There are only three tricks to a perfect landing. Unfortunately, nobody knows what they are. It was in pursuit of these that I found myself 500ft over the threshold of Runway 36 at Brakpan Airfield (FABB), power off, flaps down and in an aggressive sideslip. Too low… damn it… 100ft up, still 1000ft short of the zero line, flaps up… nose up a little… not too much, she’s going to stall… better now.. hold it, hold it…. here’s the line, let her land (Windscreen fills with sky).. good – now full power, flaps 1 and off again.. Over the radio…“ZU-IBM, that was a +2, well done!”
It is a year since I passed my initial flight test for my PPL. According to South African air law, after one year, you need to revalidate your PPL (and thereafter every two years). This is done via a ground briefing/exam and a flight test.
In the year since I got my PPL I have flown about 70 hours, 11 of that as dual instruction for my night rating and 5 odd hours in the sim. The rest, apart from a few jaunts in the SR20 with family, has been in my Sling 4 ZU-IBM. There have been a lot of local flights – practicing stuff, keeping current and proficient, and the odd long trip – most memorable being the flight to Cape Town and back in November last year, with a few family day trips thrown in here and there.
So I have a new type on my license – and some endorsements to go with it! I recently spent two days at Wonderboom Airport (FAWB) getting rated on the Sling 2.
The Sling is a locally (South African) designed and built aircraft. It’s nominally a light sport aircraft but as configured it requires a PPL to fly as the maximum takeoff weight is over 600kg. Interestingly the same aircraft, with one wing tank removed will have a MTOW < 600kg and can be flown on a recreational pilot license as a light sport airplane.
It’s also quite different from the Cirrus I have done all my training on to date. Of course, it’s much lighter, all metal and has a significantly different engine? How different? Well, it’s a Rotax 914 – a 1.2l 4 cylinder producing 115hp compared to the Continental 0-360 6 banger on the Cirrus. It’s also turbocharged and the prop is a variable pitch constant speed unit (Yes, the Cirrus had a variable speed CSU but with no direct pilot control). Importantly, it burns MUCH less fuel – 20litres per hour compared to the 50-65litres per hour on the Cirrus. And it will burn MoGas happily too.
To obtain the conversion onto the Sling was not an easy matter. Firstly, there are a lot of flight schools operating Sling 2s. There are only 2 in the country that have the Sling 2 914 Turbo on their ATO. Thus I had to travel to Wonderboom, which is a great airport. Unfortunately it is 90km from my house. Not so good. I did the conversion through FliteCare who were fantastic – they could accommodate me at short notice, and their desk staff were amazing.
I first needed to have briefings on the Sling aircraft itself – concentrating on the many differences between it and the Cirrus – this took about an hour, then it was time to dive into the nitty gritty of turbochargers and variable pitch propellers. Turbochargers are easy to understand – once you figure out how the wastegate works and the differences between the hot and cold sections. The variable pitch propeller on the other hand I found to be a lot more complicated. It’s bloody brilliant engineering but seems very complex. My biggest problem is remembering the difference between fine and coarse pitch which I find counterintuitive.
As it turns out, the intricacies of the variable pitch prop are moot in the Sling because it has a very clever system to adjust prop pitch. Firstly, instead of being controlled by oil pressure and springs, the pitch is adjusted electrically by servos in the hub. And there is no pitch lever as would be suspected, but a pitch control instrument on the panel which has a knob to select T/O, Climb, cruise, hold, and Feather. One can also bypass the selector and adjust pitch manually should the control unit fail – this is done with a rocker switch. Once a setting is selected, the CSU adjusts pitch to maintain the required RPM on the prop. Because the Rotax is a geared engine, engine RPM does not directly reflect prop RPM – so prop rpm is not set, but the CSU will indirectly control engine RPM.
Speaking about engine RPM – this is high! A regular aviation mill will turn at about 2500-2700RPM. The Rotax idles at 2000 and will go all day at 5500. An interesting feature about the 914 is that full power is actually 100hp with an additional 15hp available when you push the throttle through the gate – allows 115hp for up to 5min – would primarily be used for takeoff and initial climb to 300ft AGL and obviously for the go-around. In the gate position the engine is turning at 5800rpm.
After the briefings, it was time to fly. The conversion requires upper air work, simulated engine failure and at least 5 landings. Preflight is fairly standard with the addition of a prop control unit check – cycle from full fine to coarse with the engine off (remember those electric servos?). The other very different aspect is the dry sump oil system – oil is stored in the oil tank – so in order to check the oil one needs to ensure all the oil is in the tank and not in the crankcase. This involves turning the prop by hand (check mags off, key out master off first!) until the telltale gurgle from the tank indicates that the oil has returned.
