31 July 2010

And Now… I Wait

20 July, 2010

Today I wrote the Human Performance and Meteorology exams for my Commercial Pilot’s License. I’ve been preparing for over 5 weeks, and I was feeling okay. That is, I was feeling okay up until last night when I decided to check the form with the names of those of us that are writing. I discovered that, because I had neglected to tick the little box that mentioned something about “IFR”, I would now be writing the “VFR” exam.

Why did I make that mistake? Because it should say “If you plan on doing an Instrument Rating, you should tick THIS box!”, but it didn’t say that, so I ticked the other box. Now I might have to rewrite both exams because they are – apparently – two different things (my Human Performance exam actually said “Human Performance (VFR”) ). What’s the difference?!?!

But anyway, the exams went kind of ok. Human Performance was quite basic, and Met was tricky. I think (hope) I passed both of them. And I sincerely hope I won’t need to write the “IFR” versions (whatever those are). Now I must wait 2 weeks for my results. How fun.

26 July, 2010

I got my exam results much sooner than expected. Despite the considerably reduced waiting period, it still isn’t fun sitting around wondering whether or not I’ve passed. Unfortunately I failed Met by one mark (that’s always the worst), but I passed Human Performance. Now I need to find out if I have to re-write both because of the stupid IFR/VFR thing.

One down, many more to go!

30 July, 2010

I get credit for Human Performance! Yes! But I still need to rewrite Met, so my goal of passing every subject first time is no more. But I’m still happy.

03 July 2010

Aerobatics in an RV-8

3 July

You’ll often hear pilots say that; “In aviation it’s not about WHAT you know, but about WHO you know.” You can be the best pilot in the world, but that won’t do you any good unless you have some contacts, right? It’s also about being in the right place at the right time.

I was bored and cold, and stuck at work, so I figured I’d walk over to the clubhouse and get myself a cup of tea. As I was leaving the clubhouse, a steaming cup of Rooibos in hand, Peter asked me if I wanted to go for a flight. “I’d love to, but I kind of need to be at work. Thanks for the offer though!” For some reason, it didn’t click that Peter is the owner of RV-8, ZU-LUS.

Geoff, who was sitting at the bar, said, “I’ll go with you!” Peter just laughed and said that he wouldn’t fit. A little switch went off in my head, and I turned back to Peter. “What are you flying?”
“The RV.”
My face split into a grin as things clicked into place. “Ok, I’d LOVE to go for a flight!” Work? What’s that?
“Alright, go tell the cops and we can go.”
I ran upstairs to let the cops know that I was going as a passenger, and they took my details down (World Cup security and all that).

While Peter went to get the aircraft ready, I left a sign in the shop saying that I’d be back in a bit, then I went over to Peter’s hanger and admired his beautiful yellow and blue RV. He told me to climb into the front seat, and I did so, settling myself in comfortably. He then explained which instruments did what, and allowed me to familiarize myself a bit. But I wouldn’t be flying in the 'hotseat'.

I climbed out of the cockpit, then settled myself back into the aircraft as Peter did the pre-flight. This time I was sitting in the ‘back seat’. The only instrument I had was a GPS displaying altitude and airspeed (and a few other things I think, but I only focused on the altitude and airspeed).

Once I was strapped in, Peter climbed in and set about firing the beast up. He always told me exactly what he was doing. The view from the back is limited; you can’t really see forward, turning around is difficult because of the low canopy and shoulder harness, and I couldn’t see any of the instrument panel in front of Peter.

We started up and taxi’d to the holding point of Runway 19. While waiting for the oil temperature to come up, Peter told me some more about the machine and how he came to own it. After a couple of minutes we were ready to go.

As we lined up, Peter said that I must follow on the controls during the take-off as I would fly once we were in the air. I loosely wrapped my fingers around the stick and rested my toes on the rudder pedals.

He advanced the power in stages, and all I noticed was a green grassy mass rushing past. The tail came up, and before I knew it, we were airborne. I think the first thing that popped into my head as my jaw dropped was “WOW!” All of a sudden I could see the world around me. The view was absolutely spectacular, and the rate of knots we were doing was something else.

“Alright, you have control.”
I snapped my mouth shut and focused on the machine. I hesitantly tightened my grip on the stick and got my first feel of what it was like to actually fly this beast. It was rather jumpy “Fly it with two fingers.”
“Alright.” I held the stick between my thumb and index finger, and I found that things just felt smoother. What a difference!

