The other day I offered to help one of our club members to move his aircraft to another airport for its MPI/Annual. No problem, right? Except it’s a controlled airport I’ve never landed at before (at least during the day – I did a touch and go there on my night cross country but the tower was closed).
This did give me some room for pause – it’s an easy airport, 2 runways, wide runways but there are some issues. Firstly, the airspace is busy – there are a lot of flying schools on the field and a fair number of commercial GA operations. Secondly, the airport is crammed tightly against the Class B (TMA) airspace of O. R. Tambo international airport (FAOR) and they don’t take kindly to bugsmasher’s violating their territory.
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.
All good things must come to an end and this includes congresses – well, OK, being at a congress (even one dedicated to anaesthetising small people) is not as good as not being at a congress when in Cape Town, but it was still worthwhile.
There was a huge amount going on from a social point of view but was able to have dinner with an old friend and her family and also to have the most expensive cocktails I have ever drunk – I know it’s Cape Town but R130 for a Mojito is somewhat excessive – it is one of the trendiest spots in town though and the views and architecture made up for the cost of the drinks (almost!)
I’d deliberately left an extra day to get back – my plan was, if the weather looked at all dubious on the Monday, I’d aim to fly halfway back on Sunday afternoon, use the night rating to land late in Bloemfontein and sleep over and hop home on the Monday. My weather guy seemed confident that weather would be excellent on the Monday – with the proviso I left early ( 0600 local). This seemed to me like an excellent plan – despite the logistical problems of accessing the airfield at that time (beyond the scope of this piece).
I was surprised to wake up to a thin layer of cloud, which got thicker as I descended down from Rondebosch to the peninsula and headed north to Morningstar. The logistical issues of accessing the airfield at 06h00 were left by the wayside as conditions were low IMC with 1000m visibility but, annoyingly the clouds would break up every few minutes to reveal that the layer was temptingly thin. I could feel the get-home-itis starting to build. It would be very easy to blast through a hole in the clouds, but what if I needed to return? I doubted I’d be able to find the field again, so in consultation with the weather briefer we decided to wait 2hours. This allowed ample time for a very thorough preflight, at least 2 pre departure visits to the bathroom and sorting out returning the hired car to the AMO/FBO.
At 8h30 there was much more blue sky than low cloud and I decided the time was now. I taxied out, did my run up and launched off of 02. Climbing through 300ft the EGTs all climbed rapidly through 1100deg – well into the red. It took me about 3 seconds to decide that I was not continuing with this – reported returning to the circuit and got IBM onto the ground as soon and as safely as I could – I will confess that my circuit was not textbook but I was keeping it tight in case the engine quit. Bizarrely the power output felt ok and there was no roughness at all.
I had the AMO check it out – they ground ran it, and then we test flew the plane again – we were unable to replicate the problem. A possible theory was carburettor icing (there is no carb heat on the Sling and conditions were favourable for development of carb ice) but there was no discernible power loss so I’m sceptical of that. Another theory is that I didn’t put the mags completely back to BOTH but again, I don’t believe this and once again no issue with power. So I’m at a loss as to what happened, but there have been no abnormal indications since then.
Date of Flight
12 November 2018
Morningstar to FATA(Tedderfield)
The nett result of all of this is that it was 10h15 local when I departed, a good 4 hours later than I had wanted. I was hoping for a smoother ride than coming down but was to be disappointed. Initially the air was fantastic and I was settling in for an easy trip but as I approached Sutherland the thermal activity started with a vengeance, as it had on the trip down. I climbed to FL95, where the density altitude was 12750ft – I didn’t believe I could justify a climb to FL115 without supplemental oxygen, so I was properly stuck.
It may be something I need to get used to and there may well be a technique to riding the thermals to get maximum efficiency. I think it may be easier in an aircraft that cruises below Va – the Sling will easily cruise in the yellow band – I was having episodes where I was 5-7.5deg nose down, climbing at 700fpm and rapidly approaching Vne, so I would pull throttle to idle, ride out the thermal and then try to time reapplication of throttle to not end up on the back side of the power curve – occasionally I needed to put the prop into climb and once had to put the throttle though the ‘gate’ to 115% power to not sink. This suggested to me that I was not only contending with updrafts but downdrafts as well.
This continued for the rest of the trip – to say it was tiring is an understatement. I was again fortunate to be cleared through the Kimberly (FAKM) TMA which cut about 30miles off the trip. Most worryingly for me and the primary reason why I chose not to stop and take a break was the possibility of thunderstorm development. I was overhead Kimberley at about 13h45 local and had planned to already be in my car driving home from the airport by that stage.
