After a successful navigation rally held some weeks ago the groundwork was laid for the resumption of Speed Rally flying. The season has been completely disrupted by the COVID pandemic with the second and third races being cancelled. There was much excitement when it seemed that we could continue with two further events this year.
And such it was that Steve and I found ourselves heading east on Friday afternoon to Secunda. Getting out to Rand Airport is a lot less of a schlep on a Friday afternoon than Baragwanath and the hangar attendant had pulled IBM to the front of the hangar so we were good to go – traffic levels at the airport are quite high and we were number 3 or 4 to depart for the short 70nm trip to Secunda (FASC).
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.
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.
In a previous post I described the limited flying that we had been allowed to do – one ‘maintenance/engine preservation’ flight per 28days. After significant lobbying by the Aeroclub of South Africa and a slight relaxation in the lockdown regulations, this restriction has been lifted to some extent.
We are now permitted to fly unlimited flights per 7 day period, provided we take off and land at the same airfield, do not disembark the aircraft at any other field and carry no passengers. There is also a requirement to have hand sanitizer on board, to wear a mask and gloves and to thoroughly sanitize the aircraft between flights. A simple online form is required to be completed every week in which we agree to do these things and the weekly flying permit is issued.
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.
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 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.
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.