On the 15th of November, the Johannesburg Light Plane Club (JLPC) celebrated its centenary. This makes it one of the oldest flying clubs in the world. Aviation in South Africa has ebbed and flowed, but the club has been a going concern for 100 years which is no mean feat.
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.
As I write this, ZU-IBM is in for annual inspection. This should only have been done in October, but the CAA is a bit of a hot mess at the moment, and it is taking 3-4weeks to get the airworthy certificate or Authority to Fly (ATF) after annual inspection so we moved it up a month. I suspect this is mostly because the AMO doesn’t want airplanes stuck on its ramp waiting for paperwork to be completed.
I think it will help to have moved the annual forward away from the ATF expiry date because that should mean that we can do a full year on the next cycle. Anyhow, this does basically qualify as the first year of ownership and looking back, I must say that it has been really good to own the aircraft.
We’ve done a few trips that we would never have done, and the freedom of being able to decide on a whim to go flying is seriously under-rated. So here follows a small summary of the year in ownership..
- Hours flown: – 69,5
- Fuel purchased: – 1154
- Average fuel Burn: – 16litres per hour
- New Airports visited: – 17
- Passengers Flown: – 37 (obviously not separate individuals)
Of course, there will be at least one unexpected expense involved and this time it is the 5 year rubber renewal which involves changing every rubber hose and gasket in the engine compartment. It is a bit of a pain and an unexpected expense which could be deferred… but that is not how I want to operate my aircraft. Deferred maintenance is something that I feel will bite one day and will be an issue if/when I sell the plane (yes, that RV-7 is still calling….).
There are a couple of other squawks that need dealing with – for some reason the starboard strobe has decided to call it a day, and the landing light wires seem to get quite hot coming out of the switch on the panel – this may well be normal but it needs to be checked out. The oil pressure still runs lower than I’m comfortable with on the long climbs – although we have looked at the system I think another once-over won’t go amiss. My gut feel is that the issue may be the sensor, but that is the easy way to rationalise it.
Apart from all that, the only other job is to put a decal on the rudder – I’ve long wanted the chequered pattern on the plane so we’re putting it on the whole of the rudder. I trust it will look good. The idea I have is what is shown below…
So, with no plane and hopefully no more surprises… there is little to do but to wait
patiently impatiently for news on when Miss Daisy will be back. Will update as and when needed.
Every year, The Nylstroom Airfield (FANY) plays host to a weekend of taildraggers. Folks fly their non nosewheel equipped aircraft in on the Friday or Saturday and stay over and (probably) have a few drinks in the evening and fly back on the Sunday morning. It is a celebration of all things Taildragger and aviation in general and I was keen to go see what it was all about.
Unfortunately, life had other ideas and my plans to fly in for a visit on the Saturday did not come to fruition which left me looking at popping up on the Sunday – basically for no other reason than having an excuse to fly the aeroplane. The day’s schedule called for a family lunch which meant I was under a little bit of time pressure – but the best time of the day to fly is the early morning and it was only me so no need to accommodate any late sleepers.
General aviation is widely accepted to be in somewhat of a decline in South Africa. Thus it is quite exciting when an exhibition aimed primarily at the general aviation sector is scheduled – look, it’s not Oshkosh or Sun ‘n Fun but this is about as good as it gets for us locals. It is also quite unusual in that there was no airshow scheduled – only static and trade exhibits. The exhibition is Aero South Africa and it was billed as an offshoot of Aero Friedrichshafen
|Date||Aircraft||Route||Flight Duration||Total Hours|
|6 July 2019||ZU-IBM||FASY – FAWB(Wonderboom National Airport)||0.8||151.6|
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||Aircraft||Route||Distance (nm)||Time(hrs)||Total(hrs)|
|12 November 2018||ZU-IBM (SLG4)||Morningstar to FATA(Tedderfield)||660||5.9||113.0|
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.