The South African chapter of the Experimental Aircraft Association is celebrating it’s 50th anniversary this year. Every year there is a flyin to the Brits Airfield (FABS) but this year promised to be even more special. Any excuse for a flight is a good one, so it was off to Brits I went.
As summer starts to take hold it’s getting light earlier and I was able to pull the plane out at 6h30, in pleasant conditions with the low morning clouds clearing away and only the slightest breeze. I should have realised it was too good to be true…
As I rolled down runway 13 (into the sun – of course…) I noticed 3 Guineafowl taxiing out onto the runway ahead of me. Now a guineafowl is not a small bird – they probably weigh around 4 kilograms and stand about 35cm high – I didn’t fancy the idea of one of them going through the prop or hitting a wheel. In retrospect I made the wrong call by rotating 2-3kts below nominal rotation speed (50kts) but IBM eagerly kept into the air and disaster was averted. It would have been better to stay on the ground, wait for normal rotation and try to ignore the birds than to take off early and potentially stall out. Fortunately I was so close to rotation speed that it made no difference but definitely something to think about for lower speed incidents – better to hit a bird on the ground than stall it in.
The other concern is that the birds could have tried to fly and then I may have been in the situation where I’m flying at low speed and then hit a bird….
Bird excitement behind us, we climbed up under the Johannesburg TMA – cruising at 7500’ and routing to the west of the Lanseria class B airspace. We passed over Orient airfield (a major gliding Mecca), but it was too early for the obligatory powerless landers in their funny hats.
This dogleg set up a more or less direct course to Brits – and a routing directly into the teeth of a not insignificant headwind – 30kts on the nose meant we took a lot longer to get to Brits at only 90kts over the ground.
For the (anticipated) large flyins, the CAA usually declare an Aerodrome Flight Info Service (AFIS) which means that the usually unmanned airfield is manned with a tower operator whose role is to ensure separation but does not give explicit landing or takeoff clearances – it’s a little bit strange – the landing clearance usually sounds like “ZU-IBM, number one on the approach, land at pilot’s discretion”. Anyhow, as it turns out they were only opening at 07h30 and I arrived overhead at 07h25. This resulted in some confusion with arriving aircraft coming from 4 directions and all trying to ascertain if the tower was open or not.
I really enjoy flying to new (to me) airfields. I’ve been wanting to go to Kitty Hawk since I got my aircraft. Kitty Hawk is located to the east of Pretoria – about 30min flying time from Baragwanath. It is a very active field with a large number of Vans RV’s based there.
The field has a little bit of a reputation as being ‘difficult’ in certain wind conditions. I’m always up for a challenge that fits within my personal limits and experience, so reputation aside, I felt it was worth the visit. I was able to muster up only one other plane from the JLPC crowd – Roger in his Turbo Arrow agreed to join me out of Rand airport for breakfast.
How do you make having a pilot license feel real? Fly with those who are most precious to you. For just over a year now I’ve been disappearing off to the airport for protracted periods of time and bringing nothing back other than stories of where I’ve flown, or how bad or good the conditions were or which exam I passed. I think it’s been a little hard on the family to be contributing (by managing without me at the house) but not getting any significant return.
So it was that after gaining my PPL (ok, long before even) there was significant interest from the family in going flying with me. There was much discussion, argument even about who would be first. “But Mike,” I hear you say, “You trained in a four seat aeroplane! Why can’t you take your wife AND two kids?”
Ah. And therein the rub. Most 4 seat aircraft are only nominally 4 seat aircraft on the South African highveld plateau. My home airfield has an altitude of 4500ft. ISA temperature for 4500ft is 6degrees Celsius. Only in the very depths of winter, when a cold front is passing, does the daytime temperature even approximate 6deg. So we’re by definition hot and high which degrades takeoff performance of normally aspirated aircraft – especially those with only 200hp on tap. Given that the flight school almost universally runs the aircraft with full/nearly full tanks, we are almost always payload limited in the SR20. The 22, on the other hand, with 310hp… not so much. (Which is why the only SR20s in South Africa are the 5 owned by the flight school. All the others are SR22s)
So, it would be that my wife and daughter would be first to fly with me. I hummed and hah’d about the routing. I wanted to do the city tour but decided to stick with what I know and simply cruise up and down in the flying training area. This turned out to be a very good call – as I was SO nervous that additional navigational demands would have seriously impacted my ability to fly safely. It gets real very quickly when your family is on the aircraft.
