Flying with the Family – 1 and 2..

Date of FlightAircraftRouteTime(hrs)Total(hrs)
30 June 2018ZS-JAB (SR20)FALA(Lanseria, Johannesburg) - FALA1.178.4

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.

Concentration

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.

30/6

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.

J 

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 FlightAircraftRouteTime(hrs)Total(hrs)
7 July 2018ZS-CCT (SR20)FALA(Lanseria, Johannesburg) - FARG(Full stop) - FALA1.581.1

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.

7/7

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.

Untitled

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.

First post PPL Flight – Circuits at Lanseria





22 June 2018

Using the PPL for the first time

Date of FlightAircraftRouteTime(hrs)Total(hrs)
22 June 2018ZS-JAB (SR20)FALA(Lanseria, Johannesburg) - FALA1.077.4

There is something about flying yourself for the first time with a freshly minted PPL certificate. No instructor to sign you out. Nobody double checking the tanks and the oil to make sure that you’ve put the caps back properly. It’s weird. But in a good way. I decided that I wanted to practice my landings and circuits mainly to keep current and proficient. Well. This was a lesson to me. This was going to be one of the worst flights I’ve ever done. 5 circuits. 2 reasonable landings. 2 balked landings (one from a PIO which got very scary very quickly – fortunately I remembered Thomas Turner’s One-Bounce-Rule and quickly got on the power and was away). The second balked landing was the scary one. I had a big bounce and wasn’t about to try my luck again – Full throttle but she just wouldn’t climb – so I ended up floating about 50ft above the runway for a while until airpseed built – in retrospect I should have triued to recover the landing with a bit less power to level off and give it another go – it’s a 10,000ft runway so there is almost always a chance to correct the landing – although this feels like cheating becasue not all runways are 10,000ft long!

 

So I left the field somewhat demoralised but have thought about it a lot and played through the scenarios in my head. I know what was wrong (poor airspeed control) and this is fixable – and to be honest the conditions were lousy – significant turbulence and variable winds on the final approach made nailing the airpseed somewhat tricky. Next week is another week – and it’ll be the first flight with my wife and daughter.  



Achievement Unlocked – PPL!






It is with a heavy heart that I write this. I need to change the subtext of my blog from “An Anaesthetist’s journey to PPL” to “An Anaesthetist WITH a PPL!”. Yes. That is correct – I passed my PPL checkride on Tuesday! I am now legal to fly all and sundry and to “exercise the privileges of a Private Pilot License holder!

It has been quite a journey. There were times when it was hard – not physically hard, but hard in the way where you think that you’ll never get it right. I sailed through my solo Nav exercises – so well in fact that I forgot to blog them. I told myself that all I had to do was an hour or two of PPL test prep with my instructor and Bob’s your Uncle, I’m on my way.

This was not to be the case. Apparently you lose skills if you don’t practice them. Really? Who knew? My circuits, oh good grief, they were shocking. My steep turns? Horrendous. Stalls, marginal. I couldn’t believe how poorly I was flying. 2 sessions, then a third and still not up to my instructor’s (or my) standards. And then, suddenly… it all came right. I clicked. I flew hundreds of steep turns in X-plane. I flew many in the real thing and I now know where the horizon should be and how much it can move before I need to pull back.

So I was sent off with the CFI for a mock PPL flight test – which went surprisingly well. Then one more solo flight to iron out any rough spots – and to finish the required 15hours of solo flight for the PPL – and then it was time for the PPL test itself.

PPL Passed!

Date of FlightAircraftRouteTime(hrs)Total(hrs)
12 June 2018ZS-BOR(SR20)FALA(Lanseria, Johannesburg) - FALI (Lichtenburg) - FAZR(Zeerust) - FALA3.076.4

In SA, the PPL test requires a ground evaluation – which is essentially an open book discussion with the examiner on the AIPs, ENRs and the relevant regulaitons and standards. Mainly, it is about flying and a very long navigation exercise. I was told to plan Lanseria to Lichtenburg to Zeerust and then back to Lanseria via the UTRUK intersection.

This is a long nav. Without any messing about it is 244nm. Which at 130kts GGS is a long flight. The day dawned clear and crisp which was fantastic, except this was NOT the case at Lanseria. Lanseria lies in a gentle valley, which is blanketed on many winter mornings by a significant inversion layer. This would not be a major issue were it not for the informal settlements in the area which predominantly burn wood and coal for heating which makes a lovely smog which can take hours to clear. Scheduled launch time was 09h30 – at which stage the airfield was still declared IMC with visibilty of 4000m in haze. So we waited and waited.

