200 Hours

In a previous post I described the limited flying that we had been allowed to do – one ‘maintenance/engine preservation’ flight per 28days. After significant lobbying by the Aeroclub of South Africa and a slight relaxation in the lockdown regulations, this restriction has been lifted to some extent.

We are now permitted to fly unlimited flights per 7 day period, provided we take off and land at the same airfield, do not disembark the aircraft at any other field and carry no passengers. There is also a requirement to have hand sanitizer on board, to wear a mask and gloves and to thoroughly sanitize the aircraft between flights. A simple online form is required to be completed every week in which we agree to do these things and the weekly flying permit is issued.

Like much of the regulatory environment related to the Coronavirus pandemic, a lot of this makes no sense at all. For instance, the requirement to not carry passengers. You may specify an instructor or mentor pilot to fly with you but they also need to complete the form. You cannot fly with people who live under the same roof as you (unlike the UK regulations which allow for this). The stipulation that you wear a mask and gloves while operating the aircraft is simply laughable – I can drive alone in my car to the airfield without gloves or a mask on, but when I’m alone in the plane I must wear both? I have decided to carry the mask and gloves in the plane and if I’m pulled over by any airborne law enforcement authorities I shall quickly don these.

I certainly will not be sanitizing my aircraft between flights since the plane sits in a locked T-hangar and I am the only operator/pilot. I get that for club or flight school aircraft this is a necessity but to require it of single pilot/operators is crazy. I’ve been listening to the Aviation NewsTalk podcast about hazardous attitudes and recognise that this attitude to the regulations probably constitutes an anti-authoritarian attitude but also think that it is incumbent on us as rational humans to question regulations that clearly make no sense. I have no issue with mask wearing in public and will confess to being that guy who calls people out on not wearing their masks but rational thought will show that this is a different scenario.

Date Aircraft Route Flight Duration Total Hours
04 July 2020 ZU-IBM FASY(Baragwanath) – FATA – FAVV – FAPanorama – FASY 1.8 201.7

The plan for this flight was to simply fly and enjoy the freedom to fly with limited restrictions on a beautiful Saturday afternoon, while retaining currency and proficiency. The mid afternoon breeze favoured the westerly runways in the area and blew away some of the gunk in the air so visibility as I climbed out of Baragwanath was pretty good for winter. First stop was a touch and go at Tedderfield – always challenging with its 24ft width but on this occasion mostly benign due to the runway aligned wind. Then off to Vereeniging (FAVV) for the same. However, on arrival at Vereeniging I noticed an aircraft in the circuit which was making no radio calls and using the crosswind runway. Given the 15kt wind I wasn’t about to land crosswind and I was unable to raise the other aircraft on the radio. I decided to trade my landing elsewhere and set off for Panorama. While it is permitted to operate locally without a radio I think it’s really poor form given this is quite a busy airport, and the other aircraft was clearly a Piper Cherokee which should have been radio equipped.

Panorama is a fiddly airfield at the best of times – it has 3 runways, all hard grass/gravel but the airspace is tight and one needs to have one’s finger out. The less said about my touch and go there the better – the into wind runways are short (about 600m/1800ft) and narrow so I elected to fit in with the traffic and use the crosswind runway as the wind seemed less here. My touch and go was more akin to a bounce-and-go – I should have done another circuit but didn’t really feel like it.

On the way back to Bara I took some time to practice the steep turns and stalls, then did a runway inspection (at 100ft I wouldn’t call this a beat-up) and made one of my best landings this year. With this flight I logged my 200th hour which I think is a good milestone. I am acutely aware I’m now entering a very high risk hour bracket – the next 200hours are crucial. (As is every single hour…)

It looks like a J-3 – but it isn’t…….

It’s great to see the airfield busy again – I was able to catch up with Matthew who was coming back from his flight in the Mooney, and Ron, who was airing some of his extensive collection including the Piaggio 149, L-3 Cub and Aeronca Champ.

Aeronca Chief

Someone also taxied past in a smart looking C140. It seems like GA will recover in the wake of the coronavirus lockdowns.

Shiny C140

Sling Aircraft released a service bulletin (SB) earlier in the week relating to an inspection of the rivets holding the control stop arms – apparently some were riveted using aluminium rivets instead of stainless steel. The bulletin calls for an inspection and replacement to be done at the next MPI/Annual. Since it’s a 6hour labour item to replace I thought I’d have a look and see which ones were on mine. It’s a very straightforward procedure, remove one of the front seats, unscrew the inspection cover and have a look.

Well, it should be straightforward. However, the inspection cover has a carpet over it which does a great job at hiding the screws. Screws located and cover removed I was able to gaze upon the rivets. Which look like every other rivet. Almost no way to determine if they are stainless steel or not. So I took a photo and sent it to Sling Aircraft – the reply is that they look like stainless steel but the AMO will still have to sign off the inspection so didn’t gain anything by doing it myself. I guess I was hoping they’d be shiny and stainless looking.

