Cross Country flying

Back to Cape Town

About 2 and a bit years ago I took myself and my new(to me) Sling down to Cape Town. This was the last time I had been able to do a big cross country flight so I was quite pleased when the opportunity presented itself for another tax deductible flying trip to the Mother City.

The process of planning for such a flight (680nm) isn’t difficult – the main issue would be whether or not the weather would be conducive – fortunately late Feb/early March are good times to fly with the risk of thunderstorms having lowered and before the winter cold fronts start rolling in. With the full price commercial (easily refundable) tickets booked as backups, I was still pleased to see the weather looking clear for the flight down. The only wrinkle was the wind. Which was blowing. Like crazy.

DateAircraftRouteFlight TimeTotal Time
20 Feb 2021ZU-IBMFAGM(Rand) – FATP(New Tempe) – Morningstar7.3260.6

The forecast called for the wind at FL85 to be 30kts on the nose and just getting worse above that, so I decided to flight plan at FL65 which is a LOT lower than I would like to fly. We (I was able to return a favor and give one of the chaps in the JLPC a lift down to Cape Town) decided to make an early start so we could fuel at Bloemfontein New Tempe (FATP) and still get in before it got too late.

Aerial view - north west Free Satte
Some lakes near Kroonstadlots of rain this summer!

The flight from Rand to Bloemfontein was uneventful – smooth air and only around 10-12kts headwind at FL85. We had breakfast and fed the fuel tanks on IBM at New Tempe which took a little bit longer than I’d hoped so it was 10am by the time we lifted off from FATP.

Victoria West
The bustling metropolis of Victoria West from 6500ft

FL65 is pretty low for a Karoo crossing – it gives you between 1000 and 1500ft of clearance over most of the terrain but the net result is that it can be a little bit turbulent – we decided to live with the turbulence to avoid the headwinds – unfortunately we did have 25kts on the nose the whole way down – 500nm at 100kts GS is not a huge amount of fun.

Karoo from the air
Anywhere, Karoo, South Africa

As the terrain started to rise approaching the Cape Fold mountains we drifted up to FL85. Cape Town Approach kindly offered us descent through the TMA (Class B) which we accepted gladly to keep away from the mountains over which some small lenticuloform clouds were starting to develop… Mountain waves and small aircraft are not good friends.

Getting closer to the end of the Karoo
Approaching Tulbagh and Ceres – FL085
Tulbagh Valley on descent

Touchdown at Morningstar was at about 13h45 – about as late as we’d expected – giving us almost 7h of flight time Johannesburg to Cape Town – still better than driving and a lot more fun than flying commercial.

sling 4 at Morningstar Airfield Cape Town
Obligatory photo – we made it
Farm dam - PAARL

I had a week at a course on a wine farm in the Paarl area which was tough….


Weather for the return flight was forecast to be clear but clouding over and stormy later in the day so I again was to make an early start. After the (unnecessarily complicated) palaver of getting the hired car back and then Ubering to Morningstar I lifted off at 06h30.

DateAircraftRouteFlight TimeTotal Time
27 Feb 2021ZU-IBMMorningstar – FATP – FAGM(Rand)6.8267.4

Interestingly, the flight school there uses Sling 2 aircraft and theirs are all painted the same yellow as mine is – and three of them were in the queue to depart behind me!

Wheat fields near Malmesbury
Climbing out over wheat fields near Malmesbury

Cape Town ATC once again were very accommodating and allowed me to climb direct to FL135 – it was time to use the oxygen cannula in anger.

Impossible to look cool with these things on….

It was a 30minute climb to 13500 but well worth it – my hopes of a tailwind were dashed but at least there was no headwind and I could make a solid 124kts over the ground. Conditions up there were fantastic – glassy smooth air and 5deg Celsius – very comfortable for cruising.

Western Cape mountains
Massive solar farms near Aliwal North

I was tempted to fly over Bloemfontein and attempt to make it back to Rand in one leg but given the risk of cloud and storm development I wanted the options that extra fuel would buy me. It was with great sadness that I vacated FL135 and began the descent into Tempe – I was very glad I had been able to curse high because passing through FL95 was like flipping the switch to turn on the turbulence. I did a ‘splash-and-dash’ and was soon on my way again after 25min on the ground at FATP.

Typical Cumulus with haze underneath – turbulence not shown

Sadly by this stage I couldn’t climb higher than FL75 due to the broken layer of cumulus clouds which was developing – but the leg is only 175nm so it wasn’t unmanageable.

I was still glad to report over RD and get my joining and landing instructions into Rand – where the chaps had been doing a practice Nav rally – so I was number 5 on finals……. Just what you need after a solid 5.75 in the cockpit…..

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