Dragging the plane out of the hangar is a one man affair – really a pleasure. Startup is a non event – fuel pumps on, fuel on and crank. It literally starts like a car engine. Run at 2000 until oil pressure settles then warmup is at 2500 until oil temp reaches 50C. Operating temps are much lower than conventional engine due to the hybrid air/water cooling system.
Taxiing is much simpler than the Cirrus due to the direct nosewheel steering – so much nicer than the free castoring nosewheel. She’ll roll 2 up at 2500 so the engine can warm nicely en route to the run up bay. Most pre takeoff checks are done on the taxi as they have a reputation of getting quite hot while idling stationary. In the bay it’s final checks, run up at 4000RPM checking the mags (<300drop and <115between), takeoff briefing and then it’s time to fly.
The best word to describe takeoff is “sporty”. Stabilise at 5500RPM and 100hp then through the gate to 115/5800. Lots of right rudder is required and before you know it, we’re at 48kts and the rotate call. Liftoff at 55kts and best rate at 75 has her climbing away comfortably at about 1200fpm. After takeoff checklist includes setting prop to climb, coming back out through the gate and cleaning up the flaps.
For the conversion we set off to the general flying area – steep turns are a non event – very easy to keep the nose up. Stalls are reasonably benign but I did detect a slight tendency to drop the wing and not a huge amount of buffet. The (brilliant) MGL Avionics iEFIS unit has an AOA indicator too which is helpful.
Then we did some circuits at Freeway airfield – which has a massive runway which is gravel. Also a non event for the Sling. I may think twice about taking an aircraft I owned onto a gravel strip but certainly it wasn’t an issue on this plane.
Back to Wonderboom with me having no idea at all of where I was – fortunately the instructor was at home in the airspace. The plan was to do a couple of circuits, but this was foiled by a medium sized Cb cell which decided to discharge itself over the airfield. Conditions on landing were challenging to say the least – significant wind shear and gusts from about 15degrees off the front of up to 25kts. The Sling handled this with admirable aplomb.
Sadly this meant I had to make the pilgrimage to FAWB again to finish the rating. We banged off 4 circuits easily in the mid morning this week – 2 normal landings (Flap 20), 1 flaps up landing (would really rather not do those….) and 1 short field stop and go. The procedure for landing the Sling is similar i believe to the C172 – cut power just short of the threshold and glide it in. You can’t do that in a Cirrus.. The short field landing we did just to demonstrate it – in the POH it says “short field landings as per normal landing” since the landing distance is about 270m. However, we did a short field approach – flaps 30 and standard piloting, stopped on the runway, and then did max performance short field takeoff – full throttle, brakes off, through the gate and full back pressure on the stick from the moment rolling starts. The nose wheel lifted of at 20kts and we broke contact at 48kts. Lower nose to Vx (75) and then up and away. Very impressive, especially when you look at the airport diagram and see how short the distance was – we landed on 29.
It’s really nice to have excess power available. So I’m now rated on the Sling2 and have endorsements for turbocharged engines and variable pitch propellers. Onward and upward!
Some of the best video I’ve seen on YouTube of flying is in the evening – after the sun has set. Being able to fly at night obviously extends the useful flying day and also improves the options for waiting out weather and other potential delays. I’m a firm believer in having options to decrease the risk of acute get-there-itis.
With this in mind I’m setting off on my first post-PPL rating – the night rating. Interestingly we have the night rating as a separate rating instead of built into the PPL like it is in the United States. The requirements are not onerous but definitely stipulate dedicated experience in the dark – at least 3 circuits at night (I’ll be doing many more), 10 hours of instrument training (5 of which can be in the sim), a 150nm cross country by night and a theoretical exam.
As it stands currently, I’ve done 7 odd hours in the sim – all hard IFR flying and have enjoyed it quite a lot – I’m sure it’s the wasted youth playing Microsoft Flight simulator but at least I have some theoretical knowledge to hang onto that experience. So it’s actual night time flying I need – and this is what I did last night…
|Date of Flight||Aircraft||Route||IF Actual||Time(hrs)||Total(hrs)|
|19 July 2018||ZS-ZIP (SR20)||FALA(Lanseria, Johannesburg) - FALA||1.3||1.6||83.6|
So. Flying at night. It’s… well…. dark. In fact this surprised me because I was anticipating that the lights on the plane would be better than they are. They’re not great for taxiing on the apron so that took a little getting used to. The lighting on the taxiways at Lanseria is great so that wasn’t an issue. No delays fro other aircraft on the field while taxiing which is always a plus. Run up and pre departure checks were as per normal, although I chuckled at my instructor when she said that we’d aim for the darkest patch off the end of the runway if we lost and engine, we’d turn on the landing light, and if we didn’t like what we saw we’d turn it off again. This did bring home the stark reality of night flying – it’s really difficult to find a safe landing spot should the big fan in front decide to stop. Lining up on 07 you get the sense of how dark it is – a row of lights leading out into almost infinity and just blackness beyond – not a sliver of moon in sight even.
