Look, I’m all in favour of boring holes in the sky for the sake of flying. There’s nothing wrong with flying with no particular purpose in mind, flying for proficiency, practicing holds and tracking radials, stalling, steep turns, power off 180s etc. But occasionally we get to fly for something bigger, more important. Sadly, this usually happens because something horrible has taken place.
On Sunday last week we started to hear reports of trucks being stopped on the main highway between Durban on the coast and Johannesburg in the interior. These trucks were being burned and the road was blocked ostensibly in protest against foreign nationals being employed as truck drivers (at least, this has been the root cause when similar has occurred in the past). By Monday, protests had spread, and widespread looting was occurring in the coastal province of Kwazulu Natal – shopping malls were being overrun by looters who, after they’d relieved the businesses therein of all their saleable goods, started burning the malls, burning logistics warehouses, pharmaceutical supply stores and threatening entry into the suburbs. The biggest refinery in the country was forced to close down. Similar outbreaks of looting and violence occurred in small areas of our province Gauteng. The reasons for this action are probably irrelevant to this post but probably represent some sort of attempt to create either an insurrection or a coup d’etat.
The net result of this was that large parts of the province were left without basic foodstuff and medicine, the COVID vaccination process was halted in both KZN and our province, and the country as a whole was left reeling. By Thursday the protests were abating and some calm had resumed, although the main route between the provinces was still closed. Food and supplies were in very short supply in KZN and long queues had developed at grocery stores and fuel stations. Enter General Aviation. On Thursday morning a couple of initiatives sprung up to transport food and medicine by air into KwaZulu Natal (KZN). A general call went out to people who had airplanes or access to aircraft and by the end of the day a large chat group had sprung up with people offering their airplanes and much discussion back and forth about how much and from which airports goods could be taken.
Work and my aircraft being in Annual (more on this later) meant I wasn’t able to volunteer until Saturday morning. By this time, reports were coming in of the highway being re-opened and I wondered if there would still be need for the GA food delivery.. On Friday I had been asked if I could transport 120kg of food and meds to the northern KZN town of Richard’s Bay. By Saturday morning this request hadn’t been rescinded so I headed out to the airfield. On arrival, I found our hangar abuzz – two of the resident C182’s and Roger’s Turbo Arrow were being loaded to the gills with food, baby formula and other essentials.
I was still waiting for my plane to be delivered from Tedderfield so I hung around and chatted while the loading happened. I waved the three aircraft off and made firm plans to get my aircraft. Unfortunately, there were one or two small issues still to be dealt with so the Sling test pilot Sean Russel offered to fetch me from Rand in one of the TSi’s and take me to Tedderfield.
This was a fantastic opportunity to experience the Sling TSi. To put it mildy, my mind was blown. The wing is shorter with a longer chord and the ride through the bumps is just so much better than mine. The takeoff performance is, well… staggering – we did a short field takeoff, 3 up, 70% tanks and she was off the ground in 130m. The Garmin G3x avionics suite is also quite something when compared to my (very functional) basic MGL EFiS. Something to dream about in future….
The annual inspection was a little more pricey than I had hoped for but they ended up doing a bit more work than the basic annual inspection and oil change – I needed two new tires, one of the alternator belts needed replacing and, bizarrely I needed to new carb floats – these apparently become fuel saturated over time and gain weight…
Anyway, I was able to extricate my plane from annual and quickly accomplished the 6minute flight back to Rand Airport where my consignment was waiting for me. Fortunately the chap from Ubuntuflight (the group running some of the airlift) had weighed the boxes and we crammed them into IBM. It’s important when flying this sort of mission not to let the (perceived) urgency or need for delivery overcome good airmanship and I was careful to check and double check the weight and balance – especially since I had planned to have one box on the copilot seat which we decided was not a great idea in case it fell forward onto the stick.
With 3 of the 4 boxes on the back seats and one in the rear baggage compartment we were well to the rear of the envelope but still within limits provided I departed with full fuel. In the Sling the C/G moves rearward as fuel is burned – landing with empty tanks would have put me out of the envelope. Fuel capacity is 164 litres and I planned 65 litres for the outbound trip. I was advised that no fuel was available at Richards Bay but this wouldn’t be an issue – I’d be empty on the way back and tankering fuel seemed to be the best option.
|17 July 2021
|FAGM(Rand) – FARB (Richards Bay) – Rand (548nm)
Having hoped to be wheels up at 1000 local, I refiled my flightplan for 1200 and departed into the clear winter sky over Rand. Somewhat atypically for mid winter it was quite turbulent and I was glad be emerge from under the Johannesburg TMA and request my climb to FL135.
I love flying high – I feel that if a flight is more than 200nm I’m quite happy to get up into the oxygen levels – at FL135 it was beautifully smooth with only the slightest 5knot tailwind – giving me about 135kts over the ground. I think writing “Humanitarian flight” in the comments on the flight plan does assist with getting priority handling through the controlled airspace and ATC allowed me to stay at altitude until the last minute.