I was starting to give up hope with the examiner having to be somewhere else soon – until someone suggested we ask for Special VFR. Special VFR allows one to leave a controlled airfield in IMC conditions to accomplish a cross-country flight. So this we did, and wouldn’t you know it, as we were taxiing down to the runup bay ATC comes on and says, “by the way, we’ve just become VMC”. Hoo-bloody-ray.

The flight itself was…. actually really fun. I hadn;t met my examiner previosuly but what a great guy he was – similar age to me and we had a ball. Chatted all the way, flew lots on the autopilot and he appreciated the snacks. Top tip – bring snacks on your PPL checkride. We were supposed to do one touch and go at Lichtenburg (FALI). So we do the unmanned join overhead but there are kids playing soccer on the runway. We descend on the dead side, join the circuit tight and fly a reasonably long final with all the lights on. And they didn’t move. Not even one damn was given by these kids. So as we get to the roundout, the examiner says “full throttle but DO NOT CLIMB” and we zoom over them at 10m and 120kts. Which was suposed to scare them off but they start taking videos on their cellphones. Now I’ve heard of buzzing a runway to scare game off, but kids? Not so much. We decided not to land there and carried on to Zeerust


Zeerust was to be the site of the circuit work. As we arrived, I was asked to do a precautionary landing – no problem. The runway there is wide, long and unsullied by children (only cowpats). Nioce precautionary, then a flapless and finally a glide from downwind which was harder than it needed to be because I was configured for downwind – Cirrus standard landing training calls for 100kts, 50% flap on downwind. I pull the power, we adopt a glide profile not unlike that of a microwave oven. The examiner says… “you ARE allowed to pull the flaps up you know”. AHAA! flaps up and suddenly we’re gliding like a streamlined microwave – bam – just made it on.

Then back to Lanseria via the training area for some (i thought) steep turns – it was only one. I lost 25feet. That is all – my best ever. 2 stalls later and he takes the airplane and asks me to reach back to fetch his pen. As I do so it feels weird – I turn back and he’s put us into a spiral dive. “Recover!” he says – and it comes to me – level wings, idle throttle and PUUUULLL back – within limits. “Take us home”, says he and back we go.

The most stressful part? not cocking it up on the way in. I’ve heard of people being failed as they pull up to the ramp for some airmanship issue or other – fortunately, I was not that guy.


So that’s it. I am the holder of a shiny new PPL (OK, I will actually hold a shiny new PPL when the CAA issue it in 10working days time). I know adventure awaits. It’s going to be a blast.


Solo Navigation Exercise 1






Solo Nav Number 1 – FALA – FAVV – FARG – FALA

Date of FlightAircraftRouteTime(hrs)Total(hrs)
28 April 2018ZS-JAB (SR20)FALA(Lanseria, Johannesburg) - FAVV(Vereeniging) - FARG(Rustenburg) - FALA1.961.1

Look. Flying an airplane is fantastic. Flying an airplane solo on the other hand? Absolutely amazing.

It’s great to be flying solo again. But scary too. Almost everyone I know who has learned to fly tells me they got lost on their solo navs. I’m sure this is why we only go to airports we’ve been to with instructors.

Today’s routing is south from Lanseria, over the northwest suburbs of Johannesburg (I can see my house from here!), over Soweto and Orlando and out to the Vaal Triangle for a touch and go at Vereeniging airport (FAVV), then north west over the Grasmere (GAV) VOR and thereafter to Rustenburg(FARG) for another touch and go and then back through the Magaliesberg General Flying area to Lanseria – about 130nm total.

Southbound FALA—FAVV 28 May 2018

CAVOK prevailed fortunately and the early morning provided smooth conditions which was a pleasant change from the bumpy air I’m used to. (Note to self – take wife and kids flying in the morning).

Lanseria to Vereeniging was very much an uneventful leg – was expecting more traffic at FAVV but there was one aircraft that had landed and was taxiing clear as I did my overhead join – approach was from the south where there are quite a lot of power lines quite close to the field so short field technique is required.

Vereeniging to Rustenburg – it’s a long way. And there is NO traffic. At all. Rustenburg is starting to feel like a second home at the moment so the challenge was to land before the mid touchdown zone which is somewhat disconcerting as this requires aiming AT the clearway short of the field. Still lots of dead plovers on the runway – the one good thing about the south to north approach is that the large smokestack nearby is to the southeast of the field – and the climb out is to the northeast..