Aluminium? Stainless steel?

Annual is booked for the end of August – hoping to get a good amount of flying in before then.

Feathered friends

Last weekend I attempted to fly yet another ‘maintenance/engine preservation’ flight as allowed for by our Commission Against Aviation. It had been 29 days since I knocked off the rust and it looked like the perfect day for aviation.

However, the weather had other ideas. A cold front was blowing in from the Cape and as is typical with our cold fronts, by the time the arrive in the hinterland they are devoid of cloud. What it was not devoid of however, was wind. Our runway runs 31/13 and the wind generally comes from the south in winter and the north in summer. On this day it felt breezy but not unmanageable.

However, once I’d taxied down to the departure end (the wind was directly cross so I chose 31 to get an idea of how taxiing would feel), I was feeling a lot less confident. Added to this the fact that there is a hill about 1nm south of the airfield and the skittishness of my aircraft on the taxiway, and the 30ft width of the runway, I decided that today was not a good day for flying.

For fun, I turned on the runway directly into the wind and was seeing 15 gusting 25kts on the airspeed indicator. This made me happier about my decision. Nominal crosswind limit on the Sling is 15kts although I’ve landed safely and easily in more. Its the gusts that worried me. On another day, at an airport with a wider runway, with only a few days since I last flew? Maybe. But not here, and not today.

We call him ZS-DOV

So I put the plane back in the hangar – there’ll always be another day. The highlight of the day however, was a dove. There is a chap who lives on the airfield who seems to have befriended the dove to the extent that this bird is now tame. Being the only moving human on the airfield on Sunday, he arrived to ‘help’ with my preflight. This involved lots of walking around the wheel spats, sitting on the wing, flying onto my back while I sumped fuel and then at one point, actually flew INTO the plane and sat on the back seat. Fortunately he didn’t feel the need to relieve himself at any stage during the process. Crazy bird followed me all around the airfield wherever I went on foot..

Um. Seatbelt?

Knocking off the rust

I think it goes without saying that we’re all a little bit fed up with this virus… The constant news bombardment, added to the constant fights we as frontline providers are having with hospital groups and government with respect to the provision and availability of PPE, the constant threat of infection and quarantine and the effect on ability to earn are all taking their toll. What I’ve found is a major stress reliever is flying. Which has been a problem.

South Africa went into hard lockdown on the 26th of March 2020, after 6 reported Coronavirus deaths. The flavour of hard lockdown chosen here was confinement to home, only allowed to leave to buys groceries and essential goods, no alcohol sales, no tobacco sales. Most significantly, a total closure of airspace apart from rescue and essential flights. No airline traffic. No charters. No general aviation. Initially this was to be for 3 weeks, but it was later extended a further 2 weeks, then relieved slightly for the month of May – but still no general aviation was provided for.

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On being flexible

The reality of single engine piston operations is that one tends to be at the mercy of the vagaries of the weather. This shouldn’t be news to anyone really but it was brought home to me last weekend on an attempted flight to meet a friend for a quick coffee at Rustenburg (FARG).

After some days of marginal weather (and, it must be noted, some spectacular weather weekends where there was simply no time to fly), it finally looked like my schedule and CAVOK were lining up. The plan was to fly from Baragwanath to Rustenburg, have a coffee and head back.

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2019 in the air

  • Total Hours : – 67.7
  • Number of flights: – 71
  • Longest Flight:- 2.3h
  • Airports visited:- 27
  • Landings:- 113
  • Cross Country Hours(>50nm):- 29.0
  • Passengers(not unique):- 35

All in all a great year’s flying. Bring on 2020!

Speed Rally Season 2, Race 1 – Springs

The 2019/2020 Speed Rally season opened on the 23rd of November with the first race being held at the Springs Airport (FASY). This would be our second speed rally, the first one having been at Secunda in August.

Pre Race hubris

This time my son Scott was unable to navigate for me because he was studying for exams so I recruited my friend Steve who is also mad about flying and is fairly useful around a map! As is the usual scenario, the weather forecast for the morning of the race looked pretty lousy – low ceilings, narrow temp/dew point spread and generally not amenable to VFR flight. My plan was thus to move my aircraft to Springs on the Friday afternoon – but once again, Mother Nature simply laughed at my plans and some of the biggest storms we’ve had this year arrived. They at least had the good grace to start well before I left for the airfield unlike previous occasions where storm cells have pitched up as I complete my preflight.

Dane Laing’s very well turned out RV6A – Race 31

Steve and I resolved to get up at the crack of dawn to make the 50nm trip to Springs – fully expecting to bin the whole affair, but Saturday was clear and we easily made it across to Springs in time for the 07h30 briefing. The race has become really popular – 40 entries were received including, for the first time, 2 helicopters.

3 Slings in a row – ZU-FWY(Sling2), ZU-IBM, ZU-IBH

After the briefing we joined the start lineup and waited for our ‘papers’ – our map, photos of turnpoints and the route to be flown. These are given 20minutes before the scheduled takeoff time, which essentially gives you about 8minutes to look at the map outside of the aircraft – the rest is done while taxiing to the runway.

