It’s been quite a long time since all 4 of us flew anywhere. Mostly this has been because of scheduling issues and the requirement that flying be limited to essential crew only (good grief – every single post seems to start with a COVID lockdown reference).
Groblersdal flying club hosted their annual breakfast flyin on Saturday so we decided to take a look. Initially it was going to only be my son and I but my daughter expressed interest and then my wife developed FOMO and suddenly the plane was full.
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.
It’s a public holiday – Worker’s Day and those of us who work are restless to get some air between us and the ground. There is some discussion in the club WhatsApp group about a suitable location for breakfast – some guys want to go to Thabazimbi for the NGK Meifees (May fest) but many of us are a little twitchy about flying to a town airfield and leaving our aircraft there, being transported to the festival ground and having to rely on folk to bring us back to the planes again.
My brother-in-law’s family have a place in a game reserve called Zebula – we have driven up with them a couple of times before for the weekend – the house is great with a pool and a jacuzzi and it is good to hang out with family. The reserve has an airstrip which is well frequented with breakfast runners – the lodge will pick you up from the airstrip, deliver you to the buffet breakfast and return you later to your waiting aircraft.
Every time we have been before I’ve looked at the airstrip and thought – “this would be a great fly-in spot.” The strip has a bit of a reputation for being difficult – mostly because it gets very hot in the Limpopo Bushveld and the gradient on the airstrip almost requires a one-way in, one way out philosophy.
On Friday my sister suggested that we fly in and join them for the day on Saturday or Sunday, so we rustled up some cold meats and drinks and I started to have a close look at the trip. Zebula has a 1400m/4500ft , 13metre wide runway which is at 4300ft elevation and slopes fairly steeply from the midway point of runway 08 to the threshold of runway 26. My major concern was density altitude – I knew we’d get in just fine but it was the flying out that had me concerned – more on that later.
Of course, having a trip planned for a Saturday morning was bound to annoy the weather gods and Saturday dawned with a 400-600foot overcast; OK, it was reported as BKN but to all intents and purposes it was overcast. Very occasionally there was a slight break in the cloud and I could see it wasn’t very thick – so we were almost tempted to try and blast through it. This would have been a mistake. After making hourly determinations I decided it was best to delay for 24h. Which, as it turned out, was very much the correct decision. Sunday was clear and the flight was on.
Baragwanath to Zebula is a leisurely 105nm – of course cannot be flown straight line as there are TMA’s to be avoided. We loaded the cooler bags, swimming kit and ourselves and set off. Today I was expecting the slightly longer takeoff run but IBM shot up enthusiastically and it was sad to have to stop the climb at 7500ft. We cruised over the west of Soweto, over Orient Glider airfield (where not even one glider was out of a hangar yet) and then through the Magaliesberg flight training area – where I did the majority of my PPL training. Entering the GFA, we were out from under the TMA so we climbed up to FL95, above the scattered cumulus which was starting to develop and into some cool, smooth air.
30 minutes later we were top of descent for Zebula – the windsock was essentially indicating mostly crosswind with a slight tailwind component – I elected to land with the mild tailwind to make use of the uphill slope. Unfortunately we floated quite a bit on roundout and I ended up landing at the top of the hill (with plenty of room to spare) – I think the wind shifted a bit more towards the tailwind – as we were securing the aircraft someone landed a 182 downhill into the wind. The tailwind component could not have been more than 5knots and my MAUW landing roll is 400m so yes, I had some wiggle room.
As we arrived at the lodge, some cumulus was starting to develop – one large one in particular to the north of us. I called up the weather radar feed – sure enough this was developing into something. I spent the rest of the morning checking the feed every 30min to keep an eye. At the mercy of the weather, with no ability to stay late if need be, it is important to keep a close watch. Unfortunately having to worry about the weather does detract somewhat from the relaxation aspect of a morning in the bush – I would be more relaxed if it wasn’t the whole family.
Fortunately, the weather didn’t develop into anything more than clear sky cumulus. When time came to leave the bases were at FL100 with 4/8 cover. Leaving Zebula presented a bit of a quandary. The wind had shifted so it was now aligned with the runway. The uphill runway. Additionally my daughter decided she wanted to sit up front so I needed to do a quick recalculation of the weight and balance – which still came in within the envelope. The wind was of sufficient strength that I didn’t believe I could justify a downwind takeoff – especially with an air temp of 36 Celsius and a calculated DA of over 8000ft.