So how did it go? It was….. OK. The flying was good, the GF was quiet and I even threw in a steep turn to make sure everyone was awake. I gave the lecture (pre departure) on not talking while I’m on the radio and to let me know if they see any other aircraft – my daughter saw lots – I want her as my copilot – I’ll call her “Eagle Eye” from now on. The only downside was that it was pretty bumpy with the wind from the south rising up over the ridges and causing a little bit of turbulence. Landing was within spec (I thought it was pretty poor but the passengers thought it was ok) and just like that… I’d taken my first passengers for a plane ride.
More importantly, they both say they’ll fly with me again. This is the best part – because what is the use of the PPL if you aren’t going to use it to take people places? My little girl did get a headache which I put down to an uncomfortable headset (loaner) and possibly also being in the back seat without a cushion – note to self – remember the cushion next time.
My wife seemed surprised at how methodically I did my preflight and that I kept checking and double checking everything – I like to think I’m very cautious – this is what I normally do! I believe that I inspired confidence in her.
Date of Flight
7 July 2018
FALA(Lanseria, Johannesburg) - FARG(Full stop) - FALA
The second flight en famille was this last weekend – I took my mother-in-law and my son up. This would be a lot less pressured as I’d broken the back of my nervousness to carry passengers. I wanted to do some short field work so I took them out to my usual hunting ground Rustenberg(FARG) for a landing – it also gave them a chance to change seats – my MIL did the right seat out and my son back.
So FARG was extremely busy. I’ve never seen it like that before. When I called 10nm out there were 3 aircraft already in the pattern (one orbiting to drop parachutists) and 2 others inbound – which is a lot for an uncontrolled airfield. We’ve been suffering under a heavy high pressure system for a few days now – the QNH was 1038mmHg (30.65in) and I forgot to set to local until well into the descent which left me a little lower than I wanted to be for the overhead join but fortunately I was at the front of the queue and was able to recover on the downwind leg. Schoolboy errors..
The landing was (as should be at a shortish field) positive and we taxied onto the apron for the seat swap. As I’m taxiing out to 16, the paradrop guy announces he’s commenced his meat bombing run – so I ask him how many jumpers – 8 or 9 he replies…. OK. Then I ask where they are because I can’t see them from the hold short position and his response is to say “Don’t worry, you’re well away from them – just go you’ll be ok.”
Hmm. Didn’t seem like the best advice but after checking again to see they were not on the upwind and as I was departing straight out I decided to go for it. Didn’t see them at all. I even looked back after takeoff and didn’t see them. Oh well. I’d have been much happier to have eyes on but since the drop pilot didn’t even know how many jumpers he had, it seems like it wouldn’t have been that helpful to have seen some. I’d be interested to know what the procedures are at other fields where skydiving occurs. To me the safest approach would be to halt all ops until the divers are all recovered onto the field but I’m not that keen on sitting there with the Hobbs running while people drift down 4000ft under canopies.
But back to Lanseria we went only to find that every man and his dog was, in fact flying today. We were 4th inbound to the left downwind with a B737 on long final and 2 on the right downwind – Orbits, orbits for everyone! But the best part (after having to fly a 7mile final) was that the wind was blowing directly down the runway. I think this is only the second time in my flying career and we made an absolute greaser. Top tip – when flying with your mother in law, make every landing a greaser. Another 1,5h in the logbook and cross country time to boot.
I want to do my PPL(Instrument) so I need to log the cross country hours. Also starting the night rating so doing some sim hours too. The best part is that on reflection I don’t remember having to work too hard to fly the plane this time. Maybe I’m getting that feel – finally.
There is something about flying yourself for the first time with a freshly minted PPL certificate. No instructor to sign you out. Nobody double checking the tanks and the oil to make sure that you’ve put the caps back properly. It’s weird. But in a good way. I decided that I wanted to practice my landings and circuits mainly to keep current and proficient. Well. This was a lesson to me. This was going to be one of the worst flights I’ve ever done. 5 circuits. 2 reasonable landings. 2 balked landings (one from a PIO which got very scary very quickly – fortunately I remembered Thomas Turner’s One-Bounce-Rule and quickly got on the power and was away). The second balked landing was the scary one. I had a big bounce and wasn’t about to try my luck again – Full throttle but she just wouldn’t climb – so I ended up floating about 50ft above the runway for a while until airpseed built – in retrospect I should have triued to recover the landing with a bit less power to level off and give it another go – it’s a 10,000ft runway so there is almost always a chance to correct the landing – although this feels like cheating becasue not all runways are 10,000ft long!
So I left the field somewhat demoralised but have thought about it a lot and played through the scenarios in my head. I know what was wrong (poor airspeed control) and this is fixable – and to be honest the conditions were lousy – significant turbulence and variable winds on the final approach made nailing the airpseed somewhat tricky. Next week is another week – and it’ll be the first flight with my wife and daughter.