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.
I was very keen to get my night rating. So keen, in fact that I went straight from my PPL into night training. There was a lot to be said for the night rating – extra hours of sim time, extra instrument time, and the joy of flying at night where it is generally smooth and calm.
Once I got the rating though, there was no need to fly at night, and moving the aircraft to Baragwanath effectively put paid to any desire to fly at night due to the inability of the locals to stop stealing the runway lights – no night facilities were available at all. One of the driving factors for moving to Rand airport was that there were good night flying facilities. I was still reticent to become current at night again – mostly I was somewhat worried about getting into trouble.
We’ve been meaning to go to the Florence Guest Farm at Chrissiesmeer for some time now – the last few times we’ve tried we have been unable due to low clouds. The Eastern part of the highveld plateau in South Africa is plagued by morning mist almost throughout the year due to adiabatic cooling of moist air flowing in from the Indian Ocean.
However, on this instance we were to be blessed with fantastic weather. Roger and I are both in the same hangar so we set off more or less together to Baragwanath to pick up Matthew in the Mooney. Once the usual suspects were reunited we set off East for Chrissiesmeer. We’ve figured out the timing pretty well now – if I leave first then Matthew in the Mooney 5-10min later and then Roger in the Arrow 10 minutes later, we will all arrive at more or less the same time.
It was actually a beautiful morning for flying – so smooth in fact that my 14y old was delegated poling duties and he did a pretty good job – the difficulties of VFR in the morning haze notwithstanding. He is going to want to learn to fly so he might as well get some stick time and the advantage of doing it from the right seat is that there is less ability to rely on the instruments for attitude.
With ATC helpfully providing separation info between the three of us we made it to Chrissiesmeer in good time. The hamlet is known as the Okavango of South Africa which I think is pushing it a little, but there certainly are a large number of lakes in the area, and it is very pretty from the air. I suspect in summer it is even prettier as the winter landscape can be somewhat drab.
I was last to land having flown a very long downwind to give the others time to backtrack on the grass runway. These rural airstrips in South Africa almost always seem to have large eucalyptus trees on the undershoot which are always good for focusing your attention on glide path discipline – no dragging it in here…
The runway is well kept but in all honesty, its really pretty bumpy and the left side is quite unkempt. Backtracking, we parked up next to the other two aircraft and set off in search of breakfast.
Despite arranging for breakfast to be available the staff were somewhat nonplussed at our arrival but they quickly whipped up a reasonable egg and bacon breakfast while we had a look around. The venue is marketed as a wedding type place with some overnight accommodation – it looks like a great spot for the quick overnight escape from the city and we’ll put it on the list of potential destinations for this sort of trip.
With the obvious exception of the actual flying the best part of these breakfast runs is sitting around and chatting while eating breakfast. After breakfast I was able to fly the drone a bit (after making sure there was no traffic in the area!) and then we set off home. There was some discussion about heading to the EAA Taildraggers flyin at FAWA but since we’re all blessed with nosewheels we decided to give it a miss and head straight back to Rand.
Later that afternoon the first thunderstorms of the season struck but at midday when we were flying back we were very aware of the convective activity – this was easily the worst turbulence since my flight back from Cape Town – we couldn’t find a comfortable level and had one or two of those ‘bang your head on the ceiling and dislodge your headset type moments’. It’s always entertaining when ATC asks why you’re 200ft above your planned cruise level when you’re at idle throttle, 7degrees nose down with a 900fpm climb rate.
We landed at Rand about 10minutes before the first storm rolled through (from the other direction) and stuffed the plane into the hangar. Summer is definitely on it’s way and flying needs to start happening earlier!
As much as May is a flying administration month with medicals and license renewals (did I mention it took 9 weeks to get my license renewal back from submission to collection?), August/September is annual time.
Last year I had a big shock in that I had to pony up for the 5yearly rubber hose replacement, so I was hoping for a less significant annual inspection this time round. Annual time is funny, because it forces one to take a look at the hourly cost of ownership of the aircraft for the previous year – and this obviously depends on the number of hours flown. So the denominator this year is much lower than last year because of the lockdown. Last annual year I flew 65hours. This year, 44…
The fluttering noise didn’t catch my attention as much as the white flash of paper passing before my eyes. Flailing wildly didn’t help as the paper in question – the photos of the start and finish gates – flew out the gullwing door of my Sling, and contrary to what would be expected, got sucked into the propeller from behind and shredded.
This was going to be a problem. One does not simply chase after pieces of maps while holding short of an active runway for a set takeoff time. Our Air Navigation Rally second course was about to get even more interesting. It wasn’t lacking in interest before the map shredding incident – the 30kt winds had provided quite enough entertainment already this morning.
I think it goes without saying that we’re all a little bit fed up with this virus… The constant news bombardment, added to the constant fights we as frontline providers are having with hospital groups and government with respect to the provision and availability of PPE, the constant threat of infection and quarantine and the effect on ability to earn are all taking their toll. What I’ve found is a major stress reliever is flying. Which has been a problem.