Performance in ZS-ZIP was pleasantly surprising – 9 celsius outside temp will do that and climb out was brisk (for an SR20). The instructor had me on the gauges almost immediately after takeoff and I flew the numbers – 5deg nose up with 50% flaps at full power gave me just over 85kts (Vy) so we were at CAPS height crossing the 25 threshold which was reassuring. Then it was head down in the cockpit. The aim of the flight was instrument navigation introduction – I’ve done lots of sim time but this felt somewhat easier I thought. We did a number of VOR radial intercepts under the Lanseria TMA – I must say that the VOR intercepts are reasonably easy with it being a command instrument – fly to the needle and the only tricky bit is remembering which reciprocal to use (FROM top TO bottom). Then we climbed out into the practice area for some upper air work – clean and configured stalls (no problem) and some steep turns – again not an issue which is quite funny considering how much difficulty I had with them prior to my PPL practical test.
Then some timed turns which are challenging – essentially we work out an angle of bank for the rate one turn (TAS divided by 10 plus 6-7kts) which at 130kts TAS works out to be around 20deg. Then set up on a radial, bank in to the rate one bank angle, start the timer and then try and maintain 45deg of heading change every 15seconds – 3 deg per second. Not quite as easy as it sounds but very rewarding to get right. These will be useful later in IF training when it comes to holding patterns and procedure turns. Then it was time for some ADF work. ADF navigation puzzles me from a number of aspects. Firstly, it’s a big drain on my brain to figure out which way to turn each time and secondly, they’re essentially obsolete. They’re so obsolete, in fact that our 2004 model SR20 G2 has no ADF radio on board. As a result, we have to bodge an ADF navigation exercise by using the bearing needle on the HSI to point to a GPS location and then fly using that as an ADF station. It gets the job done and perhaps it’s ADF as ADF should have been.
Still, ADF intercepts are fiddly. Intellectually I know it’s a simple case of remembering where one is in relation to the station and turning appropriately. The little tricks – turning away from the desired QDM inbound and towards and beyond QDR for the outbound – do help, but they’re not intuitive – I’m guessing that practice practice practice will be the key to successful ADF navigation. Finishing up with some unusual attitude recovery (again, fun…) I considered we’d done some good work. So what is it like flying at night? I found it really serene – its you and the plane – I didn’t hear any nighttime rough running and the air was smooth (and freezing – note to self – take a better jersey next time) and calm. The lights stretch for miles and the dark patches do feel like they’re reaching up to grab you – I assumed all the dark patches are mountains because why would anyone put lights on a mountain? The best part for me is that the feeling is getting better – i.e I’m flying more by the seat of my pants than I have been before and it feels smoother – I do need to be a little bit less aggressive on my turns – I do tend to roll quite positively which works during the day but perhaps not as well under instrument conditions!
We decided we were chilled enough and headed back for Lanseria. One scheduled 737 on long final and then we were to roll in onto approach. The night time approach is easier, and harder than I thought. Flying the profile is easier than during the day as less gusts and updrafts but the roundout and landing was very different. The instructor was following me on the controls – we went over the threshold at what I felt was the right height having had 2 red and 2 white on the PAPI the whole way down. Then she says “do you feel like you’re sitting on the runway?” and I say, “Um… yes?” and she says, “OK, go to idle” and we touch down light as a feather – best landing ever I think. Which would be awesome, except in my mind we were about 5feet higher and I wasn’t expecting the touchdown at that point. This confused me a little as I was convinced that one would feel lower coming in at night. There is no centreline marking on the runway so the only visual reference is the side lighting – guess I need to pay more attention to that in the coming flights – which should be two sessions of night circuits. Can’t wait.
It is with a heavy heart that I write this. I need to change the subtext of my blog from “An Anaesthetist’s journey to PPL” to “An Anaesthetist WITH a PPL!”. Yes. That is correct – I passed my PPL checkride on Tuesday! I am now legal to fly all and sundry and to “exercise the privileges of a Private Pilot License holder!