The world rushed past as we climbed to about 1000ft. I then made a left turn and pointed us towards Franschoek, being sure to remain below the cloud base. WOW! We flew overhead Helshoogte and turned right into a valley.

“Alright, climb and we’ll fly over that ridge.”
Not knowing how far back I could pull, I gently pulled the stick towards me and watched the numbers on the altimeter increase. “You can pull back more. Climb at about 90kts.” I checked the airspeed and saw that we were doing about 120kts. I pulled back on the stick until we were doing about 100kts. At about 3000ft I leveled off, and we flew over the ridge. Stunning!

We climbed to about 4000ft to get out of the turbulence. One second we were being buffeted around slightly, and the next everything was absolutely still. It was surreal. This plane practically flew itself.

“Alright, shall we do some steep turns?”
“Yeah, ok!”
“Ok, you can give it about 60 degrees of bank, and keep the nose on the horizon.”
I gently banked to the right.
“More, more, more. Ok, hold it there.”
I held it there, loving how smooth the controls were.
“Tighten it up, pull back on the stick a bit.”
I did so, the nose dropping below the horizon, the world floating past.
“Ok, now roll out, then immediately snap it to the left.”
Feeling more comfortable, I rolled the wings level then (gently) threw the stick to the left, keeping the nose on the horizon. It was definitely much better than the first one. We rolled out and Peter took control once again.

“We’re going to do a roll.”
I’m quite sure he could hear how excited I was when I said “Cool, ok!”
Raising the nose, he gave it right aileron. Wow, wow, WOW! Now is probably a good time to say that this is the first time I’ve ever done any aerobatics. AMAZING!

He then rolled to the left. Again, it was absolutely awesome. Then came the loop. Nose up, watch the left wing, look for the horizon, pull through, clench the thigh muscles, feel the G’s. All I could say after that was “Wow! Awesome! That was so amazing! Wow!”

Next was a Half Cuban Eight, then a Reverse Half Cuban Eight, then a Chandelle.
“Would you like to try?”
“Uh, ok, sure.”
“We can do a roll. Don’t worry; I’ll talk you through the whole thing.”
“Ok, cool!”
“What you want to do is raise the nose, then apply full left aileron.”
“Alright.” I tightened my grip around the stick.
Nose up, nose up, more, more, check the wing, full left aileron!
I wasn’t sure how violent I could be, so I didn’t actually give full aileron, but it was still awesome.
“Ok, good. What next?”
“Could we do another roll please?”
This time I was more confident.
Nose up, nose up, check the wing, and told me when to turn, I pretty much used my whole body as I gave left aileron. WOW!

We leveled off.
“How about a loop?”
Nose up, nose up, nose up, harder, watch the wing, keep the stick there, look for the horizon, pull, pull, pull.
“Good, how about another one?”
How could I resist?
Nose up, nose up, nose up, watch the wing, keep the stick there, look for the horizon, keep the wings level, a little less back-pressure, let it float through, ok, pull back, pull back, level off.
“You did all of that. I didn’t do anything!”
I was speechless. I had just rolled an aircraft twice, and done two loops... during my first ever aerobatic experience. AMAZING!!!

He asked what I wanted to do next, so I said that I’d like to take some photos and I don’t mind what he does. He took control and we did a Barrel Roll. We then did a loop, a Half Cuban Eight, a Barrel Roll, and then a 4-point Hesitation Roll, all in quick succession.

I wasn’t feeling good. No, I was feeling GREAT! He then showed me what it was like doing spins in this aircraft. He raised the nose and came back on the power, the cockpit became quiet. Then came the buffet and we flicked to the left. After two rotations he recovered and we leveled off. Second time I’ve ever done spins, and it was fantastic!

“Right, take us home!”
I took control, keeping the stick between two fingers, and pointed us towards the valley we had come through earlier. There was a lot of cloud, so as soon as we were over the ridge of mountains and in the valley, we descended so we could fly below the cloud. “Fly it like you own it!”
An even bigger grin appeared on my face. “Ok!”
I pushed the nose down and we went from about 3500ft to 2000ft in no time. “Just cut this corner here.”
All hesitation gone, I pushed the stick left, applying some back-pressure, and marveled at the sight and feeling as we whizzed past an outcrop of rock.