The Sling will clear a 50ft obstacle at MAUW at 7500ft DA in 690m so I reckoned if we added 10% for the elevated DA and another 20% for the slope we would be clear of 50ft obstacle (the trees at the end of the runway) in 900m, well short of the 1400m available. The wind was about 10kts which would give us back another 5% so in my mind we’d be fine. In fact, we lifted off marginally short of halfway (just at the top of the sloping section) and climbed strongly at Vx to the extent that I was turning on course as we passed the far threshold. I’m continually amazed by the takeoff perfomance delivered by the little Rotax 914.
I had hoped to climb to FL105 or FL125 for the trip home to get some cool air but the cloud bases were around FL100 so we stayed at FL85 – which was a lot bumpier than the family have experienced – precipitating some nausea on the part of one member. Again we routed over the glider airfield (OK, about 3miles to the west thereof) – it is lovely to see the gliders below and the guys launching with the winch.
Landing at Bara was very enjoyable – with the very rear C/G we did a wheelie for ages after the mains touched down – there is incredible elevator authority down as far as about 38kts – in fact on a proper short field takeoff the nose will unstick at 40kts.
Another new airport into the logbook, another family trip living the Sling lifestyle. The only negative aspect is that the pitch part of the autopilot is STILL not working properly, which is proving to be somewhat annoying. I need to look at that again this week.
The next trip is to Middelburg (FAMB) for the EAA aviation week. Can’t wait.
To say that the year thus far has not been great for flying is no understatement. As soon as MGL Avionics opened this year I sent my EFiS in for hardware upgrade and that took 2 weeks – where I (obviously couldn’t fly). As that came back and it was re-installed, the wet season arrived with a bang. We’ve been laboring under a ridge of high pressure which has been driving warm moist air from the Mozambique Channel down over Gauteng with resultant overcast and showers. In fact we had about 3 weeks of continual 7/8 to OVC (mostly on the weekends). However, the first signs of the late summer/early autumn period are starting and we’ve had a week or so of fantastic flying weather.
We thought we’d take advantage of this and do the “Sunday fly out to breakfast” thing. This was to be the first time we’d all gone flying as a family and would be a good test of IBM’s load carrying capacity. It should be noted that she’s no Cherokee 235 but with a useful load of 465kg four up is definitely a viable option.
Sunday dawned clear despite the forecast high overcast, so we loaded up and set off for the airfield. The preflight was accomplished fairly quickly thanks to my two helpers who are getting quite good at removing the plugs, covers and the 40kg of water ballast I keep in the rear when flying solo. After the obligatory fiddle with the goPro’s we were able to start up.
Route of Flight
24 Feb 2019
FASY(Baragwanath) – GAV – FAPY(Parys, FS) GAV – FASY
There was a fair amount of activity on the field as we taxied out – someone was preflighting a Samba XL, my neighbor across the taxiway was (still) fighting with the autopilot in his Jabiru and someone was doing circuits in a Robin. For only the second time since I moved to BaraG winds were favoring runway 13 and we launched without issue. I expected a significantly longer takeoff roll being four up but it wasn’t a big issue – what did get my attention was the slower climb performance – my usual stick deflection produced a Vx climb at 65KIAS as opposed to the more routine 75KIAS but there is a ridge to the south of the airfield which needs to be crossed….
Having negotiated the ridge we made a leisurely climb to 7000ft, progressed through the surprisingly quiet GF and made our way to Parys. There are only about 20nm between the edge of the Special Rules Area (7000ft southbound) and Parys, but we needed an even flight level – and for reasons best known to myself, I asked Info South for FL85 which meant that 2min after reaching, I was asking for descent. (It would have been more clever to ask for FL065
Parys was busy with a Baron back taxiing and two gyros inbound. I performed a textbook unmanned join, with an extended downwind to allow the Baron to depart and landed with the two gyrocopters hot on my heels. Then we had a humorous moment where the only taxiway off the runway was blocked by an aircraft taxiing out – this required some negotiation but fortunately we are all nice folks…
The restaurant at Parys has recently been put under new management and is now called Montgolfier’s. It’s very relaxed, cool and comfortable with a great view of the temporary parking and runway. Food is reasonably priced and tasty, service is as quick as you’d expect for a leisurely Sunday breakfast – all in all a great experience.
As we started up to head home, the gliders were being pulled out, so we weren’t too surprised that it was a little bumpy – nothing unmanageable of course, but the thermals were starting up. Back at BaraG we landed uneventfully again on RWY 13 (The Sling LOVES a rear CG for landing – #Wheeliesfordays!).
For a first time family trip, it was great – and the rear seat passengers remarked that they’d be prepared to spend more time back there..
