I like the night life….

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 FlightAircraftRouteIF ActualTime(hrs)Total(hrs)
19 July 2018ZS-ZIP (SR20)FALA(Lanseria, Johannesburg) - FALA1.31.683.6

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.

 

Safe flying!

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.



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..

Solo at last!

108 Landings. One hundred and Eight. This is how long it takes to teach an old dog new tricks. I flew(yeah, I know) through the upper air work – stall spin checkout done at 10h. But I’ve been in the circuit for the last 3months and 17hours trying to get the simple landing right.

Weirdly, the abnormal landings have been relatively easy. The 50% flap landing is a breeze – managing to nail that almost every time. The flaps up landing is downright scary in the Cirrus because it requires a a spurt of power JUST before touchdown to level the nose and that 90kts over the threshold feels VERY fast. Recovery onto the runway with simulated failure after rotation – easy. Glide from downwind to full flap recovery – easy. But the run of the mill 100% standard flap landings have been a disaster. Why, I’m not sure – the ongoing issue is me pulling back too early and too aggressively and cutting power at the same time so invariably either ballooning or being perfectly placed for the landing 3ft above where I should be with the resultant *positive* touchdown.

But suddenly it came right. I did another 100 or so landings in the flight simulator trying to get that coordination of reducing power gradually and gently pulling back and it has come right. So right that after 9 trips around the circuit, my instructor suggested I drop him off at the tower and have a trip around the circuit on my own. The weather was playing ball with a variable 7-8knot wind mostly form the left so I thought about this for about 3milliseconds and agreed.

The first thing you notice is that when you’re one-up in the SR20 is that she’ll actually roll forwards at 1000rpm without requiring 1500RPM to break free. Which is nice. My goPro’s died in the run up bay but amazingly my checklist and run ups were up to scratch. (Although the cockpit seemed at LOT warmer than it was – suffice it to say I was drenched in sweat with jus the slightest of tremors) As though by magic, the circuit was empty (just as well as there was some guy who was aggravating ATC no end by not complying with any instructions) – even the scheduled 737’s seemed to be miraculously absent. I taxied onto Runway 07 – in between some lapwings who seemed miraculously unconcerned by the 70″ rotating prop passing meters from them – seriously, what dumbass bird sits (not standing but sitting) ON the piano keys? (They only moved when I flew over them on short final).

Then the words I’d been waiting for, “Juliet Alpha Bravo, runway 07, cleared Takeoff, report right downwind 5500ft, good luck sir!” (I love FALA ATC – they are really nice guys considering the scale and variety of traffic they deal with). Full throttle, temp and pressures in the green, good fuel flow and off I went. 70kts comes quickly with one on board , rotate and the climbout was only marginally brisker than I was used to. (Insert brief moment of panic After takeoff checks at 400ft, clear left, ahead and right and crosswind turn, GO. 155deg, landmark sighted, clear left, clear ahead, clear right and GO for downwind turn.

5500ft early on right downwind (with two up we only make circuit height at mid runway), power to 60%, level off. Before I could report downwind TWR comes on “Juliet Alpha Bravo, right base your discretion, report final approach number 1, no traffic to affect”. Downwind checks, flaps 50, HOLD THE NOSE, fight the balloon, fight the secondary balloon and trim… Grab phone, take selfie (remember the flat goPros), dump phone, find base leg landmark. Clear left, clear ahead, clear right, 100kts, 50% flaps, 30deg turn… NOW!

Rollout on 335deg. Throttle to 30%, check under 100kts, flaps full, pitch for 90kts. Look for extended centerline, approach segment clear, finals clear, start gentle turn to final. Roll out on runway heading at 500ft AGL. 4 reds. Oh sh*t. Power in, pitching for 85, the 4 reds become 3 and then 2 reds and 2 white.

“Juliet Alpha Bravo, final approach 07”

“Juliet Alpha Bravo, runway 07, clear to land”

“07, clear to land, Juliet Alpha Bravo”

Too much throttle, pull back a bit, nail 77kts over the fence. Those bloody lapwings are still there! Get lost you bloody birds. Which they did. Exactly as I flew over them…

Throttle gently to 10%, fly into ground effect, hefty boot of left rudder for the crosswind correction, cruise down runway 3ft above, cut throttle and doesn’t she just settle magnificently onto the runway like the docile little beauty she is.

“Juliet Alpha Bravo, nicely done sir, left alpha three, ground clears you Alpha, Sierra to the helipad for instructor pickup”

<a data-flickr-embed=”true” href=”https://www.flickr.com/photos/mikeblackburn/38020952864/in/dateposted/” title=”Post solo 28 Nov 2017″><img src=”https://farm5.staticflickr.com/4561/38020952864_1a4ee3fcd3_b.jpg” width=”1024″ height=”768″ alt=”Post solo 28 Nov 2017″></a>//embedr.flickr.com/assets/client-code.js

And thus am I now solo. And I forgot to enter my 0.5h solo PIC time as PIC time in my logbook. Le Sigh. I’m now endorsed for solo flight in the circuit at Lanseria Airport. I am warned that often the circuits go a little pear shaped after first solo and it may take time to get back again – but nothing can take away from the experience of going solo for the first time.