Quickly through the GF and back to Lanseria. 1.9 on the Hobbs and my first solo nav under my belt. Did I get lost? Nope. Could one get lost? Sure. My instructor is pretty rigorous on continually looking at the map and knowing where you are, even before you get to the waypoints which I agree is probably the safest way to do things. 1 Nav down. 2 to go.



Solo Currency flight to Rustenburg







Date Aircraft Route Flight Time Total Hours
26 April 2018 SR20 ZS-CTP FALA – FARG – FALA 1.6 59.2

This was a currency flight – it has been more than 3 weeks since my last flight and the school rules stipulate not less than 1 week between solo signoff and solo flight. So it was off to Rustenburg for a couple of circuits. Essentially uneventful flight – we just went over all the overhead joins and the short field landings and then back to Lanseria

 

Of note though…. I caved, and bought the Bose A20’s. Oh man. What a difference. Look, the DCs were comfortable but the A20 has almost no clamping force and it feels very light. The cord is a little stiff so I’m concerned about the connections to the control module and the plugs – but I decided to go with the Dual GA Plug connectors in the interests of being compatible with more aircraft – also I’m led to believe that the panel power (LEMO) plug is flimsy at best. Of course this means having backup batteries but I’m told I can expect about 30h between battery changes. The ANR works really well and there is only the slightest leak of noise via the sunglass temple frames. I definitely feel much less tired after using them compared to the green domes.

 

 

Ridin’ in the back






The view from seat 1B in the Cirrus SR22T

Date Aircraft Route Flight Time Total Hours
14 April 2018 SR22T FALA – FARG – FALA 0 – Ride along 57.6

Ongoing maintenance issues with the flying school aircraft mean I’m grounded for the moment. Fortunately my flying buddy Ari came to the rescue this weekend. He owns an SR22T and was kind enough to let me tag along on his flight on Saturday.

 

Saturday dawned CAVOK at my house but wouldn’t you know it, was Marginal VFR by the time we had refuelled. Plan was to fly to Rustenburg(FARG), land, swap pilots and then head back. Fortunately we were able to depart VFR. I can report that the SR22 (G5)is very comfortable in the back. Sadly I was forced to use the Bose A20 ANR headset which was laid on. (Life is really tough..) Sheesh. They make a HUGE difference.

 

It is very different in the back. It’s great to be able to observe the procedures and flows from a non flying perspective. Ari is very methodical and correct – nice to see and confidence inspiring. They use the full checklist on the Perspective avionic system – usual procedure for the flight school is to do everything from memory and then run the pre-takeoff checklist prior to calling “ready in the bay”. I think I may well revert to using the full checklist in future – sealing up those potential Swiss cheese holes.

 

Marginal visibility over Harties

I’m always impressed by the performance of the SR22T compared with the SR20. Of course this is obvious at the elevated field where our 20’s are probably well short of rated 200hp whereas the turbo is still doing 310hp. It makes a big difference. As we climbed through the fog layer which was about 200ft thick the visibility improved greatly and we cruised out toward Rustenburg between the layers. Technically VMC but I wouldn’t have been happy flying on a solo nav in these conditions. Some (very impressive) slow flying followed – to hold the plane at 69kts for 5min is no mean feat – at 68 the stall warning goes…

 

We landed at Rustenburg (FARG) where they seemed quite excited to have us – they were obviously having some kind of event – but we were landing, changing pilots and leaving again – after we’d back taxiied along the runway stopping to remove dead birds along the way. Quite strangely these didn’t seem to be due to aircraft strikes as the carcasses all seemed reasonably intact.

 

Cirrus. From the Cirrus. #inception

 
Backtracking runway 16 FARG

At Lanseria our fears of deteriorating visibility had come to fruition. “Alpha Romeo India, the field is IMC, please state your intentions…” A large bank of low cloud/fog had settled over the base and final sector.. Now this is where having a little bit of savvy helps. The controller is not allowed to offer Special VFR but you can ask for it. Which we did. Special VFR allows one to enter the TMA under visual flight rules when the field is IMC as a result of poor visibility, provided you remain clear of cloud and with the ground in sight at all times. Which we did and in no time we were stuffing the aeroplane back into the hangar (which does involve moving another plane out of the way first)

 

Marginal

A great morning’s flying coming out of what looked like a very marginal day. As they say, the hardest part is coming to the airport and NOT flying. It’s much better when you can actually fly. No hours for the logbook this week but a great experience