I have been looking for an opportunity to take some family members flying in ZU-IBM. There is a heck of a lot going on at the moment with year end functions, prize-givings, concerts and the like and there simply isn’t a lot of time. When the Springs airport fly-in came up though we decided to make a morning of it. Some family members preferred their beds to an early flight so it was only myself and my son braving the trip to the East Rand.
I tend to overthink trips to unfamiliar airspace. I’ve only been east of OR Tambo Johannesburg International Airport (FAOR) once and that was a long way wide of the airspace doing my night Nav exercise – this route would call for a very close skirting of the airspace around this large international airport.
Undaunted though we planned to route from Tedderfield to Springs via Suikerbosrand Nature reserve (incidentally I have not been there since I was about 12y old) – I thought it would give me a chance to do some radial intercepts onto the HGV VOR using the “virtual VOR” feature on my MGL iEFIS – it creates radials based on the GPS position, so one can navigate using VORs without having a Nav radio per se (this will have to be fixed if I’m ever going to use this aircraft for IFR though)
Saturday morning’s weather was fairly typical for a Saturday morning at this time of year – beautiful at 04h45, and overcast by 06h30. Fortunately the stuff was thin, was clearing from the east (good news since this was the direction of flight) and it looked like a good day to commit aviation.
24 November 2018
FATA – FASI
I try to involve my kids in the preflight process as I think that the more eyes there are scanning the aircraft, the greater the chance of picking up something – but we both had to stop and gawk as a flight of 4 motor gliders taxied past and departed to Springs – they’re quite elegant and looked like they had some pretty impressive initial climb performance.
Then it was time to set sail – in the video below one can see the smile on my son’s face as we accelerated down Runway 29. The routing was easier than I imagined it would be – and much quicker too – by road Springs is a good 90min drive – took us about 24min all told. Being total newbies to the fly-in scene we were impressed by the number of aircraft joining the pattern from all directions – generally professional piloting meant that we were able to build some good situational awareness and no surprises appeared (apart from the unexpectedly strong crosswind on the downwind leg)!
There is a bit of pressure landing at a busy field when you know everyone is watching your landing – fortunately we didn’t need a broom to taxi the aircraft off the runway so we retained some credibility. Which I lost for us by asking where we could park…. “Um… in any open spot?” So we pulled up next to a very pretty RV8 (ZU-RVA) and shut down.
Then it was time to wander around and have a look at the aircraft – there was a good representation of general aviation in SA – everything from a Trike to a Cherokee 140, to C210 on the type certified side and lots of Vans Aircraft (Mostly RV7A’s with a spattering of RV-6/a’s and two RV-10’s – not to forget the aforementioned RV-8), A couple of Slings, Jabirus and some Kitfox aircraft on the NTCA side. A Robbie R44 and an Alo II kept the motor gliders company too.
Sadly we were not taking part in the navigation rally and we didn’t have time to stay and watch the departing traffic so it was back to Tedderfield for us.
24 November 2018
FASI – FASY – FATA
We wanted to stay well clear of the busy corridor between springs and Rand Airport so I decided to head south until passing over Heidelberg airport and then route for Baragwanath (FASY) airport – which is to be the new home of ZU-IBM for a touch and go before returning to Tedderfield.
As we were doing run ups at the hold for RWY 03 at Springs there was some commotion on the airport frequency – apparently one of the motor gliders based at Springs had had an engine problem on departure from the grass runway and had completed a safe off field landing – I guess this is bread-and-butter stuff for glider pilots?
We had an uneventful trip back to Tedderfield- did one (average) touch and go at BaraG and then perhaps my best landing to date in the Sling at Tedderfield. I discovered an unexpected advantage of having my son with me – he could hop out and open the hangar, avoiding a shut down and hot start ! – Kids have their uses sometimes…
We’ll be looking for more fly-ins to attend in future.
How do you make having a pilot license feel real? Fly with those who are most precious to you. For just over a year now I’ve been disappearing off to the airport for protracted periods of time and bringing nothing back other than stories of where I’ve flown, or how bad or good the conditions were or which exam I passed. I think it’s been a little hard on the family to be contributing (by managing without me at the house) but not getting any significant return.
So it was that after gaining my PPL (ok, long before even) there was significant interest from the family in going flying with me. There was much discussion, argument even about who would be first. “But Mike,” I hear you say, “You trained in a four seat aeroplane! Why can’t you take your wife AND two kids?”
