Level 2 lockdown is real in South Africa. This allows further movement and (good news for some) the purchase of alcohol and cigarettes. Most importantly, the restrictions on general aviation have been lifted – we can fly between provinces (states) and can fly with other people in the aircraft.
To celebrate our new found freedom the three usual suspects (Matthew, Roger and myself) decided to do some interprovincial flying. A strong cold front had caused some scattered snowfalls earlier in the week in some high lying parts of the country and we were hoping to spot some snow on the Drakensberg.
Because we’d had good times on our previous trip to El Mirador last year, we decided to reprise the route.
My brother-in-law’s family have a place in a game reserve called Zebula – we have driven up with them a couple of times before for the weekend – the house is great with a pool and a jacuzzi and it is good to hang out with family. The reserve has an airstrip which is well frequented with breakfast runners – the lodge will pick you up from the airstrip, deliver you to the buffet breakfast and return you later to your waiting aircraft.
Every time we have been before I’ve looked at the airstrip and thought – “this would be a great fly-in spot.” The strip has a bit of a reputation for being difficult – mostly because it gets very hot in the Limpopo Bushveld and the gradient on the airstrip almost requires a one-way in, one way out philosophy.
On Friday my sister suggested that we fly in and join them for the day on Saturday or Sunday, so we rustled up some cold meats and drinks and I started to have a close look at the trip. Zebula has a 1400m/4500ft , 13metre wide runway which is at 4300ft elevation and slopes fairly steeply from the midway point of runway 08 to the threshold of runway 26. My major concern was density altitude – I knew we’d get in just fine but it was the flying out that had me concerned – more on that later.
Of course, having a trip planned for a Saturday morning was bound to annoy the weather gods and Saturday dawned with a 400-600foot overcast; OK, it was reported as BKN but to all intents and purposes it was overcast. Very occasionally there was a slight break in the cloud and I could see it wasn’t very thick – so we were almost tempted to try and blast through it. This would have been a mistake. After making hourly determinations I decided it was best to delay for 24h. Which, as it turned out, was very much the correct decision. Sunday was clear and the flight was on.
Baragwanath to Zebula is a leisurely 105nm – of course cannot be flown straight line as there are TMA’s to be avoided. We loaded the cooler bags, swimming kit and ourselves and set off. Today I was expecting the slightly longer takeoff run but IBM shot up enthusiastically and it was sad to have to stop the climb at 7500ft. We cruised over the west of Soweto, over Orient Glider airfield (where not even one glider was out of a hangar yet) and then through the Magaliesberg flight training area – where I did the majority of my PPL training. Entering the GFA, we were out from under the TMA so we climbed up to FL95, above the scattered cumulus which was starting to develop and into some cool, smooth air.
30 minutes later we were top of descent for Zebula – the windsock was essentially indicating mostly crosswind with a slight tailwind component – I elected to land with the mild tailwind to make use of the uphill slope. Unfortunately we floated quite a bit on roundout and I ended up landing at the top of the hill (with plenty of room to spare) – I think the wind shifted a bit more towards the tailwind – as we were securing the aircraft someone landed a 182 downhill into the wind. The tailwind component could not have been more than 5knots and my MAUW landing roll is 400m so yes, I had some wiggle room.
As we arrived at the lodge, some cumulus was starting to develop – one large one in particular to the north of us. I called up the weather radar feed – sure enough this was developing into something. I spent the rest of the morning checking the feed every 30min to keep an eye. At the mercy of the weather, with no ability to stay late if need be, it is important to keep a close watch. Unfortunately having to worry about the weather does detract somewhat from the relaxation aspect of a morning in the bush – I would be more relaxed if it wasn’t the whole family.
Fortunately, the weather didn’t develop into anything more than clear sky cumulus. When time came to leave the bases were at FL100 with 4/8 cover. Leaving Zebula presented a bit of a quandary. The wind had shifted so it was now aligned with the runway. The uphill runway. Additionally my daughter decided she wanted to sit up front so I needed to do a quick recalculation of the weight and balance – which still came in within the envelope. The wind was of sufficient strength that I didn’t believe I could justify a downwind takeoff – especially with an air temp of 36 Celsius and a calculated DA of over 8000ft.
The Sling will clear a 50ft obstacle at MAUW at 7500ft DA in 690m so I reckoned if we added 10% for the elevated DA and another 20% for the slope we would be clear of 50ft obstacle (the trees at the end of the runway) in 900m, well short of the 1400m available. The wind was about 10kts which would give us back another 5% so in my mind we’d be fine. In fact, we lifted off marginally short of halfway (just at the top of the sloping section) and climbed strongly at Vx to the extent that I was turning on course as we passed the far threshold. I’m continually amazed by the takeoff perfomance delivered by the little Rotax 914.
I had hoped to climb to FL105 or FL125 for the trip home to get some cool air but the cloud bases were around FL100 so we stayed at FL85 – which was a lot bumpier than the family have experienced – precipitating some nausea on the part of one member. Again we routed over the glider airfield (OK, about 3miles to the west thereof) – it is lovely to see the gliders below and the guys launching with the winch.
Landing at Bara was very enjoyable – with the very rear C/G we did a wheelie for ages after the mains touched down – there is incredible elevator authority down as far as about 38kts – in fact on a proper short field takeoff the nose will unstick at 40kts.
Another new airport into the logbook, another family trip living the Sling lifestyle. The only negative aspect is that the pitch part of the autopilot is STILL not working properly, which is proving to be somewhat annoying. I need to look at that again this week.
The next trip is to Middelburg (FAMB) for the EAA aviation week. Can’t wait.