It has been quite a journey. There were times when it was hard – not physically hard, but hard in the way where you think that you’ll never get it right. I sailed through my solo Nav exercises – so well in fact that I forgot to blog them. I told myself that all I had to do was an hour or two of PPL test prep with my instructor and Bob’s your Uncle, I’m on my way.
This was not to be the case. Apparently you lose skills if you don’t practice them. Really? Who knew? My circuits, oh good grief, they were shocking. My steep turns? Horrendous. Stalls, marginal. I couldn’t believe how poorly I was flying. 2 sessions, then a third and still not up to my instructor’s (or my) standards. And then, suddenly… it all came right. I clicked. I flew hundreds of steep turns in X-plane. I flew many in the real thing and I now know where the horizon should be and how much it can move before I need to pull back.
So I was sent off with the CFI for a mock PPL flight test – which went surprisingly well. Then one more solo flight to iron out any rough spots – and to finish the required 15hours of solo flight for the PPL – and then it was time for the PPL test itself.
|Date of Flight||Aircraft||Route||Time(hrs)||Total(hrs)|
|12 June 2018||ZS-BOR(SR20)||FALA(Lanseria, Johannesburg) - FALI (Lichtenburg) - FAZR(Zeerust) - FALA||3.0||76.4|
In SA, the PPL test requires a ground evaluation – which is essentially an open book discussion with the examiner on the AIPs, ENRs and the relevant regulaitons and standards. Mainly, it is about flying and a very long navigation exercise. I was told to plan Lanseria to Lichtenburg to Zeerust and then back to Lanseria via the UTRUK intersection.
This is a long nav. Without any messing about it is 244nm. Which at 130kts GGS is a long flight. The day dawned clear and crisp which was fantastic, except this was NOT the case at Lanseria. Lanseria lies in a gentle valley, which is blanketed on many winter mornings by a significant inversion layer. This would not be a major issue were it not for the informal settlements in the area which predominantly burn wood and coal for heating which makes a lovely smog which can take hours to clear. Scheduled launch time was 09h30 – at which stage the airfield was still declared IMC with visibilty of 4000m in haze. So we waited and waited.
I was starting to give up hope with the examiner having to be somewhere else soon – until someone suggested we ask for Special VFR. Special VFR allows one to leave a controlled airfield in IMC conditions to accomplish a cross-country flight. So this we did, and wouldn’t you know it, as we were taxiing down to the runup bay ATC comes on and says, “by the way, we’ve just become VMC”. Hoo-bloody-ray.
The flight itself was…. actually really fun. I hadn;t met my examiner previosuly but what a great guy he was – similar age to me and we had a ball. Chatted all the way, flew lots on the autopilot and he appreciated the snacks. Top tip – bring snacks on your PPL checkride. We were supposed to do one touch and go at Lichtenburg (FALI). So we do the unmanned join overhead but there are kids playing soccer on the runway. We descend on the dead side, join the circuit tight and fly a reasonably long final with all the lights on. And they didn’t move. Not even one damn was given by these kids. So as we get to the roundout, the examiner says “full throttle but DO NOT CLIMB” and we zoom over them at 10m and 120kts. Which was suposed to scare them off but they start taking videos on their cellphones. Now I’ve heard of buzzing a runway to scare game off, but kids? Not so much. We decided not to land there and carried on to Zeerust
Zeerust was to be the site of the circuit work. As we arrived, I was asked to do a precautionary landing – no problem. The runway there is wide, long and unsullied by children (only cowpats). Nioce precautionary, then a flapless and finally a glide from downwind which was harder than it needed to be because I was configured for downwind – Cirrus standard landing training calls for 100kts, 50% flap on downwind. I pull the power, we adopt a glide profile not unlike that of a microwave oven. The examiner says… “you ARE allowed to pull the flaps up you know”. AHAA! flaps up and suddenly we’re gliding like a streamlined microwave – bam – just made it on.
Then back to Lanseria via the training area for some (i thought) steep turns – it was only one. I lost 25feet. That is all – my best ever. 2 stalls later and he takes the airplane and asks me to reach back to fetch his pen. As I do so it feels weird – I turn back and he’s put us into a spiral dive. “Recover!” he says – and it comes to me – level wings, idle throttle and PUUUULLL back – within limits. “Take us home”, says he and back we go.
The most stressful part? not cocking it up on the way in. I’ve heard of people being failed as they pull up to the ramp for some airmanship issue or other – fortunately, I was not that guy.
