flying johannesburg Light Plane Club

Poker Run

The iconic SAAF birds on poles at Bara – Image Andre Venter (Flightline Weekly)

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.

Fournier RF-4

To celebrate this it was decided to have a poker run. To the uninitiated a poker run is an event borrowed from motor cycle clubs where participants travel from venue to venue collecting playing cards until they have 5 cards. The team (or in this case, the aircraft) with the best poker hand at the end wins. It’s a great excuse to travel to 4 other airports on a Saturday morning and to show some enthusiasm for the august institution that is the JLPC.


Turnout may have been somewhat impaired by the gala dinner the night before which I was unable to attend due to on-call duties. Still, there were 5 or 6 aircraft waiting to start at the appointed time of 09h00 local. Unfortunately the aircraft that was to proceed ahead of the the bunch and hand out the cards was unstartable so we were delayed.

The route to be flown would be from Baragwanath to Krugersdorp (HMS Krugersdorp) then to Tedderfield(FATA) , thence to Vereeniging (FAVV) and finally to Parys (FAPY) before finishing back at Baragwanath. Because I needed to be at a prize giving for my daughter (who won a poetry competition for writing the best poem by a 5th Grader in Johannesburg), I headed off first.

Date Aircraft Route Flight Duration Total Hours
16 November 2019 ZU-IBM FASY(Baragwanath) – FAKR (Krugersdorp) – FATA(Tedderfield) – FAVV(Vereeniging) – FAPY(Parys) – FASY 2.3 180.8
Krugersdorp FAKR from the West – the more friendly approach end – Image by Andre Venter (Flightline Weekly)

It’s about 15nm from Baragwanath to Krugersdorp. Krugersdorp’ s Jack Taylor Airfield (#32) (FAKR) is another of those fields with a reputation. It is perched on a ridge and can feel like an aircraft carrier when approaching from the east – it’s short and downhill and has caught many a pilot out. We did our windsock inspection and decided on the approach from the east. Suffice it to say that the wind at the threshold of Runway 26 bore zero resemblance to the midfield windsock. The chap we collected the card from (3 of diamonds) was surprised we’d landed with a tailwind and suggested that we may be better using 08 for the departure. Despite the limp windsock at midfield, we took his advice. And were soon en route to Tedderfield.

Zlin 526 ZS- WTA

With one tricky field behind us we could concentrate on Tedderfield – which can be a handful if the wind is (as is almost always the case) blowing from the north. Fortunately today it was more down the runway and we weren’t faced with the looming hill to the left of the final approach to runway 29. There is no taxiway at FATA so we quickly backtracked to the hangar designated for card collection and picked out a Jack of Spades, continued our backtrack and were able to enter the run up bay before Alan in his Super Cub made it onto short final.

Alan’s Piper Supercub ZU-ASI – Image Andre Venter (Flightline Weekly)

Next we set course for Vereeniging – a field I know quite well which is fortunately blessed with 2 runways at 90deg to each other so no need for a severe crosswind landing. By this stage it was 11am and the thermals were starting to pick up. A quick stop at the fuel bay where we had to shut down and go looking for the card dispenser who was catching some shade behind a hangar, and we were on our way, clutching our (disappointing) 10 of Hearts.

Then for the longest leg – the 35nm hop to Parys – where I treated the (busy Saturday morning) restaurant crowd to a demonstration of the adage “You can always go around…” when we caught a big gust about 5feet off the runway and Miss Daisy decided she didn’t really feel like landing. This is not an aircraft to force onto the runway so we took power, trimmed for the climb and pulled up the flaps to have another look. Fortunately this venue wears handing out cards from behind the bar (4 of hearts) so I took the opportunity to grab a quick Coke. One day I’ll remember to bring a bottle of water on board to drink….

Sadly, the entertainment laid on by yours truly for the benefit of the Restaurant patrons was not yet finished. I simply could NOT get her to start. The Rotax 914 has dual Bing carbs which sit above the exhaust manifolds, so fuel vaporization is a real issue when shutting down a hot engine. The procedure I use is before shutting down to put the fuel selector in the off position, turn off the fuel pumps and let her run until she gets rough and then cut the ignition (there is no mixture control to cut).

On this occasion though I don’t believe I let this go on long enough. So she wouldn’t start. And then I flooded the carbs, whereafter she definitely wasn’t going to start. After what felt like a lifetime we sputtered into life and were able to set sail for Baragwanath where for once there was not a breath of wind and I was able to finish the rally with a greaser. Arriving at the clubhouse we selected our last card – the Jack of Diamonds(!) – giving us a pair of Jacks for the morning’s work. As it turns out this was the winning hand so my bar tab at the clubhouse pub looks a little fatter than it did before.

All in all, a great day’s flying. However, I made a few mistakes which I proceeded to flagellate myself with over the next few days. I took off flaps up at Krugersdorp and the debacle of the flooded engine reduced the enjoyment of the day to some extent. However, the no flap incident, while in my mind unforgivable, wasn’t a safety issue as there is more than enough power and runway available for a flaps up landing. But what it did highlight for me is that I have a tendency for poor checklist discipline when doing the second takeoff of a flight where I haven’t shut down. I have identified this as a problem and have resolved to do a full checklist based run up for EVERY takeoff even when the engine has not been shut down. I know this is bread and butter stuff but having the attitude of only needing to do a partial checklist because ‘the run up is already done’ is obviously a weak point for me.

I tend to be a very harsh critic of my own flying, especially in retrospect. The next one will be better (it was). At least this can be classed as a learning experience – that’s one measure from the luck jar placed into the experience jar.

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