Having an aircraft means somewhat more flexibility in terms of using general aviation to get to where you want on (more or less) your own terms. Of course, having an aircraft also means you can make totally financially unjustifiable trips on (more or less) your own terms.
I tried to do a long cross country to a congress I was presenting at in August, in George. George is an airport with a bit of a reputation – on a small plateau on the coast behind some rather imposing mountains and some rather fiddly airspace which I’m told ATC does not ever allow you to penetrate on a VFR flight plan. I was going to be doing this trip in a rented SR20 but as it turns out the weather forecast was very marginal and I didn’t fancy my chances of getting in. Also, it’s not really fair to congress organisers to have a speaker who may not make it due to weather – so I binned that trip and flew commercial.
When this congress in Cape Town came up it looked like a much more viable option for flying myself. Firstly – no really large mountains, secondly summer weather which at that part of the coast is not characterised by cloud or thunderstorms, and thirdly access to my own aircraft (so no demurrage costs for the days it would be sitting on the ground).
Johannesburg to Cape Town is well within the limits of the Sling4 – range is around 750nm and with a flight plan distance of 665nm this would be easily doable. The prevailing winds tend to flow west to east so this would reduce the range somewhat and my personal limits call for never landing with less than an hour’s fuel in the tanks so a refuelling stop would be required along the way. I settled on FATP – New Tempe in Bloemfontein – about 95min flying time from Johannesburg.
Date of Flight
9 November 2018
FATA(Tedderfield)- FATP(New Tempe)
The plan was to leave just after sunup on the Friday morning. The plan was thwarted by various delays including me leaving my snacks behind and having to source some more food for the trip. By the time I departed Tedderfield the sun was well up – I need to plane better and arrive earlier – prefilghting and the other admin related stuff I had to do delayed me too much.
The flight to New Tempe is 200 odd nautical miles – easy airspace – and with not a hill in sight – the air was clear and smooth and I thought this was going to be an easy trip. And it was – at least as far as FATP.
Upon arrival at FATP New Tempe I fuelled up (sadly only Avgas available) – 41litres used for the 200nm trip – around 10Gallons. Some R66 turbine helicopters were also fuelling up – one of the pilots was wearing the whitest Flight suit I have ever seen. The equivalent of a white tuxedo.
Date of Flight
9 November 2018
FATP(New Tempe) to Morningstar
By the time breakfast had been consumed it had got very hot, so I was pretty stoked to be on my way again. Bloemfontein cleared me straight through their airspace which was a plus – but then the turbulence started in earnest and even climbing to FL105 didn’t help much. This part of the world is renowned for its gliding conditions and its easy to see why – had updrafts in excess of 600fpm at times! My smooth sailing plan was but a memory and I was basically holding on for dear life at times. Having a loaded weight of about 600kg doesn’t help when its bumpy. For the first time I was glad I was alone – I can’t see passengers enjoying this too much!
Still, the discomfort was more than made up for by the views and the starkness of the scenery. We settled down at about 125-130kTAS which worked out to about 110-115 kts GS – not too shabby. It’s no Mooney but it does the job.
Then it was time to get down. Under the category of “if you don’t ask…” I requested a VFR transition through the Cape Town TMA – the reason for this is that their TMA is 2000ft AGL and the mountains in the area while not high are certainly intimidating to some extent and permission to transit the TMA would keep me higher for longer and allow a more gradual descent while being well clear of the mountains. Fortunately they were happy to allow this and my arrival into Morningstar airport was very straightforward.
Upon arrival at Morningstar I tied IBM down and then tried to put the canvas canopy cover on. I wish I had a camera for this. The wind was howling from the starboard side of the plane and every time I had the canopy in place and I walked round to tie it on it would blow off. Eventually I stuffed it INTO the cockpit and covered everything with it. For reasons best known to the manufacturer it has Velcro straps which are entirely inadequate for the SouthEaster.
This was the furthest I’ve ever flown myself, my longest single leg, my longest trip and the first time at two new airports. A good day’s flying! 4h at FL105 with a DA of 12500ft took it out of me somewhat – I do carry a pulse oximeter in the aircraft and used it regularly – never below 91% but still I was exhausted.
Feels like ages since I managed to sit down and write a post.
So. Where are we in this journey? Well, I’m excited to report that I have made significant progress this month after 3weeks of not flying. The first two flights were not stellar – on the first we were hounded by a localized Cb cell which looked like it was going to park itself right over the field so we bailed and came back early – still it was an intro to the routing to and from the General Flying area which in the congested airspace of Johannesburg is a little fiddly. On the second we had surface temperatures of 33 Celsius and one of the older aircraft – a few of whose horses had escaped over the years. Let’s just say it was interesting. DA on the ground was 7740ft (off a 4520′ elevation field) and we could not climb over 7500′ so we were understandably a little twitchy about high angle of attack flying..
Which brings me to what we are doing in my PPL training at the moment. I have escaped the circuit after taking 17h of circuits to solo and then completing 3h solo in the circuit. Now we are back to the general flying area and doing steep turns (45deg), revising stalls and also doing diversions, forced landings and precautionary landings. This is all in preparation for the next milestone in training which is going solo again but to the general flying area this time.