Cross Country – and a new Province




Morning sunshine
 

Date Aircraft Route Flight Time Total Hours
8 April 2018 ZS-CTP SR20 FALA – GAV – FAPY – FAPS – FALA 1.9 (Dual) 57.6

 

Back in the Saddle
We’ve just come back from 17 nights away. It was great. Apart from the whole “not flying” thing. So I was a little apprehensive about this flight. I don’t think I’m at the “it’s like riding a bicycle” stage. I made sure to get to the field early – I find it focuses me if I give myself a good hour to get the plane preflighted, cameras set up, controls cleaned (yes – I’m that guy who wipes down the controls before flying) and into the correct headspace for flying.

 

To be honest, I almost cancelled the flight due to tiredness. We spent two days driving home, didn’t sleep well on the overnight and had an iffy night before this flight – but I felt I was ok to fly with an instructor. I wouldn’t have flown solo though. Bad call? I’m not sure – I did think about it a lot.As it turned out, it was good to be early. The plane had been left in a bit of a mess which always annoys me (some people treat hire and fly like rental cars), and there was a snag with the plane. One of the lower engine cowling screws was missing. On the Cirrus these are spring loaded screws. And this one was missing. Now, I’m unclear as to how they can come loose unless they’re loose before flight. So whoever preflighted the plane last didn’t check the screws. I wasn’t prepared to fly the plane with a missing cowling screw but fortunately we were able to cannibalise one of the flight school aircraft having an MPI for the screw and we were able to head out.

 

Sunrise FALA 8-4-2018

Sunrise over the freight apron

 

Amazingly… I can still fly. Being away for ages and thinking a lot about the little things about flying seems to have helped. I wanted to concentrate on getting decent airspeed before climbing (I tend to pitch early after liftoff leading to airspeed hovering around flap retraction speed) and secondly, getting trimming the plane right. Why such emphasis on trimming? I know this is a core skill but having your hand on the stick can hide a lot of trimming errors – and I discovered to my horror (jk) that I need my left hand to write on the knee board. This requires me to release the stick. And then it goes pear shaped. And I’m not going to use the autopilot simply so I can write. (OK, I should use the AP but this is as good an excuse as I can think of to improve my flying).

 

8/4/2018

Our Route vs Plan – From Cloudahoy

 

Lanseria – Parys
I’d forgotten how great it is to fly in the morning. Smooth air, good vis, no pesky Cb’s. Our route took us south over the north western suburbs of Johannesburg and over sprawling Soweto heading for the Grasmere(GAV) VOR – which is allegedly easy to see being in an open field and all – but we flew directly over it and I couldn’t see it. A little bit to the left and a few miles of flying later we crossed the Vaal River which marks the boundary of Gauteng Province and the Free State Province. Our destination? Parys Airfield, which, in the past was a popular $100 hamburger/breakfast spot but of late seems to have fallen into some neglect – the runway is no longer pristine. It’s short, and this is exacerbated by the invasion of dirt and grass onto the touchdown area – I planted CTP firmly down just after the grass patch, fire walled the throttle and pulled back to keep the nosewheel light –  great short/soft field practice – we don’t have to do grass field landings for our PPL..Parys is located in a geological feature called the Vredefort Dome – which is the largest verified impact crater on the planet. It is also one of those towns that seems to become popular for the Sunday jaunt crowd – lots of antiquey places restaurants and general hipness. Pretty interesting. Also pretty challenging – as you can see from the map image above, there is high ground north and west of the field so good climb management is required.

 

Parys – Potchefstroom(FAPS)
This was my second attempt to get to Potchefstroom – the previous attempt resulted in a diversion back to Lanseria due to come pretty aggressive looking storms which developed rapidly.  It’s a short hop to Potch from Parys – about 25nm so we’d just got to top of climb when it was time to descend. Another shortish runway but in much better condition – we did our overhead/unmanned join (which always requires some head scratching because unlike our American friends, we don’t enter the downwind on the 45. We fly overhead 1000ft above the pattern, turn and descend on the “dead” side of the field, turn across the upwind segment and enter the downwind (obviously making sure there is no traffic on departure). The advantages of this is we don’t bomb into the circuit and are able to see the runway while descending so we know who is departing or not. The disadvantage is that it can be confusing as to which way to turn especially since there is often a non standard pattern in force. And it takes longer.

As it turns out is was academic as there was NO other traffic. At all. In fact we didn’t see any aircraft on the trip at all until we arrived back in the Lanseria TMA.