Looking at the radar download I could see that there were some cells starting up so I elected to continue. Approaching Potchefstroom there were definitely cells but they were isolated so was able to manoeuvre my way around them – it is so tempting to fly underneath them but there was a lot of Virga about and I know well that that implies severe downdrafts – best avoided. So we picked our way through the cells. Typically I was unable to raise any cell signal to download the current radar pictures – man I wish we had a decent ADS-B in solution provided here. ATC was fairly noncommittal, “yes there are some buildups but they don’t look too hectic” – easy to say sitting in a comfortable chair.
Finally I was able to call overhead Tedderfield – had a bit of a fiddly landing as the gusts were starting up prior to a storm arriving but safely down and then the big job of unloading the aircraft.
5.9hours in a single leg is a long flight – it would have been better with less turbulence. I learned some important lessons though – leave as early as possible if possible, and rather leave a day earlier if there is any doubt about the weather. If I was to do this trip again (I’m sure I will), I will land at Cape Town international (FACT), suck up the higher landing fees and then be able to (a) access the aircraft whenever needed and (b) be able to depart before sunrise (Morningstar has no airfield lighting).
For a first long cross country trip I think it went really well. It had moments of frustration and times when I was quite anxious about the effects of the turbulence on continued flight. But that feeling when your destination comes into view after a long trip and you know you’ve made it? It’s fantastic.
So I have a new type on my license – and some endorsements to go with it! I recently spent two days at Wonderboom Airport (FAWB) getting rated on the Sling 2.
The Sling is a locally (South African) designed and built aircraft. It’s nominally a light sport aircraft but as configured it requires a PPL to fly as the maximum takeoff weight is over 600kg. Interestingly the same aircraft, with one wing tank removed will have a MTOW < 600kg and can be flown on a recreational pilot license as a light sport airplane.
It’s also quite different from the Cirrus I have done all my training on to date. Of course, it’s much lighter, all metal and has a significantly different engine? How different? Well, it’s a Rotax 914 – a 1.2l 4 cylinder producing 115hp compared to the Continental 0-360 6 banger on the Cirrus. It’s also turbocharged and the prop is a variable pitch constant speed unit (Yes, the Cirrus had a variable speed CSU but with no direct pilot control). Importantly, it burns MUCH less fuel – 20litres per hour compared to the 50-65litres per hour on the Cirrus. And it will burn MoGas happily too.
To obtain the conversion onto the Sling was not an easy matter. Firstly, there are a lot of flight schools operating Sling 2s. There are only 2 in the country that have the Sling 2 914 Turbo on their ATO. Thus I had to travel to Wonderboom, which is a great airport. Unfortunately it is 90km from my house. Not so good. I did the conversion through FliteCare who were fantastic – they could accommodate me at short notice, and their desk staff were amazing.
I first needed to have briefings on the Sling aircraft itself – concentrating on the many differences between it and the Cirrus – this took about an hour, then it was time to dive into the nitty gritty of turbochargers and variable pitch propellers. Turbochargers are easy to understand – once you figure out how the wastegate works and the differences between the hot and cold sections. The variable pitch propeller on the other hand I found to be a lot more complicated. It’s bloody brilliant engineering but seems very complex. My biggest problem is remembering the difference between fine and coarse pitch which I find counterintuitive.
As it turns out, the intricacies of the variable pitch prop are moot in the Sling because it has a very clever system to adjust prop pitch. Firstly, instead of being controlled by oil pressure and springs, the pitch is adjusted electrically by servos in the hub. And there is no pitch lever as would be suspected, but a pitch control instrument on the panel which has a knob to select T/O, Climb, cruise, hold, and Feather. One can also bypass the selector and adjust pitch manually should the control unit fail – this is done with a rocker switch. Once a setting is selected, the CSU adjusts pitch to maintain the required RPM on the prop. Because the Rotax is a geared engine, engine RPM does not directly reflect prop RPM – so prop rpm is not set, but the CSU will indirectly control engine RPM.
Speaking about engine RPM – this is high! A regular aviation mill will turn at about 2500-2700RPM. The Rotax idles at 2000 and will go all day at 5500. An interesting feature about the 914 is that full power is actually 100hp with an additional 15hp available when you push the throttle through the gate – allows 115hp for up to 5min – would primarily be used for takeoff and initial climb to 300ft AGL and obviously for the go-around. In the gate position the engine is turning at 5800rpm.