ZU-IBM ZU-IOK Sling 4 TSi – Owned by Andrew Lane, the previous owner of ZU-IBM

We had an uneventful start this time after the shenanigans of the previous race and were soon at top speed heading for the first turn point. The turn points are generally road/rail crossings, stations, grain silos etc. These are hard to find in the bleak expanses of the western regions of Mpumalanga. We navigated by open cast mines, slimes dams and highways. To our credit (mostly Steve tbh), we missed only one turn point, picking up a 1minute penalty. The racing is so well handicapped that losing a minute meant the difference between finishing 4th and 14th. Ah well, c‘est la vie.

Beechcraft Bonanza F33A ZS-PJK

We had a fantastic time and the 150nm of the course passed so quickly we couldn’t believe it when we crossed the finish line. It’s a dangerous time to be relaxing though as the handicapping is so good that invariably there are 12-15 aircraft in the circuit on arrival – courtesy and keeping your wits about you go a long way….

ZU-IHH Vans RV7A – Race 3
Jason Beamish about to perform in his Extra 330LX

After we landed and handed in our loggers, we watched some spectacular aerobatics and then had to hustle to get back to Baragwanath as a rather mean looking storm had popped up on the radar and was making its way towards our route. The next race is in March – we’ll definitely be there.

EAA (SA) Sun ‘n Fun Flyin 9 November 2019

The South African chapter of the Experimental Aircraft Association is celebrating it’s 50th anniversary this year. Every year there is a flyin to the Brits Airfield (FABS) but this year promised to be even more special. Any excuse for a flight is a good one, so it was off to Brits I went.

As summer starts to take hold it’s getting light earlier and I was able to pull the plane out at 6h30, in pleasant conditions with the low morning clouds clearing away and only the slightest breeze. I should have realised it was too good to be true…

As I rolled down runway 13 (into the sun – of course…) I noticed 3 Guineafowl taxiing out onto the runway ahead of me. Now a guineafowl is not a small bird – they probably weigh around 4 kilograms and stand about 35cm high – I didn’t fancy the idea of one of them going through the prop or hitting a wheel. In retrospect I made the wrong call by rotating 2-3kts below nominal rotation speed (50kts) but IBM eagerly kept into the air and disaster was averted. It would have been better to stay on the ground, wait for normal rotation and try to ignore the birds than to take off early and potentially stall out. Fortunately I was so close to rotation speed that it made no difference but definitely something to think about for lower speed incidents – better to hit a bird on the ground than stall it in.

The other concern is that the birds could have tried to fly and then I may have been in the situation where I’m flying at low speed and then hit a bird….

Bird excitement behind us, we climbed up under the Johannesburg TMA – cruising at 7500’ and routing to the west of the Lanseria class B airspace. We passed over Orient airfield (a major gliding Mecca), but it was too early for the obligatory powerless landers in their funny hats.

Couldn’t resist….. sorry not sorry

This dogleg set up a more or less direct course to Brits – and a routing directly into the teeth of a not insignificant headwind – 30kts on the nose meant we took a lot longer to get to Brits at only 90kts over the ground.

For the (anticipated) large flyins, the CAA usually declare an Aerodrome Flight Info Service (AFIS) which means that the usually unmanned airfield is manned with a tower operator whose role is to ensure separation but does not give explicit landing or takeoff clearances – it’s a little bit strange – the landing clearance usually sounds like “ZU-IBM, number one on the approach, land at pilot’s discretion”. Anyhow, as it turns out they were only opening at 07h30 and I arrived overhead at 07h25. This resulted in some confusion with arriving aircraft coming from 4 directions and all trying to ascertain if the tower was open or not.

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Risk

I’ve been thinking a lot about risk lately. There was a recent fatal Cherokee crash in a reasonably nearby town – nobody knows yet what happened. As a result the local aviation forum is turning up all sorts of theories. One contributor opined that if the CPL/IR grade 2 instructor who was flying the aircraft couldn’t save himself, what chance did the average weekend warrior have?

I commented that I felt that the best way to mitigate the risk in GA was to ensure that we are all current and proficient, and the lack of experience (i.e lack of total hours) may not necessarily influence the outcome of what appears to have been an engine failure. Further, we need to make peace with the fact that there is risk involved in general aviation, in the same way there is risk involved in almost everything we do. Obviously there is some perceived benefit to undertaking the risk involved. I cannot earn a living, unless I am prepared to take the risk of leaving the house and driving to work. Risk, benefit. Likewise, general aviation. Yes, there is risk, and that risk is not insignificant. The benefits for the personal aviator (I hate the term Weekend Warrior) are perhaps more nebulous – but could include significant decrease in long journey time, a visual perspective on the world that few get to see, the satisfaction in taking control of a machine and flying like the birds, and in my case, a very definite improvement in my state of mind (I call it altitude therapy).

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