Being photographed by others while flying

I was pleasantly surprised while browsing through the “Seen at FALA” Aviation photography forum to see a shot of the aircraft I usually fly (ZS-BOR) against some pretty impressive cumulonimbus clouds. I was even more surprised to see it had been taken when I was flying the plane – i.e a photo of a plane being flown by me. (Probably not a big deal to most, but a first for me)

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This photo was taken by Omer Mees (check out his Flickr here) 

This is on the upwind leg of the circuit out of 07 at Lanseria (FALA) He was kind enough to send me high res versions of these photos. It appears as though we were very close to the clouds but in fact were miles away – this being merely foreshortening resulting from the telephoto lens.

I hope this isn’t the last time someone shoots us flying!

 

Progress?

Update: – I’m still in the circuit. I’m still not solo. I’m still ok with that.

I had a break from flying for 2 and a half weeks – mostly due to the combination of both my instructor and me being away (but not coinciding). So I was expecting a terrible flight on Friday. And…. I was wrong.

From the get go – I was comfortable, relaxed and the flying was, well… OK. Not stellar, but not terrible and very definitely safe and to standard. We did 9 circuits and 10 landings.

2 of those landings were 50% flap, 1 with flaps up and one was a simulated engine failure after rotation with adequate runway ahead (which bizarrely, was my best landing of the day). I joked that the instructor should just pull the power over the threshold on every landing and I’d be ok….

We did another EFATO with no runway and managed that OK apart from being distracted so much by the Fault check that I lost about 15kts (should be at 90kts for the SR20 best glide) – so less than ideal but still would have made the field I chose – had a hairy time on the go-around from the option because there was a helicopter that wasn’t supposed to be there – we got to wave at the farmer too….

I’m SLOWLY getting the three phases of the landing right – my approaches are still good – it feels natural to adjust power for rate and pitch for speed and for the most part I’m over the threshold at the height and airspeed I want to be at. Roundout is ok too and I’m able to fly along the runway in ground effect (and for the first time I actually could feel when entering ground effect).

The issue is still in the holding off phase – as power comes off I need to be pulling back gently and it still is a bit jerky – but it is definitely getting there. I need to concentrate on the end of the runway more on the roundout though – I tend to find myself peering over the nose – which isn’t conducive to good attitude flying.

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In other news I picked up another exam this week – Principles of Flight. I took the books with on holiday and had every intention of cranking out both Principles and Met while away but only managed to finish Principles. Spent Monday through thursday doing past papers on the Principles and then rushed off on Thursday to do the exam. To be honest, the exam was a bit of a joke – I do them online in a monitored room – 25 multiple choice questions, 30min to complete.

It took me 3m15s. Why? Because they seem to ask the same questions over and over again. So all that is required is to carefully read the question to make sure you aren’t being tricked – and then to select the answer. Got 24/25 right. Apparently there are people who struggle to pass these exams. Go figure. Of course, pride comes before a fall etc so I’m still going to put max effort into the next one which I think will be the R/T theory because it’s similar to Air Law in many respects.

On Friday next week I have another dual check which means that I’m close to 20h (19 to be precise) – I’m hoping that goes well and I get signed off – so we should be solo by month end. Or whenever I’m ready. Whatever, I’m cool…..

IMG_1440 2(C-17 Globemaster from McGuire AFB – Apparently here supplying the embassy)

Dead Mag & Air Law Pass

Bittersweet. This is how I’d describe my specially arranged Friday morning flying session. I’d specially organized this to get some flying in when (a) the wind isn’t howling across the runway as it is wont to do in Jhb in August and September and (b) it isn’t so hot..

 

But the best laid plans of mice and men…. it was a beautiful morning. Preflight was fun as the morning rush of BizJets, KingAirs, and the Scheduled 737s took to the air – always interesting to see how they differ in initial climb performance – the B200s and C90s not so stellar compared to the B350s, and the BizJets, well…. they all look pretty smart on climbout.

 

We started up ZS-JAB and let her warm up as we did the pre-run up checks and watched the stream of departing traffic. But when runup time came… There was an alarming decrease in revs and a very rough engine on the right magneto only, no drop on the left – uh oh, this plane had a dead magneto. Well, there was no way we were going flying in her this day. So we taxied back to the ramp dejectedly, and checked her into the Hangar. Where, of course, they couldn’t replicate the problem.  Another student flew her an hour later – no problems whatsoever. So that was a bit weird. But I’m happy we stayed on the ground.

 

As someone pointed out to me – it’s better to be on the ground wishing you were in the air than in the air wishing you were on the ground…. And learning to deal with disappointment of cancelled flights is part of the game – good training for when I’m the one making the call on whether we go or don’t go…

 

This enforced grounding meant that I could exercise the privileges allowed me by my newly minted SPL(A) – writing exams…. due to all the delays in getting medical and SPL sorted out, I’ve been studying hard for Air Law which I need to have passed to go solo. I was booked to do the exam on Friday – so I set off to give it a crack. Which I did. and I passed – 97%! I cannot recommend the PPL mock exams from Swales highly enough – a lot of what I expected and had seen before came up – but even if it hadn’t I would have been ok – because I really put a LOT of effort into the Air Law studying. I know stuff that I will no doubt never use – but it ended up being a LOT more interesting than I thought.

 

All in all, a good week. Air Law done, SPL(A) obtained, no flying but hey, I can fly any time… Like tomorrow for instance….. (weather permitting)