After the briefings, it was time to fly. The conversion requires upper air work, simulated engine failure and at least 5 landings. Preflight is fairly standard with the addition of a prop control unit check – cycle from full fine to coarse with the engine off (remember those electric servos?). The other very different aspect is the dry sump oil system – oil is stored in the oil tank – so in order to check the oil one needs to ensure all the oil is in the tank and not in the crankcase. This involves turning the prop by hand (check mags off, key out master off first!) until the telltale gurgle from the tank indicates that the oil has returned.
Dragging the plane out of the hangar is a one man affair – really a pleasure. Startup is a non event – fuel pumps on, fuel on and crank. It literally starts like a car engine. Run at 2000 until oil pressure settles then warmup is at 2500 until oil temp reaches 50C. Operating temps are much lower than conventional engine due to the hybrid air/water cooling system.
Taxiing is much simpler than the Cirrus due to the direct nosewheel steering – so much nicer than the free castoring nosewheel. She’ll roll 2 up at 2500 so the engine can warm nicely en route to the run up bay. Most pre takeoff checks are done on the taxi as they have a reputation of getting quite hot while idling stationary. In the bay it’s final checks, run up at 4000RPM checking the mags (<300drop and <115between), takeoff briefing and then it’s time to fly.
The best word to describe takeoff is “sporty”. Stabilise at 5500RPM and 100hp then through the gate to 115/5800. Lots of right rudder is required and before you know it, we’re at 48kts and the rotate call. Liftoff at 55kts and best rate at 75 has her climbing away comfortably at about 1200fpm. After takeoff checklist includes setting prop to climb, coming back out through the gate and cleaning up the flaps.
For the conversion we set off to the general flying area – steep turns are a non event – very easy to keep the nose up. Stalls are reasonably benign but I did detect a slight tendency to drop the wing and not a huge amount of buffet. The (brilliant) MGL Avionics iEFIS unit has an AOA indicator too which is helpful.
Then we did some circuits at Freeway airfield – which has a massive runway which is gravel. Also a non event for the Sling. I may think twice about taking an aircraft I owned onto a gravel strip but certainly it wasn’t an issue on this plane.
Back to Wonderboom with me having no idea at all of where I was – fortunately the instructor was at home in the airspace. The plan was to do a couple of circuits, but this was foiled by a medium sized Cb cell which decided to discharge itself over the airfield. Conditions on landing were challenging to say the least – significant wind shear and gusts from about 15degrees off the front of up to 25kts. The Sling handled this with admirable aplomb.
Sadly this meant I had to make the pilgrimage to FAWB again to finish the rating. We banged off 4 circuits easily in the mid morning this week – 2 normal landings (Flap 20), 1 flaps up landing (would really rather not do those….) and 1 short field stop and go. The procedure for landing the Sling is similar i believe to the C172 – cut power just short of the threshold and glide it in. You can’t do that in a Cirrus.. The short field landing we did just to demonstrate it – in the POH it says “short field landings as per normal landing” since the landing distance is about 270m. However, we did a short field approach – flaps 30 and standard piloting, stopped on the runway, and then did max performance short field takeoff – full throttle, brakes off, through the gate and full back pressure on the stick from the moment rolling starts. The nose wheel lifted of at 20kts and we broke contact at 48kts. Lower nose to Vx (75) and then up and away. Very impressive, especially when you look at the airport diagram and see how short the distance was – we landed on 29.
It’s really nice to have excess power available. So I’m now rated on the Sling2 and have endorsements for turbocharged engines and variable pitch propellers. Onward and upward!
There is a joke that you can tell who the pilot at a gathering is because he’ll either tell you or he’ll look up at every single passing aircraft. I’m in the latter category. I don’t tell random people I’m learning to fly because the follow up questions usually relate to how much it costs followed by how many hours I have and then I have to explain why I don’t yet have my PPL despite having almost 60 hours in my logbook.
But I am the guy who looks skyward at even the merest hint of a passing aircraft. I’ve done this for as long as I can remember but it seems more significant now because I’ve hit a bit of a speed bump in my training. It’s a twofold problem – firstly the NAVEX work needs longer sessions and secondly we’ve been cursed blessed with a LOT of afternoon thundershowers in what would normally be the end of summer. These have been accompanied by quite a lot of atmospheric moisture which has resulted in poor visibility in the mornings too! Of course, NAVEX work is closer to what I’d be doing with my PPL – so this is the reality of summer flying on the high plateau of South Africa. It’s still frustrating…
Back to the looking skyward. We’re on vacation in the Eastern Cape, in a little town/hamlet called Kasouga. It lies slap bang in the middle of the Port Alfred General Flying Area, FAD192. Ordinarily one would expect that the GF of a small country town would be quieter than a troupe of mimes, but not this one. There is a constant stream of Cherokee’s from the local flying school which is a residential cadet-to-airline school. The thing that I find curious is that we are 5nm from the airfield which essentially lies in the middle of the GF, yet the vast majority of the aircraft are flying straight over and don’t appear to be doing manoeuvres at all. At Lanseria we’re in the midst of manoeuvres the moment we enter the GFA – but I guess it IS 10nm from the airfield. It’s entirely possible that the Cherokee 140’s they’re using are simply too anemic to be at safe manoeuvring height by the time they get to us. It is sea level but it’s warm and some of the horses may have escaped from those engines by this stage. Still, it is quite fun to listen to the engine note and predict without looking what they’re doing – this afternoon I heard one throttle up as he turned and I thought to myself, yep, steep turns – and it was. Fancy as our Cirrus 20’s are, I’d still rather be doing steep turns in a wheezy 140 than on the ground.
