flying General

On being flexible

The reality of single engine piston operations is that one tends to be at the mercy of the vagaries of the weather. This shouldn’t be news to anyone really but it was brought home to me last weekend on an attempted flight to meet a friend for a quick coffee at Rustenburg (FARG).

After some days of marginal weather (and, it must be noted, some spectacular weather weekends where there was simply no time to fly), it finally looked like my schedule and CAVOK were lining up. The plan was to fly from Baragwanath to Rustenburg, have a coffee and head back.

Date Aircraft Route Flight Duration Total Hours
16 February 2020 ZU-IBM FASY(Baragwanath) – FAPY(Parys) – FASY 1.7 194.2

As I launched from Bara, I noticed that there was a bank of cloud that had appeared to the north – he direction in which I was planning to go. No problem, it seemed to be scattered and low, and clear beyond so my plan was to climb above the layer and then descend in the clear beyond the cloud.


Unfortunately, as I climbed toward the cloud bank, it became obvious that the tops were at 7500ft. The top of the special rules airspace is at 7600ft. Above that is the Johannesburg TMA which, on a VFR flight plan you will never get clearance to enter. No problem, i thought, I’ll simply go below the clouds. There is provision to fly low level inside the special rules airspace and the layer was only about 500ft thick so I decided to have a look. I even flew west for about 15nm before turning north. I always find it quite surreal flying with cloud on one side of the aircraft and CAVU on the other side..

going under…

Descending below the clouds I was sure that there was definitely enough vertical clearance to avoid ground based obstacles at 1500ft AGL and still keep 500ft below the cloud base. I continued north. However, that little feeling of unease one gets was starting up, and there seemed to be some lowering of the base concomitant with the approach of one of the ridges I’d have to cross to get over the Magaliesberg.

Looking more marginal

It took me about a minute longer than it should have to decide to do a 180 and head back – fortunately at no point was I in IMC and the cloud at this point was probably closer to overcast than broken. One could question the decision to proceed under the base and have a look see, but the back door was always there with 100% clear weather to the south and I felt it was worth a look.


Some introspection about confidence is probably required – 50 hours ago I wouldn’t have tried to go under. Whether this indicates increasing confidence or decreasing risk aversion is difficult to elucidate. I went as far as I was comfortable to go with the knowledge that I could always turn back. In a different geographical location that decision would have been otherwise.

I think this is what they call a ‘helicopter’

Exiting from under the cloud bank I set course for the old favourite spot, Parys where I pulled off one of my best ever landings in the Sling to make the balance of the flight turn to the positive side. A simple but tasty breakfast, an easy flight home with some Vaal River sightseeing and another greaser at Bara? Yeah, I’ll take that. Any day.

cruising along the Vaal River

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