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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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….
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.
On the 15th of November, the Johannesburg Light Plane Club (JLPC) celebrated its centenary. This makes it one of the oldest flying clubs in the world. Aviation in South Africa has ebbed and flowed, but the club has been a going concern for 100 years which is no mean feat.
Some of the best video I’ve seen on YouTube of flying is in the evening – after the sun has set. Being able to fly at night obviously extends the useful flying day and also improves the options for waiting out weather and other potential delays. I’m a firm believer in having options to decrease the risk of acute get-there-itis.
With this in mind I’m setting off on my first post-PPL rating – the night rating. Interestingly we have the night rating as a separate rating instead of built into the PPL like it is in the United States. The requirements are not onerous but definitely stipulate dedicated experience in the dark – at least 3 circuits at night (I’ll be doing many more), 10 hours of instrument training (5 of which can be in the sim), a 150nm cross country by night and a theoretical exam.
As it stands currently, I’ve done 7 odd hours in the sim – all hard IFR flying and have enjoyed it quite a lot – I’m sure it’s the wasted youth playing Microsoft Flight simulator but at least I have some theoretical knowledge to hang onto that experience. So it’s actual night time flying I need – and this is what I did last night…
Date of Flight
19 July 2018
FALA(Lanseria, Johannesburg) - FALA
So. Flying at night. It’s… well…. dark. In fact this surprised me because I was anticipating that the lights on the plane would be better than they are. They’re not great for taxiing on the apron so that took a little getting used to. The lighting on the taxiways at Lanseria is great so that wasn’t an issue. No delays fro other aircraft on the field while taxiing which is always a plus. Run up and pre departure checks were as per normal, although I chuckled at my instructor when she said that we’d aim for the darkest patch off the end of the runway if we lost and engine, we’d turn on the landing light, and if we didn’t like what we saw we’d turn it off again. This did bring home the stark reality of night flying – it’s really difficult to find a safe landing spot should the big fan in front decide to stop. Lining up on 07 you get the sense of how dark it is – a row of lights leading out into almost infinity and just blackness beyond – not a sliver of moon in sight even.
Performance in ZS-ZIP was pleasantly surprising – 9 celsius outside temp will do that and climb out was brisk (for an SR20). The instructor had me on the gauges almost immediately after takeoff and I flew the numbers – 5deg nose up with 50% flaps at full power gave me just over 85kts (Vy) so we were at CAPS height crossing the 25 threshold which was reassuring. Then it was head down in the cockpit. The aim of the flight was instrument navigation introduction – I’ve done lots of sim time but this felt somewhat easier I thought. We did a number of VOR radial intercepts under the Lanseria TMA – I must say that the VOR intercepts are reasonably easy with it being a command instrument – fly to the needle and the only tricky bit is remembering which reciprocal to use (FROM top TO bottom). Then we climbed out into the practice area for some upper air work – clean and configured stalls (no problem) and some steep turns – again not an issue which is quite funny considering how much difficulty I had with them prior to my PPL practical test.
Then some timed turns which are challenging – essentially we work out an angle of bank for the rate one turn (TAS divided by 10 plus 6-7kts) which at 130kts TAS works out to be around 20deg. Then set up on a radial, bank in to the rate one bank angle, start the timer and then try and maintain 45deg of heading change every 15seconds – 3 deg per second. Not quite as easy as it sounds but very rewarding to get right. These will be useful later in IF training when it comes to holding patterns and procedure turns. Then it was time for some ADF work. ADF navigation puzzles me from a number of aspects. Firstly, it’s a big drain on my brain to figure out which way to turn each time and secondly, they’re essentially obsolete. They’re so obsolete, in fact that our 2004 model SR20 G2 has no ADF radio on board. As a result, we have to bodge an ADF navigation exercise by using the bearing needle on the HSI to point to a GPS location and then fly using that as an ADF station. It gets the job done and perhaps it’s ADF as ADF should have been.
Still, ADF intercepts are fiddly. Intellectually I know it’s a simple case of remembering where one is in relation to the station and turning appropriately. The little tricks – turning away from the desired QDM inbound and towards and beyond QDR for the outbound – do help, but they’re not intuitive – I’m guessing that practice practice practice will be the key to successful ADF navigation. Finishing up with some unusual attitude recovery (again, fun…) I considered we’d done some good work. So what is it like flying at night? I found it really serene – its you and the plane – I didn’t hear any nighttime rough running and the air was smooth (and freezing – note to self – take a better jersey next time) and calm. The lights stretch for miles and the dark patches do feel like they’re reaching up to grab you – I assumed all the dark patches are mountains because why would anyone put lights on a mountain? The best part for me is that the feeling is getting better – i.e I’m flying more by the seat of my pants than I have been before and it feels smoother – I do need to be a little bit less aggressive on my turns – I do tend to roll quite positively which works during the day but perhaps not as well under instrument conditions!
We decided we were chilled enough and headed back for Lanseria. One scheduled 737 on long final and then we were to roll in onto approach. The night time approach is easier, and harder than I thought. Flying the profile is easier than during the day as less gusts and updrafts but the roundout and landing was very different. The instructor was following me on the controls – we went over the threshold at what I felt was the right height having had 2 red and 2 white on the PAPI the whole way down. Then she says “do you feel like you’re sitting on the runway?” and I say, “Um… yes?” and she says, “OK, go to idle” and we touch down light as a feather – best landing ever I think. Which would be awesome, except in my mind we were about 5feet higher and I wasn’t expecting the touchdown at that point. This confused me a little as I was convinced that one would feel lower coming in at night. There is no centreline marking on the runway so the only visual reference is the side lighting – guess I need to pay more attention to that in the coming flights – which should be two sessions of night circuits. Can’t wait.