So that’s it. I am the holder of a shiny new PPL (OK, I will actually hold a shiny new PPL when the CAA issue it in 10working days time). I know adventure awaits. It’s going to be a blast.
Solo Nav Number 1 – FALA – FAVV – FARG – FALA
|Date of Flight||Aircraft||Route||Time(hrs)||Total(hrs)|
|28 April 2018||ZS-JAB (SR20)||FALA(Lanseria, Johannesburg) - FAVV(Vereeniging) - FARG(Rustenburg) - FALA||1.9||61.1|
Look. Flying an airplane is fantastic. Flying an airplane solo on the other hand? Absolutely amazing.
It’s great to be flying solo again. But scary too. Almost everyone I know who has learned to fly tells me they got lost on their solo navs. I’m sure this is why we only go to airports we’ve been to with instructors.
Today’s routing is south from Lanseria, over the northwest suburbs of Johannesburg (I can see my house from here!), over Soweto and Orlando and out to the Vaal Triangle for a touch and go at Vereeniging airport (FAVV), then north west over the Grasmere (GAV) VOR and thereafter to Rustenburg(FARG) for another touch and go and then back through the Magaliesberg General Flying area to Lanseria – about 130nm total.
CAVOK prevailed fortunately and the early morning provided smooth conditions which was a pleasant change from the bumpy air I’m used to. (Note to self – take wife and kids flying in the morning).
Lanseria to Vereeniging was very much an uneventful leg – was expecting more traffic at FAVV but there was one aircraft that had landed and was taxiing clear as I did my overhead join – approach was from the south where there are quite a lot of power lines quite close to the field so short field technique is required.
Vereeniging to Rustenburg – it’s a long way. And there is NO traffic. At all. Rustenburg is starting to feel like a second home at the moment so the challenge was to land before the mid touchdown zone which is somewhat disconcerting as this requires aiming AT the clearway short of the field. Still lots of dead plovers on the runway – the one good thing about the south to north approach is that the large smokestack nearby is to the southeast of the field – and the climb out is to the northeast..
Quickly through the GF and back to Lanseria. 1.9 on the Hobbs and my first solo nav under my belt. Did I get lost? Nope. Could one get lost? Sure. My instructor is pretty rigorous on continually looking at the map and knowing where you are, even before you get to the waypoints which I agree is probably the safest way to do things. 1 Nav down. 2 to go.
|Date||Aircraft||Route||Flight Time||Total Hours|
|14 April 2018||SR22T||FALA – FARG – FALA||0 – Ride along||57.6|
Ongoing maintenance issues with the flying school aircraft mean I’m grounded for the moment. Fortunately my flying buddy Ari came to the rescue this weekend. He owns an SR22T and was kind enough to let me tag along on his flight on Saturday.
Saturday dawned CAVOK at my house but wouldn’t you know it, was Marginal VFR by the time we had refuelled. Plan was to fly to Rustenburg(FARG), land, swap pilots and then head back. Fortunately we were able to depart VFR. I can report that the SR22 (G5)is very comfortable in the back. Sadly I was forced to use the Bose A20 ANR headset which was laid on. (Life is really tough..) Sheesh. They make a HUGE difference.
It is very different in the back. It’s great to be able to observe the procedures and flows from a non flying perspective. Ari is very methodical and correct – nice to see and confidence inspiring. They use the full checklist on the Perspective avionic system – usual procedure for the flight school is to do everything from memory and then run the pre-takeoff checklist prior to calling “ready in the bay”. I think I may well revert to using the full checklist in future – sealing up those potential Swiss cheese holes.
I’m always impressed by the performance of the SR22T compared with the SR20. Of course this is obvious at the elevated field where our 20’s are probably well short of rated 200hp whereas the turbo is still doing 310hp. It makes a big difference. As we climbed through the fog layer which was about 200ft thick the visibility improved greatly and we cruised out toward Rustenburg between the layers. Technically VMC but I wouldn’t have been happy flying on a solo nav in these conditions. Some (very impressive) slow flying followed – to hold the plane at 69kts for 5min is no mean feat – at 68 the stall warning goes…
We landed at Rustenburg (FARG) where they seemed quite excited to have us – they were obviously having some kind of event – but we were landing, changing pilots and leaving again – after we’d back taxiied along the runway stopping to remove dead birds along the way. Quite strangely these didn’t seem to be due to aircraft strikes as the carcasses all seemed reasonably intact.