 

Potch – Lanseria
Long(ish) leg this. But my headings were good, the trim was coming right and we were able to enjoy just being in the air. There is not much out there. Lots of fields, a few mindumps, mineheads and a meatbombing (parachute) area.

 

Somewhere over the West Rand
 

Much of nothing. Pretty nothing. But not much

 

Arriving into Lanseria from the west is a little fiddly. There are two TMAs to avoid – the first is the OR Tambo International Airport TMA (FAOR) which has it’s lower limit at 7600ft. I guess the TMA is equivalent to what they’d call class Bravo airspace in the US. So we had to be at 7500 well before that. The Lanseria TMA (Class B)lies under the FAOR Class B at 6500ft which means highest is 6400ft. Which leaves about 400-600ft clearance over a ridge – which feels tight.  It doesn’t help that the ridge is bristling with aerials and towers. Fortunately there is an area where the terrain is a little lower which we headed for.

 

Surprise……
On short finals, my instructor asked the tower for a touch and go. Eh? We were supposed to be landing. So I knew something would happen – I was waiting for the EFATO scenario. No. Glide to final from downwind? No. Flap failure? Check. OK. What was that approach speed with flaps up again? I’ll admit, the base leg was a little hot and high. The reason for this became obvious when I realised I was still flying the full flap power setting. Easily corrected and managed to put down my best flapless landing to date. Bad thing? It was on one wheel. Good thing? It wasn’t the nosewheel. I blame a slight crosswind, but the tail was never in danger.Another 1.9h in the logbook. And now I’m signed off for my first solo Nav. Excited? Most definitely. Progress. It’s a good thing.

 

Looking skyward (or not Flying enough…)

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.

707AAF15-3E28-4077-AD20-BEAA42F6A257

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.

E1CCB8CB-7CC9-483F-BFEC-93CB25031107

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.

Stimulating simulating and 50h in the logbook

Time is flying. And flying is time.

I’ve spent three weeks doing basic instrument flying in the simulator. I thought I would hate it. Really. What could you possibly enjoy about playing a hyped up computer game?

“I can do that at home right?”

“How hard could it be?”

“It’s not real flying”

“will I remember how to land the aeroplane again?”

“Tell me again why I have to know how to fly on instruments?”

I was…. WRONG. The simulator is really good. OK, it isn’t a full motion sim. But it is a LOT more immersive and believable than I would have guessed. My flight school has 2 simulators. The first is a Cirrus sim – can be set either as an SR20 or an SR22. The second is a hybrid sim – steam gauge, traditional style NAV/COM/ADF and a basic AP – it can simulate either a PA28(Piper Archer or Cherokee type with or without retractable gear) or a Seneca twin. I’ve done an hour on the Cirrus sim and 2.3 on the PA28R version of the sim.

One of the biggest killers of pilots is inadvertent flight into IMC. I forget the actual number but on average it takes very few seconds to lose your spatial awareness and spiral out of the clouds out of control. Or fly into a granite cloud. And while most of the CFIT(Controlled Flight into Terrain) incidents seem worryingly obvious when reading accident reports, people are still crashing into mountains with monotonous regularity. As one wag put it… “there are no new ways to crash aeroplanes” So it does make at least SOME sense to have some inkling of what the instruments are telling you.

The sims run X-plane (sadly only version 9) on a bank of computers. Both have very realistic cockpit setups – the cirrus sim faithfully replicates the Cirrus cabin while the PA28 sim has a full panel mockup with screens behind – so the “steam gauges” are actually on a computer screen. Still – its pretty realistic, although I simply refuse to believe that a PA28 is so responsive (read over-responsive and dynamically unstable) in pitch. However it is what it is and once used to the millimetre movements required it is pretty easy to fly.

Which is just as well – because there are no visual cues here. Cloud bases in the sim seem glued to about 300′ AGL. (Coincidence? I think not) The nett result is that as you’re doing after takeoff checks, cleaning up the aircraft you fly straight into hard IMC. (And then crash and burn – according to the instructors this is quite common) It seems my misspent youth flying PC flight sims has paid off again – I’m quite comfortable on the instruments – I even have a reasonable scan going which is helpful. Of course, there is no movement, no movement induced illusions and I’m certain in real life it is MUCH harder. There is no pause button in real life either.

The hardest part for me is maintaining level flight while fiddling with the instruments. Leaning over to hit a stopwatch, adjusting the HSI, setting the autopilot – all can be associated with a degree of departure from level flight. Task saturation came very quickly on my first session but less rapidly on the second and third.

