I was supposed to fly to Middelburg(FAMB) this afternoon to camp at the AeroClub of SA Airweek being held there this weekend. The weather, it seems, had other ideas.
I was delayed by 30min at work this morning and by the time I arrived at the airfield the storm line was developing. I hung around finding things to do on the plane until 16h00 local by which stage I could probably have found a route but the flying time would have meant an after dark arrival – and I’m not night current at the moment – not landing at an unfamiliar field at night thank you very much.
To say that the year thus far has not been great for flying is no understatement. As soon as MGL Avionics opened this year I sent my EFiS in for hardware upgrade and that took 2 weeks – where I (obviously couldn’t fly). As that came back and it was re-installed, the wet season arrived with a bang. We’ve been laboring under a ridge of high pressure which has been driving warm moist air from the Mozambique Channel down over Gauteng with resultant overcast and showers. In fact we had about 3 weeks of continual 7/8 to OVC (mostly on the weekends). However, the first signs of the late summer/early autumn period are starting and we’ve had a week or so of fantastic flying weather.
We thought we’d take advantage of this and do the “Sunday fly out to breakfast” thing. This was to be the first time we’d all gone flying as a family and would be a good test of IBM’s load carrying capacity. It should be noted that she’s no Cherokee 235 but with a useful load of 465kg four up is definitely a viable option.
Sunday dawned clear despite the forecast high overcast, so we loaded up and set off for the airfield. The preflight was accomplished fairly quickly thanks to my two helpers who are getting quite good at removing the plugs, covers and the 40kg of water ballast I keep in the rear when flying solo. After the obligatory fiddle with the goPro’s we were able to start up.
Route of Flight
24 Feb 2019
FASY(Baragwanath) – GAV – FAPY(Parys, FS) GAV – FASY
There was a fair amount of activity on the field as we taxied out – someone was preflighting a Samba XL, my neighbor across the taxiway was (still) fighting with the autopilot in his Jabiru and someone was doing circuits in a Robin. For only the second time since I moved to BaraG winds were favoring runway 13 and we launched without issue. I expected a significantly longer takeoff roll being four up but it wasn’t a big issue – what did get my attention was the slower climb performance – my usual stick deflection produced a Vx climb at 65KIAS as opposed to the more routine 75KIAS but there is a ridge to the south of the airfield which needs to be crossed….
Having negotiated the ridge we made a leisurely climb to 7000ft, progressed through the surprisingly quiet GF and made our way to Parys. There are only about 20nm between the edge of the Special Rules Area (7000ft southbound) and Parys, but we needed an even flight level – and for reasons best known to myself, I asked Info South for FL85 which meant that 2min after reaching, I was asking for descent. (It would have been more clever to ask for FL065
Parys was busy with a Baron back taxiing and two gyros inbound. I performed a textbook unmanned join, with an extended downwind to allow the Baron to depart and landed with the two gyrocopters hot on my heels. Then we had a humorous moment where the only taxiway off the runway was blocked by an aircraft taxiing out – this required some negotiation but fortunately we are all nice folks…
The restaurant at Parys has recently been put under new management and is now called Montgolfier’s. It’s very relaxed, cool and comfortable with a great view of the temporary parking and runway. Food is reasonably priced and tasty, service is as quick as you’d expect for a leisurely Sunday breakfast – all in all a great experience.
As we started up to head home, the gliders were being pulled out, so we weren’t too surprised that it was a little bumpy – nothing unmanageable of course, but the thermals were starting up. Back at BaraG we landed uneventfully again on RWY 13 (The Sling LOVES a rear CG for landing – #Wheeliesfordays!).
For a first time family trip, it was great – and the rear seat passengers remarked that they’d be prepared to spend more time back there..
All good things must come to an end and this includes congresses – well, OK, being at a congress (even one dedicated to anaesthetising small people) is not as good as not being at a congress when in Cape Town, but it was still worthwhile.
There was a huge amount going on from a social point of view but was able to have dinner with an old friend and her family and also to have the most expensive cocktails I have ever drunk – I know it’s Cape Town but R130 for a Mojito is somewhat excessive – it is one of the trendiest spots in town though and the views and architecture made up for the cost of the drinks (almost!)
I’d deliberately left an extra day to get back – my plan was, if the weather looked at all dubious on the Monday, I’d aim to fly halfway back on Sunday afternoon, use the night rating to land late in Bloemfontein and sleep over and hop home on the Monday. My weather guy seemed confident that weather would be excellent on the Monday – with the proviso I left early ( 0600 local). This seemed to me like an excellent plan – despite the logistical problems of accessing the airfield at that time (beyond the scope of this piece).