At Lanseria our fears of deteriorating visibility had come to fruition. “Alpha Romeo India, the field is IMC, please state your intentions…” A large bank of low cloud/fog had settled over the base and final sector.. Now this is where having a little bit of savvy helps. The controller is not allowed to offer Special VFR but you can ask for it. Which we did. Special VFR allows one to enter the TMA under visual flight rules when the field is IMC as a result of poor visibility, provided you remain clear of cloud and with the ground in sight at all times. Which we did and in no time we were stuffing the aeroplane back into the hangar (which does involve moving another plane out of the way first)
A great morning’s flying coming out of what looked like a very marginal day. As they say, the hardest part is coming to the airport and NOT flying. It’s much better when you can actually fly. No hours for the logbook this week but a great experience
|Date||Aircraft||Route||Flight Time||Total Hours|
|8 April 2018||ZS-CTP SR20||FALA – GAV – FAPY – FAPS – FALA||1.9 (Dual)||57.6|
Back in the Saddle
We’ve just come back from 17 nights away. It was great. Apart from the whole “not flying” thing. So I was a little apprehensive about this flight. I don’t think I’m at the “it’s like riding a bicycle” stage. I made sure to get to the field early – I find it focuses me if I give myself a good hour to get the plane preflighted, cameras set up, controls cleaned (yes – I’m that guy who wipes down the controls before flying) and into the correct headspace for flying.
To be honest, I almost cancelled the flight due to tiredness. We spent two days driving home, didn’t sleep well on the overnight and had an iffy night before this flight – but I felt I was ok to fly with an instructor. I wouldn’t have flown solo though. Bad call? I’m not sure – I did think about it a lot.As it turned out, it was good to be early. The plane had been left in a bit of a mess which always annoys me (some people treat hire and fly like rental cars), and there was a snag with the plane. One of the lower engine cowling screws was missing. On the Cirrus these are spring loaded screws. And this one was missing. Now, I’m unclear as to how they can come loose unless they’re loose before flight. So whoever preflighted the plane last didn’t check the screws. I wasn’t prepared to fly the plane with a missing cowling screw but fortunately we were able to cannibalise one of the flight school aircraft having an MPI for the screw and we were able to head out.
Sunrise over the freight apron
Amazingly… I can still fly. Being away for ages and thinking a lot about the little things about flying seems to have helped. I wanted to concentrate on getting decent airspeed before climbing (I tend to pitch early after liftoff leading to airspeed hovering around flap retraction speed) and secondly, getting trimming the plane right. Why such emphasis on trimming? I know this is a core skill but having your hand on the stick can hide a lot of trimming errors – and I discovered to my horror (jk) that I need my left hand to write on the knee board. This requires me to release the stick. And then it goes pear shaped. And I’m not going to use the autopilot simply so I can write. (OK, I should use the AP but this is as good an excuse as I can think of to improve my flying).
Our Route vs Plan – From Cloudahoy
Lanseria – Parys
I’d forgotten how great it is to fly in the morning. Smooth air, good vis, no pesky Cb’s. Our route took us south over the north western suburbs of Johannesburg and over sprawling Soweto heading for the Grasmere(GAV) VOR – which is allegedly easy to see being in an open field and all – but we flew directly over it and I couldn’t see it. A little bit to the left and a few miles of flying later we crossed the Vaal River which marks the boundary of Gauteng Province and the Free State Province. Our destination? Parys Airfield, which, in the past was a popular $100 hamburger/breakfast spot but of late seems to have fallen into some neglect – the runway is no longer pristine. It’s short, and this is exacerbated by the invasion of dirt and grass onto the touchdown area – I planted CTP firmly down just after the grass patch, fire walled the throttle and pulled back to keep the nosewheel light – great short/soft field practice – we don’t have to do grass field landings for our PPL..Parys is located in a geological feature called the Vredefort Dome – which is the largest verified impact crater on the planet. It is also one of those towns that seems to become popular for the Sunday jaunt crowd – lots of antiquey places restaurants and general hipness. Pretty interesting. Also pretty challenging – as you can see from the map image above, there is high ground north and west of the field so good climb management is required.
Parys – Potchefstroom(FAPS)
This was my second attempt to get to Potchefstroom – the previous attempt resulted in a diversion back to Lanseria due to come pretty aggressive looking storms which developed rapidly. It’s a short hop to Potch from Parys – about 25nm so we’d just got to top of climb when it was time to descend. Another shortish runway but in much better condition – we did our overhead/unmanned join (which always requires some head scratching because unlike our American friends, we don’t enter the downwind on the 45. We fly overhead 1000ft above the pattern, turn and descend on the “dead” side of the field, turn across the upwind segment and enter the downwind (obviously making sure there is no traffic on departure). The advantages of this is we don’t bomb into the circuit and are able to see the runway while descending so we know who is departing or not. The disadvantage is that it can be confusing as to which way to turn especially since there is often a non standard pattern in force. And it takes longer.