I pointed us towards the airfield, enjoying the feeling of flying at 140kts (double the Cubby’s cruising speed). Peter took over once we were overhead. Throwing us into a tight left turn, we descended and joined left downwind for Runway 19. He said all the downwind checks out loud as he went through them.

On Final he said, “Ok, I’m going to try a wheel landing.” It was a ‘Greaser’. We touched down gently and the tail stayed up until just before we turned off the runway. Beautiful.

I learnt that the RV is a machine that wants to be thrown around. In fact, it almost begs you to put some force into every movement of the stick. It’s extremely sensitive, but if you tell it what you want, it obeys you and doesn’t ask questions. “Fly it like you own it” is a good way to describe it.

A huge thank you to Peter! I’ve wanted to fly in an RV for ages, and I’m so glad that you gave me that opportunity. Talk about being in the right place at the right time!

So dad, when are we going to get an RV?

** For those of you that aren't familiar with aerobatic manoeuvres, check out this website for explanations: http://www.iac.org/begin/figures.html

Some of the flight: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_CFsJ03cPOE

02 July 2010

Do You Know What You’re Letting Yourself In For?

A couple of days ago I was sitting at work, and a guy came in all bright-eyed and happy, a list of the ‘PPL kit’ in his hand. This is about the third time in two weeks that hopeful beginner pilots have come in to buy the ‘kit’. Why is there a sudden influx of new students?

Oh well. I went about getting everything this chap would need, and set it all down on the counter for him. When I was busing ringing everything up, he picked up the stack of books, looked at me as if I was crazy, and said “Do I need to study all of this?” I raised my eyebrows, smiled a bit and said “Yes you do!”

He didn’t seem so bright-eyed and happy anymore! The more he looked at the stack of books, the more nervous he looked, and he was probably thinking “What have I let myself in for?”. I contemplated reaching down and placing my stack of Com notes on the counter and saying “And if you do your CPL, you get to study all this too!”, but I didn’t want the poor guy to die of shock.

The point of this post is this: it seems like new students don’t realize that there’s more to flying than, well, flying. It’s not something you can master, and it’s not something where you can be lazy (ha, says me!) I’ve spent more time studying than I have flying, and that’s the way it should be. For the duration of your training, you need to eat, breath, sleep, drink, LIVE Avex notes (or whatever study material it is that you’re using). And once you’ve finished your training, you’ll find that you never ever stop learning.

Is it the responsibility of the prospective new Private Pilot to do research and find out how difficult it really is to get a PPL? Is that sort of information even available? Or is it the job of the instructor to inform this hopeful wannabe of all the theory they need to know before they can even thinking about flying? I’m not 100% sure how things work with intro flights, having never had one. But I think that if someone is considering learning to fly, they should first see what they need to study, and THEN go for their intro flight.

I’m sure I’ve said it before; this flying business is no walk in the park. It can be difficult, boring, time-consuming, and rewarding, AND (very) expensive, all at the same time. You need to think about all sorts of things before deciding to start training. I started flying thinking it would be a piece of cake, and I soon learnt how mistaken I was. And the costs! I think people forget that, apart from the actual training, they also need to pay for: flying club membership fees, medicals, lectures, exams, and books (loads of them!). That’s already a good few thousand gone, and you haven’t even left the ground yet!

So, do research before deciding to fly. I’ve found it difficult to come by information, but there is a little bit out there; you just need to look really hard.

“If God had intended for man to fly, he would have given him more money.”

01 July 2010

Oranjemund, Namibia

My visit (21-28 June)

A while ago, a friend asked me to visit her in Namibia. After thinking about it for a while, I decided that the trip might do me some good. So we set about getting the necessary security clearance so that I’d be able to enter Oranjemund (a mining town).

Some of the wildlife

The original plan was that I’d stay there for 2 weeks. But things changed, and I only ended up staying for 1 week. Rather unfortunate, I must say.

I was also meant to fly up. But because the plan had changed, there weren’t any flights, so I ended up driving. Road trip! Well, not really. But I still enjoyed it. Normally I get bored after an hour or two in the car, but for some reason that 8hr+ drive was different.

