18 May 2010

33 000ft

Sunday, 16 May

It was another early start. Normally I’d complain profusely about having to wake up at 0630 on a Sunday (or any other day for that matter), but today was different. See, I don’t mind waking up at the crack of dawn if it means I get to go flying…

3 words: Cessna Citation Mustang.
ZS-YES, the new toy on the block, brand spanking new, and the reason for having to wake up early.

What do they say about dynamite coming in small packages? Able to carry 4 pax and 2 pilots, she’s not as big as the PC-12, but she’s sleek, sexy and fast! Slipping into the right seat is a breeze; there aren’t any over-head panels for you to scrape your head on, and you don’t have to worry about accidentally kicking the throttle levers because a genius at Cessna left a gap between the seat and the center console so you can just slide your legs in and easily get seated comfortably.

All glass and ample leg room

Once seated, you feel like you’re in a sports car. This, in my opinion, isn’t that great. The oval air vents look cheap and tacky, and the seatbelts look like they’ve come straight from a car; no harness over the shoulders. It doesn’t felt right or safe.

Looking around the cockpit, you’re presented with 3 large screens. Yup, she’s all glass. Now, I’m not a fan of glass cockpits; I like having the ‘less modern’ stuff, but I’ll gladly make an exception for this little beast. The technology is absolutely amazing! It’s neat, organized, and show’s you everything you need to know. A really cool feature is that you don’t even need to look outside in order to see the terrain around you; the terrain is presented on the screen right in front of you It’s like playing Flightsim only it has less detail, and is 100% real (definitely “As real as it gets!”)…

Table Mountain on the screen

Starting up wasn’t very impressive; it’s more exciting having a blade whirring in front of you. Taxiing is a breeze; you need to put some effort in, but not much, and she’s soo responsive. I felt like I was flying the Cubby again because my feet were always working.

We were cleared for take-off and lined up on runway 19 at Cape Town International. Appling the brakes, the throttle was set to the ‘take-off’ position (set the throttle for take-off/climb/cruise, and the computers do the rest). The engines growled as they spooled up, then became wonderfully smooth. A smiled tugged at the corner of my mouth. The brakes were released, and I was quite literally thrown back in my seat. We accelerated down the runway, and left the earth at a mere 95kts.

Gear up, we shot skywards and I couldn’t stop laughing. It was awesome! Before I knew it we were at 12 000ft and still climbing, the speed steadily increasing. We passed over Sir Lowry’s Pass and I was given the controls. Flying with one hand, I found that she wasn’t nearly as heavy or twitchy as the PC-12. No, with a slight nudge, she’d smoothly do as she was told. I was in control for the whole of the climb, and I hit the AP button when we reached 33 000ft. Sitting back, I admired the view and marveled at this machine.

It was wonderfully quiet, quite different to the PC-12. Time flew (yes, yes), and we were beginning the descent for George before I knew it. All you had to do was set the altitude and set the optimal throttle setting; AP did the rest. We nudged the Vne (never exceed speed) of 250kts, and deployed the air/speed brakes. The entire aircraft shuddered and shook, and I wondered if this is what it felt like in fighter jets.

Nudging the Vne


Gear down and locked, flaps set for landing, the runway at George got closer and closer. We met the ground softly, right wheel then left wheel, and nose wheel kept off the ground for at least an extra 10 seconds. We made use of the entire length of the runway instead of jumping on the brakes (the Mustang doesn’t have reverse thrust).

We taxied to the small terminal, staying clear of a Kulula 737-400, and shut down. I immediately set to taking photos while we waited for the pax. The grin was still plastered on my face.

It didn’t take long before we were lining up once again. This time I could see the runway on the screen in front of me (that feature wasn’t working on the flight up to George). It was awesome looking outside and seeing the runway, and looking inside and seeing the runway on the screen.

We climbed to 33 000ft once again, and I watched the mountains on the screen. I was still ecstatic. Normally I got quite bored on the PC-12 flights, but that definitely wasn’t the case with the Mustang. Within no time, we were passing overhead Robertson, and I thought back to the cryptic x-country and smiled at the memory of bombing around there. As we descended over the Stellenbosch mountain ranges, I admired the mountains and wished we could fly low-level through some valleys.

I realized that this is definitely one jet I wouldn’t mind flying! The idea of flying PC-12’s up and down doesn’t appeal to me because most of the time you just engage autopilot, then sit there and twiddle your thumbs. But you don’t have time to do this in the Mustang because she only has 2.5hrs endurance. J

When I got home and told my grandparents about the flight, I just had to laugh at what my granddad asked: “So, is that the closest you’ve been to Heaven?” Almost. Hopefully I’ll get to see the world from 39 000ft on the next flight.


04 May 2010

"Dishwasher Safe"

So it’s been over a month since I last flew the Cubby. I could’ve flown at least another 6 hours this last week, upping my total hours to 70 (not that much, but still; every bit counts!) Sadly, it’s still going to be a while until I can fly the yellow beast again.

However, on Saturday (1 May), I was offered a flight. Itching to be airborne again, I accepted the offer and before I knew it, I was gingerly lifting myself into a piece of Tupperware. Yup, I was going for a flight in ZU-IOO, a Jabiru.

As I settled myself into the seat I found that, while comfortable, it just didn’t feel right; my feet were practically on top of each other, the brakes are operated by hand and situated on the stick which is between the two occupants. But I wasn’t complaining; I’d been wanting to fly in a Jabiru for a while now.

I had a quick look around the cockpit to try and familiarize myself with the instruments. Nice and basic; good, that’s what I like. ‘Familiarization’ complete, I hunted for a spot to rest my arm, but was met by an uncomfortable plastic armrest-thing. Joy.

The take-off run was exceptionally long, and the Jabiru’s thin wheels felt rock-hard and made sure that you felt every little bump on the surface of the runway. The shaking and shuddering was somewhat ominous, but as soon as we were airborne everything settled and we climbed like a rocket (sort of).

I was given control, and if I’m honest, I didn’t enjoy it that much; it was different and I wasn’t used to it. Having a central stick was a new concept for me, and having to fly with my left hand was just weird. Rudder? What’s that? I barely used any of it and the ball stayed in the middle.

The upside of the Jabiru is that she’s kind of fast(er) [than the Cubby], and I enjoyed not having to crawl along at about 80mph (74kts). And it was relatively quiet, another bonus.

The landing was… abrupt. It’s not the pilot’s fault; I just wasn’t expecting it. One second we were flying, the next we bumped into the earth and were immediately met with the shakes and shudders I mentioned earlier. Flare? I didn’t notice anything.

So it was definitely a different experience. No, I wasn’t very comfortable, but things settled the longer we flew, and I’d definitely jump at the opportunity to get to know this little (plastic) machine better.

However, the Cubby is still the one for me!