I was glad to get down though – it was COLD at altitude. The rear C/G helped with a greaser at Richard’s Bay’s 8000ft long runway and the people who were receiving the goods were waiting for me. They were the only other souls on the airfield. It was most definitely CLOSED.
Not even the bathroom was unlocked, so I explored the idea of every tree being, well…. A lavatory and then hopped back into the plane. A troupe of monkeys had invaded the area between the taxiway and the runway and they glared balefully at me as I taxied past them.
Sadly the tailwind from the outbound leg hadn’t miraculously become a tailwind for the return leg but this didn’t detract from the trip back. What did detract was the due west routing and the sun setting in my face the whole way. I was able to rig a jersey into the door handle but this quite severely restricted forward visibility, and I was glad when the sun finally set.
This is the benefit of being night current – landing after sunset was not an issue.
The fact that 20 odd mercy flights had left the airport for destinations in KZN on that Saturday meant that the airfield had run out of Avgas shortly after my departure so there were no students cluttering the pattern. 550nm in an afternoon.. and it had been a breeze.
|20 July 2021
|FAGM(Rand) – FAVG (Virginia Airfield – Durban) – Rand (580nm)
Many of us had been of the opinion that, with the roads opening and the violence/looting halted, the civilian airlift would no longer be required. The GA airfield in Durban (Virginia) had accommodated 85 general aviation flights per day from the Johannesburg/Pretoria region on the Friday, Saturday and Sunday. On the Monday many more flights went down as well, and I received a call around midday asking if I would be prepared to do another flight on the Tuesday, into Virginia this time. The load was to be 100kg of essential medical supplies and one or two personal items. Another excuse to fly? OK, if I must……Fortunately my morning had opened up (funny how that works with COVID) and I planned to be back by lunchtime. I picked up the load on Monday evening and set off at 5am from home.
As part of the measures ‘to control violence’ the government in their infinite wisdom had decided that it was illegal to fill containers with fuel at gas stations. After some protest from just about everyone with a brain they adjusted the rule to allow only the filling of ‘approved containers’. Unfortunately, this message didn’t seem to percolate down to the guys running the fuel stations – I had to go to three before someone reluctantly agreed to give me 50l of 95 Octane unleaded. I had hoped to get 100L but it was such a mission to get the first 50L that I wasn’t prepared to delay any further. Still no AVGAS at Rand (well certainly not at that time of the morning) so I recalculated my fuel burn and figured out that I’d be able to easily (and with a good reserve) make Virginia. I would put in fuel there for the trip back – less than ideal as I would prefer to tanker fuel but in a bind you have to make do.
This did cause some issues with loading the aircraft – with only half tanks departing I wasn’t able to use the baggage compartment for the load so I had to stuff it ALL onto the back seat – otherwise my W/b would have been completely out by the time we landed. It would have been great to have had a copilot for the trip if only for the added weight on the front right seat…
As I taxied out and activated my flightplan, the controller came back with my squawk – 0666. “Are you happy with the squawk code?”, she asked. What could I say? Why wouldn’t I be? I did have a little chuckle to myself when I realised that some people would have a problem with that particular number…
IBM climbed strongly through the cold morning winter air and soon we were back up on oxygen again at FL135 – making a good 135KTAS at 24.5litres per hour with a 15kt tailwind. The flight to Durban is actually easier than I have always imagined it to be – with the exception of the complicated controlled airspace which they were not going to let me fly through. The upshot is that you end up to the northeast of Virginia airfield, about 30 miles inland, whereafter you have to track about 40 miles south and then only head for the coastline – descending in a stepwise fashion throughout – at the same time keeping a wary eye for aircraft climbing away from the coast on THE EXACT SAME ROUTE (??) (OK, keeping right of the linear features but still – I don’t trust people to do that..).
Of added concern is that the controllers at King Shaka International actually want you 500ft BELOW their airspace – I got called out on the return flight for “looking as though I may bust the airspace” – In Johannesburg we routinely fly in our special use airspace at 100ft below controlled airspace….
Still, the approach although it seems long, is not unattractive – lots of villages and settlements on verdant hills, lakes and then the approach is over the harbour and the ‘golden mile’ of Durban beachfront onto a seaward side downwind for runway 23.
Whereas Richard’s Bay was deadly quiet, Virginia was absolutely heaving – I made contact with my people there and we offloaded the freight. The chap running the UbuntuFlight ground ops offered to take me for a coffee so I was able to caffeinate while taking on some fuel (eye wateringly expensive compared to what I’m used to paying).
After 45min on the ground it was time to set sail for Johannesburg. After negotiating my way around the airspace I asked for and was given permission to climb through the controlled airspace (akin to ‘entering the Bravo airspace’) and was able to get to FL125 for the mostly north-eastbound trip back. The autopilot was behaving itself and the air was smooth – I was able to catch up on some email – which was just as well because the wind was of course now 15kts on the nose. I guess if you have a 175kt airplane 15kts isn’t a big deal. It makes a big difference when you are doing 130kts though. As a result the return trip took a full three hours of engine time – admittedly with a fair amount of faffing on the ground at Virginia.
It’s not often that I get to put 10 hours in the logbook in the period of less than a week – and achieve something at the same time.