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 2019/2020 Speed Rally season opened on the 23rd of November with the first race being held at the Springs Airport (FASY). This would be our second speed rally, the first one having been at Secunda in August.
This time my son Scott was unable to navigate for me because he was studying for exams so I recruited my friend Steve who is also mad about flying and is fairly useful around a map! As is the usual scenario, the weather forecast for the morning of the race looked pretty lousy – low ceilings, narrow temp/dew point spread and generally not amenable to VFR flight. My plan was thus to move my aircraft to Springs on the Friday afternoon – but once again, Mother Nature simply laughed at my plans and some of the biggest storms we’ve had this year arrived. They at least had the good grace to start well before I left for the airfield unlike previous occasions where storm cells have pitched up as I complete my preflight.
Steve and I resolved to get up at the crack of dawn to make the 50nm trip to Springs – fully expecting to bin the whole affair, but Saturday was clear and we easily made it across to Springs in time for the 07h30 briefing. The race has become really popular – 40 entries were received including, for the first time, 2 helicopters.
After the briefing we joined the start lineup and waited for our ‘papers’ – our map, photos of turnpoints and the route to be flown. These are given 20minutes before the scheduled takeoff time, which essentially gives you about 8minutes to look at the map outside of the aircraft – the rest is done while taxiing to the runway.
We had an uneventful start this time after the shenanigans of the previous race and were soon at top speed heading for the first turn point. The turn points are generally road/rail crossings, stations, grain silos etc. These are hard to find in the bleak expanses of the western regions of Mpumalanga. We navigated by open cast mines, slimes dams and highways. To our credit (mostly Steve tbh), we missed only one turn point, picking up a 1minute penalty. The racing is so well handicapped that losing a minute meant the difference between finishing 4th and 14th. Ah well, c‘est la vie.
We had a fantastic time and the 150nm of the course passed so quickly we couldn’t believe it when we crossed the finish line. It’s a dangerous time to be relaxing though as the handicapping is so good that invariably there are 12-15 aircraft in the circuit on arrival – courtesy and keeping your wits about you go a long way….
After we landed and handed in our loggers, we watched some spectacular aerobatics and then had to hustle to get back to Baragwanath as a rather mean looking storm had popped up on the radar and was making its way towards our route. The next race is in March – we’ll definitely be there.
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.
I’ve previously written about flying in a speed rally – where we fly a set course against our aircraft’s handicap speed. It’s fast and furious and exciting with lots of close up flying. The other class of competition flying is the Navigation Rally, which I was lucky enough to be a competitor in this weekend.
My aircraft is still undergoing annual inspection (well, actually as I write, the inspection is complete – we are waiting on a post maintenance test flight for it to be signed out again), so I was to be the designated navigator for Matthew in the Mooney. Whereas a speed rally is simply flying a course as fast as possible (and reasonably accurately), the navigation rally is quite a lot more complex. The papers that are given to each crew contain turn point descriptions, a 1:200000 topographic map, a sheet of photos of turn points and places to spot and a time sheet based on a nominated speed.
One of the joys of having an aircraft is having the ability to fly in to various airshows, especially those that you would never have considered attending due to the distance. Bethlehem (FABM) lies about 99nm south of Baragwanath, an easy hour’s flight. It would be a shame not to take the chance to attend what is generally considered to be an excellent airshow.
I’ve been trying to get involved in competition flying for a long time, but it has always seemed to not work out for one reason or another. I’ve been able to go to see the rally taking place at Middelberg and Springs in the past but haven’t been able to take part. This weekend though, everything seemed to fall into place with a public holiday on Friday and the race being held nearby at the Secunda airfield (FASC) on the weekend.
Competition flying in South Africa seems to be undergoing somewhat of a resurgence at the moment after being stuck for years in a stodgy cycle of President’s Trophy Air Races marred by legal cases and appeals. Three event formats are currently taking place – Speed Rallies, Navigation Rallies and Fun Rallies. They are being held through the country (although mostly in the northern half, fortunately). Fun rallies involve flying a short course in a very narrow corridor, points being deducted for excursions from the corridor. Navigation rallies are plotted and flown to specific times and locations and are the more traditional form of competition rally flying in South Africa.
I’m getting a little bored with the in-cockpit got GoPro shots. I feel like there are only two angles really – either out the front or looking at the wing. While these do have some interest, I’m keen to try some external camera shots.
The problem here is airways going to be how to safely attach a GoPro to the exterior of the aircraft. Safety here is two pronged – one doesn’t want to interfere with the aerodynamic performance of the aircraft. Neither does one want to be responsible for GoPro sized dents in structures or people on the ground.
I’d imagine the CAA/Police/justice system works take a dim view of damage caused by falling action cameras. Additionally, you can’t simply attach objects permanently to an aircraft. With this in mind I’ve been looking at getting a mount to capture footage like this.
There are a number of options and ideas to achieve this. The easiest way is to simply use the GoPro suction cup and apply it to the wing. Look. The cup grips well. But I wouldn’t like to bet my GoPro on it. So that idea is out. Then there are some proprietary mounting systems sold mostly on Amazon – flightflix and nflightcam being the two most prominent brands. But they are really expensive, especially once shipped here.
So I thought I’d have a go at making one myself based loosely on the flightflix tie down mount.
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.