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.
20 Feb 2021
FAGM(Rand) – FATP(New Tempe) – Morningstar
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.
I was very keen to get my night rating. So keen, in fact that I went straight from my PPL into night training. There was a lot to be said for the night rating – extra hours of sim time, extra instrument time, and the joy of flying at night where it is generally smooth and calm.
Once I got the rating though, there was no need to fly at night, and moving the aircraft to Baragwanath effectively put paid to any desire to fly at night due to the inability of the locals to stop stealing the runway lights – no night facilities were available at all. One of the driving factors for moving to Rand airport was that there were good night flying facilities. I was still reticent to become current at night again – mostly I was somewhat worried about getting into trouble.
Yesterday I was fortunate enough to be able to take my friend Ari flying. He may not know it but he’s actually my aviation mentor – one heck of a nice guy who has a knack of thinking about general aviation in ways I haven’t thought of. He’s a commercial instrument rated pilot with more than 1500h and he flies a FIKI Cirrus SR22T with his father.
One reason we are buddies is that we have similar outlooks on general aviation safety and doing GA correctly. My feelings on these are borne out of lots of reading – his I suspect are from lessons learned in years of flying. It can be daunting flying with a significantly more experienced pilot in a non instructor/examiner situation (OK, it can be very daunting flying with an examiner) because one feels like one’s skills are on show – this was the first time I was to be PIC in my aircraft with him (I’ve flown in his aircraft many times). You don’t want your first flight with a new passenger to be your last flight with that passenger..
I must confess to feeling that the Sling was a little shabby compared to the extremely well equipped G5 Cirrus but hey, an airplane is still an airplane – and I’m a proud owner.
We had a secondary objective and that was to test the Aerox system I acquired recently – it seemed prudent to do this with an experienced supplemental oxygen user. We came prepared – he had 2 oximeters and I had 1. Of course, true to form mine was DOA, although after 10years of hard use in my day job meant I shouldn’t be surprised. It is time for a new one anyway as the LCD display isn’t very readable in the bright cockpit. In addition we had an emergency cylinder in case the main cylinder didn’t perform as expected.
For a change the weather was playing along really nicely and although the visibility wasn’t really good, the air was smooth as we climbed energetically away from BaraG – had a good 750-800fpm climb rate which impressed my passenger. There was no other traffic in the training area and we started our climb after exiting from under the Johannesburg TMA. Information approved our climb and handed us over to the area controller (Centre) and I handed control over to Ari. For the last day in March it was still pretty warm – was showing an OAT of 21 Celsius at 10000ft but the Sling trundled on at 400fpm through 11000ft with the Airmaster Prop in Climb and 34” manifold pressure on the throttle.
We routed south as we climbed, out over the Vaal River and Parys, enjoying the views (despite the limited vis) and the smooth air. Climbing through 10000 feet I popped the pulse oximeter on and was quite alarmed to find my sats were 89%. I wasn’t expecting it to have dropped so low at a relatively low altitude. I didn’t feel any adverse effects although I don’t believe time of useful consciousness is an issue at this altitude. However, it seemed like a good idea to get the oxygen on which we did.
Let it be said that one looks a little ridiculous wearing an oxysaver cannula – but you look a lot less ridiculous with the cannula on than slumped over the controls with two fighter jets on your wing. The oxysaver allows pretty low flows – <1litre per minute at altitude up to 15000ft – by using a small reservoir so it’s relatively economical to run once you’ve forgotten the initial outlay for the equipment!
Area control came on asking us to stop our climb at FL125 due to other traffic on the airway above us which was a little disappointing but the density altitude was already well over 14000ft by this time, so I didn’t think with a service ceiling of 16000ft we’d get much higher anyway.
At this point we noticed that the oil pressure had decreased to 1.6bar from 2.5bar. Lower limit of normal is 2bar on the Rotax 914UL. This was obviously not something to take lightly. Initially we thought it could have been due to the warm conditions – oil temp was normal and CHT’s were within limits. Still, we arrested the climb and throttled back with no improvement. The best call at this point was a 180deg turn and route back to home base keeping a good lookout for potential off airport landing sites.
We had to descend to avoid busting airspace and as we descended below 9500ft the oil pressure recovered to normal and stayed there, going up to 3bar as we leveled off at 7000ft. Given that there was no other indication of abnormality we felt it was reasonable to do some maneuvering while keeping an eagle eye on the engine gauges.
I did two steep turns (PPL standard @ 45deg) and thereafter Ari did 2 at CPL standard (60deg). That man can fly an airplane – made the wake on the second attempt in an unfamiliar aircraft. He was raving about the control responsiveness and the inherent balance of the Sling – I think he was quite impressed – high praise indeed from someone who has hundreds of Cirrus hours. “It feels like I have an RV Grin,” he said as we cruised back for the overhead at Baragwanath. I dubbed it the “Sling Smile”
One touch and go then a full stop landing and it was time to put the plane away. I did get some constructive criticism of my crosswind landing – I need to try and land upwind of the centreline rather than ON the centreline – this makes sense as it gives one a few more metres to deal with any squirrelly behaviour after touchdown.