Solo GF requires a good understanding of the airspace structure and the routing to and from the airfield. It is necessary to report Zone outbound from the CTA, then transit the Johannesburg Special Rules West airspace and from there into the general flying area (which has it’s own frequency). At the same time there are a number of prohibited areas which must be avoided and a shelf on the TMA (the yellow shaded area) from 6500-7400′ which is very easy to bust.
Fortunately the general flying area extends from the ground to FL100 so there is a lot of space once there – although it too can be quite crowded and some folks are, how shall we put it, a little deficient in their position reports. This means eyes on stalks all the time.
We usually start with some stalling revision – clean and dirty and all the way to the break (because if you’re not going to actually stall the aircraft what is the point of calling it stall practice?), then some steep turns which I was somewhat disappointed to find that we only have to turn at 45deg and not 60deg (60deg turns are required for the Commercial Rating) and thereafter the forced and precautionary landings. I’m finding the steep turns a little bit difficult – it seems to be quite difficult to feel the nose slipping and there is a lot more back pressure required on the stick than I was expecting. The books all say that you need to be looking around during the turns but I’m finding that I end up looking up and in the turn direction more than anywhere else – this may be a function of the G forces which I’m not accustomed to…
The forced landings are fairly routine – much like the EFATO scenario but with a LOT more time to plan and usually many more options in terms of potential landing sites. The gliding characteristics of the SR20 are not unlike those of a small brick but if anything I’m finding that I’m arriving high and having to do S-turns and/or slips to reduce altitude sufficiently to be able to make a rational approach. Of course, from these altitudes (2500-3000ft AGL), were we to have a real engine failure the correct approach would be to deploy the CAPS and ride down under the chute.
The precautionary landings too are quite fun – once you have the procedure down – but the workload is quite high especially on a high end afternoon with LOTS of turbulence and rotors from the nearby hills – it’s easy to forget a step – high level 800ft at right angles to field, 500ft low level inspection on the upwind parallel to the field, back up to 800ft for downwind checks, pax briefing and radio calls then simulated shutdown once on base to final turn and all followed by a go-around at about 200ft AGL.
When I’m solo in the GF doing the practice for all this we aren’t supposed to descend below 500ft AGL at any point so the high level is done at 1200 AGL, low level at 800 and go-around at 600 – it’s more the procedure than anything else that needs practice as it is impossible to practice landing into a maize field ….
I’ve also managed to pick up a few more exams in the interim – left now with only one – Human Factors and performance (which should be a breeze given the basic level of physiology required). Then it’s time to finish the solo GF time (5h), navigation and cross country exercises and then time for the PPL test – it’s looking like late March at the moment – but we’ll take it one day and one nm at a time..
Yesterday was supposed to be a fly day. My flight school (Cirrus Training at Lanseria) books 2h slots for an hour lesson and 2h slot for an hour briefing (for those lessons that need a briefing) before. We were scheduled to do the “straight and level” briefing and then fly the exercise.
A briefing is essentially a one-on-one tutorial covering an aspect of flight which then followed by a flying lesson where the concepts are solidified and demonstrated. I had 9h00 to 13h00 carved out for this. I really look forward to the lessons – so from Thursday I was keeping an eye on the meteosat images (for approaching fronts) and from Friday, watching the METAR and TAF for Lanseria (FALA). For those not in the know – the METAR is a coded report on the current weather and the TAF is essentially a long term (16-24h) outlook on the weather to come.
So keeping an eye on both gives you an idea about the conditions at the airfield. IF they are created at the airfield. (Which I suspect they may not be….) Driving in on Saturday morning the ground frequency reports were indicating ground fog and haze with a visibility of 5000m – with the airfield operating in instrument meteorological conditions (IMC) – despite a METAR which suggested CAVOK (Ceiling and Visual OK). Interestingly weather at home was severe clear but at FALA not so much. I suspect it has a lot to do with the informal settlements in the area – when it’s cold there is a lot of heating by burning wood etc and because the field lies in a bit of a valley the pollution gets trapped under the inversion layer.
No problem I think… give it an hour or so and it’ll burn off / blow away. So we start our brief. The brief is, in a word, hectic. I’m not sure how people without some physics in their education manage. Also, I was very much under the impression that I understood lift and drag. Apparently I didn’t. But thanks to some very intense (my instructor takes the briefings seriously and explains things well – lots of colors(!)) lectures I can now expound on induced and profile drag, Centre of Gravity:centre of pressure couples and my personal fave… Power Required Curves.
Straight and level briefing done, we stick our heads out onto the apron and… get blown back into the office. Yes, it’s clearing. BUT now there is 25kts blowing across the runway. Demonstrated cross wind landing limit in the Cirrus SR20 is 26kts. ( Instructor’s comment was that this should not be regarded as something achievable but was demonstrated by test pilots) Guess we aren’t going flying. We decided to knock out some more briefings – this will decrease the amount of time I’ll need to carve out for future lessons. We did Climbing. Then Descending. Then Turns. FOUR hours of briefing.
I’d consider the morning adequately seized. Could we have flown? Maybe. Would it have been safe? No. The ONE thing I am absolutely determined to do is to train safe, and then fly safe. I really like the school’s approach to safety. My instructor and I see eye-to-eye on safety. The aircraft has great safety features. Is General Aviation dangerous? Maybe. But when I read the accident reports, it’s usually quite easy to see what went wrong. And a lot of the time it’s flying in marginal weather. So we reschedule the flying. I can fly any day. But only if I’ve made good decisions on marginal days….. Blue skies….