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.
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 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).
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.
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.
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.