Ah. And therein the rub. Most 4 seat aircraft are only nominally 4 seat aircraft on the South African highveld plateau. My home airfield has an altitude of 4500ft. ISA temperature for 4500ft is 6degrees Celsius. Only in the very depths of winter, when a cold front is passing, does the daytime temperature even approximate 6deg. So we’re by definition hot and high which degrades takeoff performance of normally aspirated aircraft – especially those with only 200hp on tap. Given that the flight school almost universally runs the aircraft with full/nearly full tanks, we are almost always payload limited in the SR20. The 22, on the other hand, with 310hp… not so much. (Which is why the only SR20s in South Africa are the 5 owned by the flight school. All the others are SR22s)
So, it would be that my wife and daughter would be first to fly with me. I hummed and hah’d about the routing. I wanted to do the city tour but decided to stick with what I know and simply cruise up and down in the flying training area. This turned out to be a very good call – as I was SO nervous that additional navigational demands would have seriously impacted my ability to fly safely. It gets real very quickly when your family is on the aircraft.
So how did it go? It was….. OK. The flying was good, the GF was quiet and I even threw in a steep turn to make sure everyone was awake. I gave the lecture (pre departure) on not talking while I’m on the radio and to let me know if they see any other aircraft – my daughter saw lots – I want her as my copilot – I’ll call her “Eagle Eye” from now on. The only downside was that it was pretty bumpy with the wind from the south rising up over the ridges and causing a little bit of turbulence. Landing was within spec (I thought it was pretty poor but the passengers thought it was ok) and just like that… I’d taken my first passengers for a plane ride.
More importantly, they both say they’ll fly with me again. This is the best part – because what is the use of the PPL if you aren’t going to use it to take people places? My little girl did get a headache which I put down to an uncomfortable headset (loaner) and possibly also being in the back seat without a cushion – note to self – remember the cushion next time.
My wife seemed surprised at how methodically I did my preflight and that I kept checking and double checking everything – I like to think I’m very cautious – this is what I normally do! I believe that I inspired confidence in her.
Date of Flight
7 July 2018
FALA(Lanseria, Johannesburg) - FARG(Full stop) - FALA
The second flight en famille was this last weekend – I took my mother-in-law and my son up. This would be a lot less pressured as I’d broken the back of my nervousness to carry passengers. I wanted to do some short field work so I took them out to my usual hunting ground Rustenberg(FARG) for a landing – it also gave them a chance to change seats – my MIL did the right seat out and my son back.
So FARG was extremely busy. I’ve never seen it like that before. When I called 10nm out there were 3 aircraft already in the pattern (one orbiting to drop parachutists) and 2 others inbound – which is a lot for an uncontrolled airfield. We’ve been suffering under a heavy high pressure system for a few days now – the QNH was 1038mmHg (30.65in) and I forgot to set to local until well into the descent which left me a little lower than I wanted to be for the overhead join but fortunately I was at the front of the queue and was able to recover on the downwind leg. Schoolboy errors..
The landing was (as should be at a shortish field) positive and we taxied onto the apron for the seat swap. As I’m taxiing out to 16, the paradrop guy announces he’s commenced his meat bombing run – so I ask him how many jumpers – 8 or 9 he replies…. OK. Then I ask where they are because I can’t see them from the hold short position and his response is to say “Don’t worry, you’re well away from them – just go you’ll be ok.”
Hmm. Didn’t seem like the best advice but after checking again to see they were not on the upwind and as I was departing straight out I decided to go for it. Didn’t see them at all. I even looked back after takeoff and didn’t see them. Oh well. I’d have been much happier to have eyes on but since the drop pilot didn’t even know how many jumpers he had, it seems like it wouldn’t have been that helpful to have seen some. I’d be interested to know what the procedures are at other fields where skydiving occurs. To me the safest approach would be to halt all ops until the divers are all recovered onto the field but I’m not that keen on sitting there with the Hobbs running while people drift down 4000ft under canopies.
But back to Lanseria we went only to find that every man and his dog was, in fact flying today. We were 4th inbound to the left downwind with a B737 on long final and 2 on the right downwind – Orbits, orbits for everyone! But the best part (after having to fly a 7mile final) was that the wind was blowing directly down the runway. I think this is only the second time in my flying career and we made an absolute greaser. Top tip – when flying with your mother in law, make every landing a greaser. Another 1,5h in the logbook and cross country time to boot.
I want to do my PPL(Instrument) so I need to log the cross country hours. Also starting the night rating so doing some sim hours too. The best part is that on reflection I don’t remember having to work too hard to fly the plane this time. Maybe I’m getting that feel – finally.