For the last 2 weeks the weather has not been conducive to flying. A tropical cyclone passed to the north of us and it seems to have set up a pattern where tons of warm moist air is being driven down from the ICTZ, bringing with it bouts of torrential rain and the odd embedded thunderstorm.
Definitely not weather for flying. Two flying events have been cancelled or postponed – one a fun navigation rally and the other a speed rally. The speed rally is now scheduled to take place next weekend and lots of us are anxiously scanning the long term forecasts to see what the likelihood of it actually happening is.
There are only three tricks to a perfect landing. Unfortunately, nobody knows what they are. It was in pursuit of these that I found myself 500ft over the threshold of Runway 36 at Brakpan Airfield (FABB), power off, flaps down and in an aggressive sideslip. Too low… damn it… 100ft up, still 1000ft short of the zero line, flaps up… nose up a little… not too much, she’s going to stall… better now.. hold it, hold it…. here’s the line, let her land (Windscreen fills with sky).. good – now full power, flaps 1 and off again.. Over the radio…“ZU-IBM, that was a +2, well done!”
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 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.
My aircraft is back from annual inspection – what they say about the first annual is all true, sadly – was a lot more expensive than I was anticipating due to the 5 year rubber change, but that at least is done (until the next time – when I may also be looking at a BRS repack……). On the plus side, my plane is back and fit for flying again!
On the basis of the sticker shock from the rubber replacement we decided not to do any cosmetic work apart form installing the sun shade film on the canopy which has helped a lot to keep the cabin cool. I did this myself – it only took 2hours to apply it – a very fiddly job but the end result is satisfactory and seems to do what it is supposed to. It’s a PVC friendly static cling film that advertises 5% visible light transmission. I think it looks quite nice.
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.
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.