As it turns out is was academic as there was NO other traffic. At all. In fact we didn’t see any aircraft on the trip at all until we arrived back in the Lanseria TMA.
Potch – Lanseria
Long(ish) leg this. But my headings were good, the trim was coming right and we were able to enjoy just being in the air. There is not much out there. Lots of fields, a few mindumps, mineheads and a meatbombing (parachute) area.
Much of nothing. Pretty nothing. But not much
Arriving into Lanseria from the west is a little fiddly. There are two TMAs to avoid – the first is the OR Tambo International Airport TMA (FAOR) which has it’s lower limit at 7600ft. I guess the TMA is equivalent to what they’d call class Bravo airspace in the US. So we had to be at 7500 well before that. The Lanseria TMA (Class B)lies under the FAOR Class B at 6500ft which means highest is 6400ft. Which leaves about 400-600ft clearance over a ridge – which feels tight. It doesn’t help that the ridge is bristling with aerials and towers. Fortunately there is an area where the terrain is a little lower which we headed for.
On short finals, my instructor asked the tower for a touch and go. Eh? We were supposed to be landing. So I knew something would happen – I was waiting for the EFATO scenario. No. Glide to final from downwind? No. Flap failure? Check. OK. What was that approach speed with flaps up again? I’ll admit, the base leg was a little hot and high. The reason for this became obvious when I realised I was still flying the full flap power setting. Easily corrected and managed to put down my best flapless landing to date. Bad thing? It was on one wheel. Good thing? It wasn’t the nosewheel. I blame a slight crosswind, but the tail was never in danger.Another 1.9h in the logbook. And now I’m signed off for my first solo Nav. Excited? Most definitely. Progress. It’s a good thing.
Time is flying. And flying is time.
I’ve spent three weeks doing basic instrument flying in the simulator. I thought I would hate it. Really. What could you possibly enjoy about playing a hyped up computer game?
“I can do that at home right?”
“How hard could it be?”
“It’s not real flying”
“will I remember how to land the aeroplane again?”
“Tell me again why I have to know how to fly on instruments?”
I was…. WRONG. The simulator is really good. OK, it isn’t a full motion sim. But it is a LOT more immersive and believable than I would have guessed. My flight school has 2 simulators. The first is a Cirrus sim – can be set either as an SR20 or an SR22. The second is a hybrid sim – steam gauge, traditional style NAV/COM/ADF and a basic AP – it can simulate either a PA28(Piper Archer or Cherokee type with or without retractable gear) or a Seneca twin. I’ve done an hour on the Cirrus sim and 2.3 on the PA28R version of the sim.
One of the biggest killers of pilots is inadvertent flight into IMC. I forget the actual number but on average it takes very few seconds to lose your spatial awareness and spiral out of the clouds out of control. Or fly into a granite cloud. And while most of the CFIT(Controlled Flight into Terrain) incidents seem worryingly obvious when reading accident reports, people are still crashing into mountains with monotonous regularity. As one wag put it… “there are no new ways to crash aeroplanes” So it does make at least SOME sense to have some inkling of what the instruments are telling you.
The sims run X-plane (sadly only version 9) on a bank of computers. Both have very realistic cockpit setups – the cirrus sim faithfully replicates the Cirrus cabin while the PA28 sim has a full panel mockup with screens behind – so the “steam gauges” are actually on a computer screen. Still – its pretty realistic, although I simply refuse to believe that a PA28 is so responsive (read over-responsive and dynamically unstable) in pitch. However it is what it is and once used to the millimetre movements required it is pretty easy to fly.
Which is just as well – because there are no visual cues here. Cloud bases in the sim seem glued to about 300′ AGL. (Coincidence? I think not) The nett result is that as you’re doing after takeoff checks, cleaning up the aircraft you fly straight into hard IMC. (And then crash and burn – according to the instructors this is quite common) It seems my misspent youth flying PC flight sims has paid off again – I’m quite comfortable on the instruments – I even have a reasonable scan going which is helpful. Of course, there is no movement, no movement induced illusions and I’m certain in real life it is MUCH harder. There is no pause button in real life either.
