Feathered friends

Last weekend I attempted to fly yet another ‘maintenance/engine preservation’ flight as allowed for by our Commission Against Aviation. It had been 29 days since I knocked off the rust and it looked like the perfect day for aviation.

However, the weather had other ideas. A cold front was blowing in from the Cape and as is typical with our cold fronts, by the time the arrive in the hinterland they are devoid of cloud. What it was not devoid of however, was wind. Our runway runs 31/13 and the wind generally comes from the south in winter and the north in summer. On this day it felt breezy but not unmanageable.

However, once I’d taxied down to the departure end (the wind was directly cross so I chose 31 to get an idea of how taxiing would feel), I was feeling a lot less confident. Added to this the fact that there is a hill about 1nm south of the airfield and the skittishness of my aircraft on the taxiway, and the 30ft width of the runway, I decided that today was not a good day for flying.

For fun, I turned on the runway directly into the wind and was seeing 15 gusting 25kts on the airspeed indicator. This made me happier about my decision. Nominal crosswind limit on the Sling is 15kts although I’ve landed safely and easily in more. Its the gusts that worried me. On another day, at an airport with a wider runway, with only a few days since I last flew? Maybe. But not here, and not today.

We call him ZS-DOV

So I put the plane back in the hangar – there’ll always be another day. The highlight of the day however, was a dove. There is a chap who lives on the airfield who seems to have befriended the dove to the extent that this bird is now tame. Being the only moving human on the airfield on Sunday, he arrived to ‘help’ with my preflight. This involved lots of walking around the wheel spats, sitting on the wing, flying onto my back while I sumped fuel and then at one point, actually flew INTO the plane and sat on the back seat. Fortunately he didn’t feel the need to relieve himself at any stage during the process. Crazy bird followed me all around the airfield wherever I went on foot..

Um. Seatbelt?

Knocking off the rust

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.

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On being flexible

The reality of single engine piston operations is that one tends to be at the mercy of the vagaries of the weather. This shouldn’t be news to anyone really but it was brought home to me last weekend on an attempted flight to meet a friend for a quick coffee at Rustenburg (FARG).

After some days of marginal weather (and, it must be noted, some spectacular weather weekends where there was simply no time to fly), it finally looked like my schedule and CAVOK were lining up. The plan was to fly from Baragwanath to Rustenburg, have a coffee and head back.

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Speed Rally Season 2, Race 1 – Springs

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.

Pre Race hubris

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.

Dane Laing’s very well turned out RV6A – Race 31

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.

3 Slings in a row – ZU-FWY(Sling2), ZU-IBM, ZU-IBH

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.

ZU-IBM ZU-IOK Sling 4 TSi – Owned by Andrew Lane, the previous owner of ZU-IBM

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.

Beechcraft Bonanza F33A ZS-PJK

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….

ZU-IHH Vans RV7A – Race 3
Jason Beamish about to perform in his Extra 330LX

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.

EAA (SA) Sun ‘n Fun Flyin 9 November 2019

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.

Couldn’t resist….. sorry not sorry

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.

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Annual time….

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.

Secunda Speed Rally 2019 – Day 1

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.

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DIY External Aircraft GoPro mounting

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. 

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