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.
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..
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.