South Africa went into hard lockdown on the 26th of March 2020, after 6 reported Coronavirus deaths. The flavour of hard lockdown chosen here was confinement to home, only allowed to leave to buys groceries and essential goods, no alcohol sales, no tobacco sales. Most significantly, a total closure of airspace apart from rescue and essential flights. No airline traffic. No charters. No general aviation. Initially this was to be for 3 weeks, but it was later extended a further 2 weeks, then relieved slightly for the month of May – but still no general aviation was provided for.
The South African chapter of the Experimental Aircraft Association is celebrating it’s 50th anniversary this year. Every year there is a flyin to the Brits Airfield (FABS) but this year promised to be even more special. Any excuse for a flight is a good one, so it was off to Brits I went.
As summer starts to take hold it’s getting light earlier and I was able to pull the plane out at 6h30, in pleasant conditions with the low morning clouds clearing away and only the slightest breeze. I should have realised it was too good to be true…
As I rolled down runway 13 (into the sun – of course…) I noticed 3 Guineafowl taxiing out onto the runway ahead of me. Now a guineafowl is not a small bird – they probably weigh around 4 kilograms and stand about 35cm high – I didn’t fancy the idea of one of them going through the prop or hitting a wheel. In retrospect I made the wrong call by rotating 2-3kts below nominal rotation speed (50kts) but IBM eagerly kept into the air and disaster was averted. It would have been better to stay on the ground, wait for normal rotation and try to ignore the birds than to take off early and potentially stall out. Fortunately I was so close to rotation speed that it made no difference but definitely something to think about for lower speed incidents – better to hit a bird on the ground than stall it in.
The other concern is that the birds could have tried to fly and then I may have been in the situation where I’m flying at low speed and then hit a bird….
Bird excitement behind us, we climbed up under the Johannesburg TMA – cruising at 7500’ and routing to the west of the Lanseria class B airspace. We passed over Orient airfield (a major gliding Mecca), but it was too early for the obligatory powerless landers in their funny hats.
This dogleg set up a more or less direct course to Brits – and a routing directly into the teeth of a not insignificant headwind – 30kts on the nose meant we took a lot longer to get to Brits at only 90kts over the ground.
For the (anticipated) large flyins, the CAA usually declare an Aerodrome Flight Info Service (AFIS) which means that the usually unmanned airfield is manned with a tower operator whose role is to ensure separation but does not give explicit landing or takeoff clearances – it’s a little bit strange – the landing clearance usually sounds like “ZU-IBM, number one on the approach, land at pilot’s discretion”. Anyhow, as it turns out they were only opening at 07h30 and I arrived overhead at 07h25. This resulted in some confusion with arriving aircraft coming from 4 directions and all trying to ascertain if the tower was open or not.
I really enjoy flying to new (to me) airfields. I’ve been wanting to go to Kitty Hawk since I got my aircraft. Kitty Hawk is located to the east of Pretoria – about 30min flying time from Baragwanath. It is a very active field with a large number of Vans RV’s based there.
The field has a little bit of a reputation as being ‘difficult’ in certain wind conditions. I’m always up for a challenge that fits within my personal limits and experience, so reputation aside, I felt it was worth the visit. I was able to muster up only one other plane from the JLPC crowd – Roger in his Turbo Arrow agreed to join me out of Rand airport for breakfast.
My aircraft is back from annual inspection – what they say about the first annual is all true, sadly – was a lot more expensive than I was anticipating due to the 5 year rubber change, but that at least is done (until the next time – when I may also be looking at a BRS repack……). On the plus side, my plane is back and fit for flying again!
On the basis of the sticker shock from the rubber replacement we decided not to do any cosmetic work apart form installing the sun shade film on the canopy which has helped a lot to keep the cabin cool. I did this myself – it only took 2hours to apply it – a very fiddly job but the end result is satisfactory and seems to do what it is supposed to. It’s a PVC friendly static cling film that advertises 5% visible light transmission. I think it looks quite nice.
Having an aircraft in maintenance does very little for the desire to commit aviation. Out of necessity (see previous posts on moving aircraft for maintenance), I had left my vehicle in the hangar when I took my plane to Tedderfield so I needed a lift back to Baragwanath – which Matthew kindly offered. Of course, why would anyone go to an airfield unless it was to fly an aircraft – and he was off to fly his (recently returned from annual inspection) Mooney M20C short body.
Matthew very kindly offered me a flight in the Mooney, to which I gave due consideration (about 500msec) and agreed. The Mooney is a very different aircraft from the Sling. The Mooney styling has always appealed to me, there is something about that forward swept tail and the low slung stance which suggests that it will go fast. The Classic Mooney has a very 60’s look about it (which it probably should!) – the very steep windshield and the ‘big gulp’ air intake are unique design features. Even this short body variant’s tail is very low to the ground and I must say that this would worry me quite a lot in the landing.