Occasionally there are more interesting aircraft to gaze at – yesterday a C-130 was circling off the coast – there is something really stately about a C-130 riding those characteristic Allison exhaust plumes. Sometimes we’re really lucky and some of the guys at Port Alfred fly their classic aircraft up and down the coast – we usually see a Tiger Moth and there is a Stearman at the field too which I’ve seen once or twice through the years. I’m told there is an L-39 based at FAPA too so hoping to catch a glimpse of that at some point.
Although, to be honest, the view on the ground isn’t half bad either! There is something special about this coastline – miles of unspoilt beaches mercifully unsullied by legions of visitors (we have probably the only vehicle in the village with upcountry plates). The kids love the beaches and lagoons and even our 12 going on 17y old son is able to lose his teenage angst in the sea and building sandcastles with his sister.
In 10 days I’ll hopefully be back in the big smoke, rested and raring to go. I’ve got a cross country booked in my favourite G3 SR20 (ZS-CCT) on the day after we return – route is all plotted and planned and all I need to enter are the winds aloft from the forecast the evening before and hopefully the weather will play along.
We usually hit the coast for 2 weeks at this time of year and every year we comment on how winter arrived while we were away when we return. Winter for us is actually the best flying time – reasonably stable air, lower temperatures giving us more reasonable DA and most importantly… no Cb’s to look out for.
All thing being equal I should get this Nav done, then a dual check Nav and then I’ll be onto Solo Nav. I can see the end! It’s funny because I always said it didn’t matter how long it took because I’d still be flying – but it will be great to get that brown book that says PPL on the front.
“Hi, my name is Mike and I’m addicted to flying. It’s been 20 days since I last flew….”
Good grief. 20 days. I’m not sure I can remember what those big flat things sticking out of the side of the aeroplane are anymore. The Flight school has been closed from 22 dec to 2 Jan and because a lot o my colleagues have been away I haven’t had time to do any flying.
I’ve managed to escape from the circuit having completed 3 hours of solo circuits and now it’s back to the general flying area for some steep turns, forced and precautionary landings. Which was supposed to happen yesterday but the weather gods discerned my plans and blessed us with a day of 1500ft broken cloud. Which followed a week of CAVOK. But such is life. Fortunately I’ve been able to use the time to catch up on some exams – picked up Airplane Tech and General and Met over the break – 3 left – Nav, Flight planning and Human factors.
I’ve enjoyed playing with ye olde whizz wheel while studying for the Nav – it’s really quite an amazing piece of kit – yes, you could use a CX2 or an iPhone app but it doesn’t have the appeal of twirling that circular slide rule and trying to remember which factor of 10 you should be using.
The nice thing about being post circuit solo is getting to fly the G1000 G3 SR20 as opposed to the G2 Avidyne 20’s. So a new challenge. In a newer aircraft (which has A/C – a blessing on the 30C + days we are having)
I’ve been sitting on this one for a while now. I wanted to write it in response to Fly Like you Mean Its post “Why do We Fly”, but I’ve been really busy doing talks for congresses and sorting out the various things needed to keep the house up and running…
If there’s one thing that my merry band of 4 (or is it 3) readers really need it is the story of how I ended up learning to fly. To be honest, it was always going to happen at some point. For as long as I can remember I was that kid who was mad about everything aviation related. My father used to take us to the airport (Johannesburg International which at that point was called Jan Smuts Airport and has gone through a number of name changes since) and we used to stand and watch the planes from the open (Shock, horror) observation deck.
I vividly remember the Pan Am and South African Airways 747SPs there, and once going especially to see Concorde passing through. We went to air shows at Rand airport (FAGM) and Grand Central (FAGG), I had posters and pictures of aeroplanes and for as long as I can remember i was playing on flight simulators. I could identify just about every commercial aircraft, airliner and military jet based on a quick glance. Have you seen the video clip of the child on the Etihad flight deck who knows where all the buttons are and what they do? I was like that kid.