All in all a successful morning’s flying. The oil pressure reading remains a concern but I’m waiting on the AMO to comment. We suspect it may be a grounding issue or a problem with the oil breather pipe. We had a good look around the inside of the cowling and there is absolutely no oil leaking anywhere and no oil stain on the belly of the plane. Time will tell – the joys of aircraft ownership…
Having an aircraft means somewhat more flexibility in terms of using general aviation to get to where you want on (more or less) your own terms. Of course, having an aircraft also means you can make totally financially unjustifiable trips on (more or less) your own terms.
I tried to do a long cross country to a congress I was presenting at in August, in George. George is an airport with a bit of a reputation – on a small plateau on the coast behind some rather imposing mountains and some rather fiddly airspace which I’m told ATC does not ever allow you to penetrate on a VFR flight plan. I was going to be doing this trip in a rented SR20 but as it turns out the weather forecast was very marginal and I didn’t fancy my chances of getting in. Also, it’s not really fair to congress organisers to have a speaker who may not make it due to weather – so I binned that trip and flew commercial.
When this congress in Cape Town came up it looked like a much more viable option for flying myself. Firstly – no really large mountains, secondly summer weather which at that part of the coast is not characterised by cloud or thunderstorms, and thirdly access to my own aircraft (so no demurrage costs for the days it would be sitting on the ground).
Johannesburg to Cape Town is well within the limits of the Sling4 – range is around 750nm and with a flight plan distance of 665nm this would be easily doable. The prevailing winds tend to flow west to east so this would reduce the range somewhat and my personal limits call for never landing with less than an hour’s fuel in the tanks so a refuelling stop would be required along the way. I settled on FATP – New Tempe in Bloemfontein – about 95min flying time from Johannesburg.
Date of Flight
9 November 2018
FATA(Tedderfield)- FATP(New Tempe)
The plan was to leave just after sunup on the Friday morning. The plan was thwarted by various delays including me leaving my snacks behind and having to source some more food for the trip. By the time I departed Tedderfield the sun was well up – I need to plane better and arrive earlier – prefilghting and the other admin related stuff I had to do delayed me too much.
The flight to New Tempe is 200 odd nautical miles – easy airspace – and with not a hill in sight – the air was clear and smooth and I thought this was going to be an easy trip. And it was – at least as far as FATP.
Upon arrival at FATP New Tempe I fuelled up (sadly only Avgas available) – 41litres used for the 200nm trip – around 10Gallons. Some R66 turbine helicopters were also fuelling up – one of the pilots was wearing the whitest Flight suit I have ever seen. The equivalent of a white tuxedo.
Date of Flight
9 November 2018
FATP(New Tempe) to Morningstar
By the time breakfast had been consumed it had got very hot, so I was pretty stoked to be on my way again. Bloemfontein cleared me straight through their airspace which was a plus – but then the turbulence started in earnest and even climbing to FL105 didn’t help much. This part of the world is renowned for its gliding conditions and its easy to see why – had updrafts in excess of 600fpm at times! My smooth sailing plan was but a memory and I was basically holding on for dear life at times. Having a loaded weight of about 600kg doesn’t help when its bumpy. For the first time I was glad I was alone – I can’t see passengers enjoying this too much!
Still, the discomfort was more than made up for by the views and the starkness of the scenery. We settled down at about 125-130kTAS which worked out to about 110-115 kts GS – not too shabby. It’s no Mooney but it does the job.
Then it was time to get down. Under the category of “if you don’t ask…” I requested a VFR transition through the Cape Town TMA – the reason for this is that their TMA is 2000ft AGL and the mountains in the area while not high are certainly intimidating to some extent and permission to transit the TMA would keep me higher for longer and allow a more gradual descent while being well clear of the mountains. Fortunately they were happy to allow this and my arrival into Morningstar airport was very straightforward.
Upon arrival at Morningstar I tied IBM down and then tried to put the canvas canopy cover on. I wish I had a camera for this. The wind was howling from the starboard side of the plane and every time I had the canopy in place and I walked round to tie it on it would blow off. Eventually I stuffed it INTO the cockpit and covered everything with it. For reasons best known to the manufacturer it has Velcro straps which are entirely inadequate for the SouthEaster.
This was the furthest I’ve ever flown myself, my longest single leg, my longest trip and the first time at two new airports. A good day’s flying! 4h at FL105 with a DA of 12500ft took it out of me somewhat – I do carry a pulse oximeter in the aircraft and used it regularly – never below 91% but still I was exhausted.