order to stay below the cloud and were in imminent danger of violating my 1000ft hard deck on cross country flying. It was time for the 180 and after some discussion between us on 123.45 we decided to route west in search of clear skies – which appeared 15nm west. We were able to route direct for the Drakensberg albeit well to the west of our desired track.

Some clear skies ahead
Pilot and copilot

Interestingly the line of cloud paralleled our track the whole way to the Drakensberg – fairly innocuous looking stuff about 150ft thick and broken but VFR on top not legal in South Africa. As we overflew the Sterkfontein dam it cleared up for the escarpment crossing.

Sterkfontein Dam – clouds finally behind us

Sadly, there was no snow on the mountains but we had a nice gentle run for the last 40nm to el Mirador. To cap off my somewhat stressful flight I definitely ARRIVED on the bumpy grass runway and taxied up to where Matthew was tying down and where Roger had been for around 45 minutes.

Mooney, Mountain, Sling and Arrow

Roger, being instrument rated, had filed IFR and had been given a clearance along the lines of ‘climb 8000ft and route direct destination’. I really need to work on my instrument rating specifically for this sort of day – irritating low clouds with no embedded Cb’s and warm enough to not have to worry too much about icing.

A leisurely breakfast at the Champagne Bistro followed while we enjoyed watching people looking at our planes. I remain convinced that pilots are generally good types, although I may be biased. We tried to buy some craft beer but alcohol is not allowed to be sold for off site consumption on weekends under the lockdown and we thought it would be poor form to imbibe a few pints and set off on a 190nm flight back to Johannesburg……

Teenagers – not smiling in photo’s since forever

We settled on chocolate from the chocolate shop at the airfield and set off to provide entertainment by taking off from the tricky grass strip. Given our experience last year with a large bump in midfield which launched us a few seconds before I wanted to be airborne, I decided on a max performance short/soft field takeoff which got us airborne in time..We elected not to perform the flyby the restaurant manager asked us to do “for entertainment” given the one way in, one way out nature of the field. (And the fact that on principle I won’t do flyby’s/beat ups).

Clouds ahead – FL105

We were to be troubled by the cloud on the way back again (yes, the same cloud that was supposed to have been clear by 9am).It had lifted – to FL105 – where I wanted to fly. We ended up descending below it which bought us 120nm of bumpy flying.

Vaal Dam – massive and shallow.

I needed to drop my aircraft at Tedderfield as she was going into annual so Matthew kindly agreed to drop in at Tedderfield and lift us back to Baragwanath. I really enjoy flying in the Mooney – it’s a solid piece of kit.

Flying – Tiring

I’m hopeful that no major snags will raise their ugly heads at annual and that it is done quickly – lots of exciting things coming up in September including a change of home base and the next installment in the Speed Rally series!

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