Come time to choose a career I was told by an educational/vocational psychologist that I would be bored doing flying (I still harbor a bit of a grudge against that guy) – I didn’t qualify to go to the AirForce due to being short sighted, so I ended up doing Medicine and Anaesthesiology – which I love to bits – but the bug never stopped biting.
I went through a phase where I almost bit the bullet and started flying but for some reason I got scared – I visualized dying in an aircraft and the impact that would have on my family – but that was also at a time when I suffered from depression so I suspect that logic wasn’t terribly good… when I turned 40 my friends bought me a “discovery flight”. It took almost a year to use it – and then I was hooked. The rest is history.
So why do I fly now? It is actually the hardest thing I’ve done for a long time. The physical coordination required has me working really hard – i know it will be better in the furniture but for the moment I’m reveling in the challenge of co-ordinated flight. When I’m in that seat with my left hand on the sidestick and my right hand on the throttle, nothing else matters. It’s great escapism. It is great for focus. Inattention and loss of focus is punished by the aircraft and is immediately obvious. I love this challenge.
You’d think that given my day job, I would like a hobby that DOESN’T require full time attention… but this is different attention. And that effort and attention is rewarded when I turn my head to the side, see the wing moving as we ride the pockets and bumps in the air, and realise… I am flying this plane. I’m actually flying after all these years.
METAR: –METARMETAR FALA 111300Z VRB06KT CAVOK 23/M00 Q1027 NOSIG
Total Hours:- 11.3
Having got my stall/spin sign out last week it was time to get my circuit on. I was really looking forward to the new challenge and spent a lot of the week reading up on circuit technique. Unfortunately I also stumbled upon this Accident report which came up as the first link when I searched for SR20 circuit technique. It struck a little close to home – same aircraft type, same flight school and same airport as I’m using – it’s worth a read purely for the point of view of awareness and how things can go horribly wrong for even experienced aviators.
Here are my notes and plan for the circuit at FALA for the 07 right hand (yes, usually they should be left hand but FALA’s is right hand for 07 and left hand for 25) traffic pattern.
It looks like a lot of work – and it is. After a thorough briefing it was off to preflight the plane for this trip – which was the very lovely ZS-CCT – a relatively new Gen 3 Garmin Perspective equipped SR20. My previous flights have all been on the G2 Avidyne workhorses so this was a pleasant change – don’t get me wrong I really have a soft spot for the G2’s especially ZS-BOR. To all intents and purposes they are the same plane but the G3 stands a little taller, goes a little quicker and is a lot more slippery (wheel spats and some more streamlining), doesn’t have a rudder-aileron linkage (the G2 has a small amount of rudder movement with aileron input – just a little) and of course the fancy avionics. But to sit in the plane it feels very much the same and after the first turn in the taxi it felt completely normal. The best part is the Air-conditioning so you can actually do run-ups with the doors closed!
The A4 taxiway is still closed at FALA so short field departure for us again – which was somewhat pedestrian given the ISA+19 conditions – giving us a density altitude of 5900 feet. First circuit was for the instructor to fly to show me the ropes – well, that worked out fine until downwind when we got asked to orbit, and then orbit again, and again and then once more just for good luck – by this stage I was flying (hey, it’s always good to practice level turns!). Eventually we end up back on downwind, fly the base and then had to go around because the departing plane aborted takeoff…. There’s no bad experience.. (but you know it’s busy in the circuit when ATC apologizes for messing you around.
And so we went on – upwind, crosswind, downwind, base and finals – 7 circuits in all. Good fun. But hard work. It seems like only a few seconds from the after takeoff BUPMFF checks to the downwind BUMPFF checks, calling downwind, calling base and then the approaches – which if I say so myself were going really well.
Unfortunately it all tends to go a little pear shaped on roundout – I keep rounding out a little high and then coming down hard through ground effect. The instructor flew one of the landings and oh man, I was in awe of how smoothly she put the plane in ground effect and we just floated gently down. However, with 6-7 landings per hour in the circuit I suspect mine will improve in time.
More circuits next week. More Air-law studying this week – I’m told I must pass air law before I’ll be allowed to solo – I’m not ready to solo yet but give it a couple of hours and I will be….
The air law looks intimidating. But in practice it is pretty straightforward stuff – all relevant and interesting. The difficult part I suspect is going to remember all the validity times of the various documents, Medicals, licenses and so on – my feeling is that this is the sort of stuff that is a setter of multiple choice papers dream material… Ah well…