The hardest part for me is maintaining level flight while fiddling with the instruments. Leaning over to hit a stopwatch, adjusting the HSI, setting the autopilot – all can be associated with a degree of departure from level flight. Task saturation came very quickly on my first session but less rapidly on the second and third.
And actually…. It’s a LOT of fun. We’ve done radial intercepts in and outbound, ADF direct to and ‘radial’ intercepts, timed turns, GPS intercepts, ILS approaches and VOR approaches. Today my instructor failed every instrument simultaneously except the VSI. Then she failed everything except the HSI and Turn coordinator. And we didn’t crash!
I’ve spent some time messing around on my X-plane sim at home doing pure instrument stuff – and I’ve discovered that you can download an instructor station for the iPad – going to spend some more time working with failed systems. <2h to go in the sim then it’s time for Navigation briefings and the cross country flights. It’s getting close.
Also, I noticed that today’s sim session took me to 50hours total time.
Feels like ages since I managed to sit down and write a post.
So. Where are we in this journey? Well, I’m excited to report that I have made significant progress this month after 3weeks of not flying. The first two flights were not stellar – on the first we were hounded by a localized Cb cell which looked like it was going to park itself right over the field so we bailed and came back early – still it was an intro to the routing to and from the General Flying area which in the congested airspace of Johannesburg is a little fiddly. On the second we had surface temperatures of 33 Celsius and one of the older aircraft – a few of whose horses had escaped over the years. Let’s just say it was interesting. DA on the ground was 7740ft (off a 4520′ elevation field) and we could not climb over 7500′ so we were understandably a little twitchy about high angle of attack flying..
Which brings me to what we are doing in my PPL training at the moment. I have escaped the circuit after taking 17h of circuits to solo and then completing 3h solo in the circuit. Now we are back to the general flying area and doing steep turns (45deg), revising stalls and also doing diversions, forced landings and precautionary landings. This is all in preparation for the next milestone in training which is going solo again but to the general flying area this time.
Solo GF requires a good understanding of the airspace structure and the routing to and from the airfield. It is necessary to report Zone outbound from the CTA, then transit the Johannesburg Special Rules West airspace and from there into the general flying area (which has it’s own frequency). At the same time there are a number of prohibited areas which must be avoided and a shelf on the TMA (the yellow shaded area) from 6500-7400′ which is very easy to bust.
Fortunately the general flying area extends from the ground to FL100 so there is a lot of space once there – although it too can be quite crowded and some folks are, how shall we put it, a little deficient in their position reports. This means eyes on stalks all the time.
We usually start with some stalling revision – clean and dirty and all the way to the break (because if you’re not going to actually stall the aircraft what is the point of calling it stall practice?), then some steep turns which I was somewhat disappointed to find that we only have to turn at 45deg and not 60deg (60deg turns are required for the Commercial Rating) and thereafter the forced and precautionary landings. I’m finding the steep turns a little bit difficult – it seems to be quite difficult to feel the nose slipping and there is a lot more back pressure required on the stick than I was expecting. The books all say that you need to be looking around during the turns but I’m finding that I end up looking up and in the turn direction more than anywhere else – this may be a function of the G forces which I’m not accustomed to…
The forced landings are fairly routine – much like the EFATO scenario but with a LOT more time to plan and usually many more options in terms of potential landing sites. The gliding characteristics of the SR20 are not unlike those of a small brick but if anything I’m finding that I’m arriving high and having to do S-turns and/or slips to reduce altitude sufficiently to be able to make a rational approach. Of course, from these altitudes (2500-3000ft AGL), were we to have a real engine failure the correct approach would be to deploy the CAPS and ride down under the chute.
The precautionary landings too are quite fun – once you have the procedure down – but the workload is quite high especially on a high end afternoon with LOTS of turbulence and rotors from the nearby hills – it’s easy to forget a step – high level 800ft at right angles to field, 500ft low level inspection on the upwind parallel to the field, back up to 800ft for downwind checks, pax briefing and radio calls then simulated shutdown once on base to final turn and all followed by a go-around at about 200ft AGL.
When I’m solo in the GF doing the practice for all this we aren’t supposed to descend below 500ft AGL at any point so the high level is done at 1200 AGL, low level at 800 and go-around at 600 – it’s more the procedure than anything else that needs practice as it is impossible to practice landing into a maize field ….
I’ve also managed to pick up a few more exams in the interim – left now with only one – Human Factors and performance (which should be a breeze given the basic level of physiology required). Then it’s time to finish the solo GF time (5h), navigation and cross country exercises and then time for the PPL test – it’s looking like late March at the moment – but we’ll take it one day and one nm at a time..