I was surprised to wake up to a thin layer of cloud, which got thicker as I descended down from Rondebosch to the peninsula and headed north to Morningstar. The logistical issues of accessing the airfield at 06h00 were left by the wayside as conditions were low IMC with 1000m visibility but, annoyingly the clouds would break up every few minutes to reveal that the layer was temptingly thin. I could feel the get-home-itis starting to build. It would be very easy to blast through a hole in the clouds, but what if I needed to return? I doubted I’d be able to find the field again, so in consultation with the weather briefer we decided to wait 2hours. This allowed ample time for a very thorough preflight, at least 2 pre departure visits to the bathroom and sorting out returning the hired car to the AMO/FBO.
At 8h30 there was much more blue sky than low cloud and I decided the time was now. I taxied out, did my run up and launched off of 02. Climbing through 300ft the EGTs all climbed rapidly through 1100deg – well into the red. It took me about 3 seconds to decide that I was not continuing with this – reported returning to the circuit and got IBM onto the ground as soon and as safely as I could – I will confess that my circuit was not textbook but I was keeping it tight in case the engine quit. Bizarrely the power output felt ok and there was no roughness at all.
I had the AMO check it out – they ground ran it, and then we test flew the plane again – we were unable to replicate the problem. A possible theory was carburettor icing (there is no carb heat on the Sling and conditions were favourable for development of carb ice) but there was no discernible power loss so I’m sceptical of that. Another theory is that I didn’t put the mags completely back to BOTH but again, I don’t believe this and once again no issue with power. So I’m at a loss as to what happened, but there have been no abnormal indications since then.
Date of Flight
12 November 2018
Morningstar to FATA(Tedderfield)
The nett result of all of this is that it was 10h15 local when I departed, a good 4 hours later than I had wanted. I was hoping for a smoother ride than coming down but was to be disappointed. Initially the air was fantastic and I was settling in for an easy trip but as I approached Sutherland the thermal activity started with a vengeance, as it had on the trip down. I climbed to FL95, where the density altitude was 12750ft – I didn’t believe I could justify a climb to FL115 without supplemental oxygen, so I was properly stuck.
It may be something I need to get used to and there may well be a technique to riding the thermals to get maximum efficiency. I think it may be easier in an aircraft that cruises below Va – the Sling will easily cruise in the yellow band – I was having episodes where I was 5-7.5deg nose down, climbing at 700fpm and rapidly approaching Vne, so I would pull throttle to idle, ride out the thermal and then try to time reapplication of throttle to not end up on the back side of the power curve – occasionally I needed to put the prop into climb and once had to put the throttle though the ‘gate’ to 115% power to not sink. This suggested to me that I was not only contending with updrafts but downdrafts as well.
This continued for the rest of the trip – to say it was tiring is an understatement. I was again fortunate to be cleared through the Kimberly (FAKM) TMA which cut about 30miles off the trip. Most worryingly for me and the primary reason why I chose not to stop and take a break was the possibility of thunderstorm development. I was overhead Kimberley at about 13h45 local and had planned to already be in my car driving home from the airport by that stage.
Looking at the radar download I could see that there were some cells starting up so I elected to continue. Approaching Potchefstroom there were definitely cells but they were isolated so was able to manoeuvre my way around them – it is so tempting to fly underneath them but there was a lot of Virga about and I know well that that implies severe downdrafts – best avoided. So we picked our way through the cells. Typically I was unable to raise any cell signal to download the current radar pictures – man I wish we had a decent ADS-B in solution provided here. ATC was fairly noncommittal, “yes there are some buildups but they don’t look too hectic” – easy to say sitting in a comfortable chair.
Finally I was able to call overhead Tedderfield – had a bit of a fiddly landing as the gusts were starting up prior to a storm arriving but safely down and then the big job of unloading the aircraft.
5.9hours in a single leg is a long flight – it would have been better with less turbulence. I learned some important lessons though – leave as early as possible if possible, and rather leave a day earlier if there is any doubt about the weather. If I was to do this trip again (I’m sure I will), I will land at Cape Town international (FACT), suck up the higher landing fees and then be able to (a) access the aircraft whenever needed and (b) be able to depart before sunrise (Morningstar has no airfield lighting).
For a first long cross country trip I think it went really well. It had moments of frustration and times when I was quite anxious about the effects of the turbulence on continued flight. But that feeling when your destination comes into view after a long trip and you know you’ve made it? It’s fantastic.
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.