About 2 and a bit years ago I took myself and my new(to me) Sling down to Cape Town. This was the last time I had been able to do a big cross country flight so I was quite pleased when the opportunity presented itself for another tax deductible flying trip to the Mother City.
The process of planning for such a flight (680nm) isn’t difficult – the main issue would be whether or not the weather would be conducive – fortunately late Feb/early March are good times to fly with the risk of thunderstorms having lowered and before the winter cold fronts start rolling in. With the full price commercial (easily refundable) tickets booked as backups, I was still pleased to see the weather looking clear for the flight down. The only wrinkle was the wind. Which was blowing. Like crazy.
20 Feb 2021
FAGM(Rand) – FATP(New Tempe) – Morningstar
The forecast called for the wind at FL85 to be 30kts on the nose and just getting worse above that, so I decided to flight plan at FL65 which is a LOT lower than I would like to fly. We (I was able to return a favor and give one of the chaps in the JLPC a lift down to Cape Town) decided to make an early start so we could fuel at Bloemfontein New Tempe (FATP) and still get in before it got too late.
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.