And actually…. It’s a LOT of fun. We’ve done radial intercepts in and outbound, ADF direct to and ‘radial’ intercepts, timed turns, GPS intercepts, ILS approaches and VOR approaches. Today my instructor failed every instrument simultaneously except the VSI. Then she failed everything except the HSI and Turn coordinator. And we didn’t crash!

I’ve spent some time messing around on my X-plane sim at home doing pure instrument stuff – and I’ve discovered that you can download an instructor station for the iPad – going to spend some more time working with failed systems. <2h to go in the sim then it’s time for Navigation briefings and the cross country flights. It’s getting close.

Also, I noticed that today’s sim session took me to 50hours total time.

Progress?

Feels like ages since I managed to sit down and write a post.

So. Where are we in this journey? Well, I’m excited to report that I have made significant progress this month after 3weeks of not flying. The first two flights were not stellar – on the first we were hounded by a localized Cb cell which looked like it was going to park itself right over the field so we bailed and came back early – still it was an intro to the routing to and from the General Flying area which in the congested airspace of Johannesburg is a little fiddly. On the second we had surface temperatures of 33 Celsius and one of the older aircraft – a few of whose horses had escaped over the years. Let’s just say it was interesting. DA on the ground was 7740ft (off a 4520′ elevation field) and we could not climb over 7500′ so we were understandably a little twitchy about high angle of attack flying..

Which brings me to what we are doing in my PPL training at the moment. I have escaped the circuit after taking 17h of circuits to solo and then completing 3h solo in the circuit. Now we are back to the general flying area and doing steep turns (45deg), revising stalls and also doing diversions, forced landings and precautionary landings. This is all in preparation for the next milestone in training which is going solo again but to the general flying area this time.

Solo GF requires a good understanding of the airspace structure and the routing to and from the airfield. It is necessary to report Zone outbound from the CTA, then transit the Johannesburg Special Rules West airspace and from there into the general flying area (which has it’s own frequency). At the same time there are a number of prohibited areas which must be avoided and a shelf on the TMA (the yellow shaded area) from 6500-7400′ which is very easy to bust.

Fortunately the general flying area extends from the ground to FL100 so there is a lot of space once there – although it too can be quite crowded and some folks are, how shall we put it, a little deficient in their position reports. This means eyes on stalks all the time.

We usually start with some stalling revision – clean and dirty and all the way to the break (because if you’re not going to actually stall the aircraft what is the point of calling it stall practice?), then some steep turns which I was somewhat disappointed to find that we only have to turn at 45deg and not 60deg (60deg turns are required for the Commercial Rating) and thereafter the forced and precautionary landings. I’m finding the steep turns a little bit difficult – it seems to be quite difficult to feel the nose slipping and there is a lot more back pressure required on the stick than I was expecting. The books all say that you need to be looking around during the turns but I’m finding that I end up looking up and in the turn direction more than anywhere else – this may be a function of the G forces which I’m not accustomed to…

The forced landings are fairly routine – much like the EFATO scenario but with a LOT more time to plan and usually many more options in terms of potential landing sites. The gliding characteristics of the SR20 are not unlike those of a small brick but if anything I’m finding that I’m arriving high and having to do S-turns and/or slips to reduce altitude sufficiently to be able to make a rational approach. Of course, from these altitudes (2500-3000ft AGL), were we to have a real engine failure the correct approach would be to deploy the CAPS and ride down under the chute.

The precautionary landings too are quite fun – once you have the procedure down – but the workload is quite high especially on a high end afternoon with LOTS of turbulence and rotors from the nearby hills – it’s easy to forget a step – high level 800ft at right angles to field, 500ft low level inspection on the upwind parallel to the field, back up to 800ft for downwind checks, pax briefing and radio calls then simulated shutdown once on base to final turn and all followed by a go-around at about 200ft AGL.

When I’m solo in the GF doing the practice for all this we aren’t supposed to descend below 500ft AGL at any point so the high level is done at 1200 AGL, low level at 800 and go-around at 600 – it’s more the procedure than anything else that needs practice as it is impossible to practice landing into a maize field ….

I’ve also managed to pick up a few more exams in the interim – left now with only one – Human Factors and performance (which should be a breeze given the basic level of physiology required). Then it’s time to finish the solo GF time (5h), navigation and cross country exercises and then time for the PPL test – it’s looking like late March at the moment – but we’ll take it one day and one nm at a time..