Silly me didn’t take any photos along the way. Now I have a good reason to drive up again! The scenery was quite amazing. The furthest north I’ve been by car is Langebaan, so I got to see all sorts of new places along the way (just don’t ask me what they’re called; I wasn’t really paying attention to the names…)

By the time we reached Port Nolloth the sun had pretty much set, so I didn’t get to see the scenery (or lack thereof) in that area. When we reached the border it was pitch black and freezing! This was the first time I’ve ever crossed a border (on land at least). After a quick passport check, we hopped back into the car, drove across a small bridge, and were in Namibia. Just like that.

On the other side of the bridge we had to hand over our passports again, and fill in arrival/departure forms. This took a while, but I didn’t really notice it. That done, it was back into the car. We drove about 200m (possibly less) before we had to jump out once again. This time it was to enter Oranjemund (I knew it was close to the border, but I didn’t realize it’s THAT close!)

More waiting. This time it was because my friend’s clearance thing had expired. Apparently. No security clearance thing means you can’t enter Oranjemund. Luckily it was just a misunderstanding. After a quick mug-shot (that was embarrassing; I’d been wearing a beanie for the whole day, and I had to take it off for the photo. My hair was a mess!), we were off.

Welcome to Oranjemund.

After a quick dinner, we both crashed. If I was feeling tired, I could only imagine how my friend felt (I got a few hours sleep during the drive)!

The next morning dawned bright and happy, and I saw Oranjemund for the first time. It’s different. The roads are quiet, the houses small, the people friendly, the shops almost non-existent, and there was sand pretty much everywhere.

Beach resort?

I walked to Spar and found it quite weird to see the desert right there. The place has a bit of a holiday feel to it, and I really enjoyed that. Kids could run around and not worry about being hit by a car, or being mugged or raped. It’s completely different from home. The place also gives one the impression that it was great at one stage, but now it’s entering a stage of neglect.

Very informative. This is near the mouth of the Orange River

I got the fright of my life when I walked into Spar and saw that all the prices were in $’s. It’s extremely weird. Now I have 10 Namibian Dollars as a souvenir. Just because.

I didn’t do much during my stay there; I slept, read, and did a bit of studying every now and then. I suppose that that’s why I decided to go there; to relax. And relax I did!

The beach there is awesome; it’s clean, and there’s driftwood everywhere. The waves are absolutely massive, and the sounds and smells were amazing. I very stupidly decided not to take photos when I went for a walk on the beach.

My only photo of the beach

Little braai spots along the Orange River add to that ‘holiday feel’.

Some of the River

I was also granted the opportunity to sit in an S-76. When I walked into the hanger and saw two of these machines sitting there, I got chills and felt giddy. Seriously. They’re beautiful aircraft! Once I was seated in the cockpit I didn’t want to get out! This is the second time I’ve ever sat in a helicopter (first one I ever sat in was a Huey).

Before I knew it, my week there was up. I was hoping that there wouldn’t be any space on the flight back, so I could stay a while longer. Unfortunately there were a couple of seats open.

Convair 580, ZS-LYL. My ride outta there

I was completely lost at the ‘airport’. Things are done very differently there. My ticket was a sheet of paper that not only had the wrong flight number, but also said that I was flying from Cape Town to Oranjemund. When I pointed this out, the chap there merely wrote in the correct flight number and said “Don’t worry; the ticket doesn’t actually count for anything.” Right.

After getting my passport stamped and handing my little security card thing back in, I made my way to an awaiting Convair 580 with a bunch of people who work on ships. I felt so out of place; every one seemed to know each other. Once on the plane, well, it’s a bit like being at a Ster Kinekor Junction; you can sit where you please. I found myself sitting in line with the wing, in the isle seat (I’ve been sitting there a lot lately), next to a young lady. We were the only two females on the flight. Excluding the airhostess, that is.

The nice thing about this little airport is that there’s no waiting for ATC and other traffic. By the time we were seated, they (the pilots) were ready to go. Lined up on the runway, the pilots applied full power against the brakes. The two giant engines roared, and the entire aircraft shook and groaned. It was different, to say the least.

The brakes were released and off we went. One second we were flying in sandy conditions, the next we were in cloud, and the next we were above the cloud. I settled in, ate the snacks they provided, and pretty much zoned out for most of the flight. The drone of the engines reminded me of the Cubby for some reason.

We were overhead Cape Town after less than an hour and a half of flying. Flying around the peninsula, we witnessed a spectacular sunset. On downwind for runway 19, they turned off the cabin lights. I felt like I’d been thrown into one of those plane crash movies; it was dark inside and there was very little sunlight left, dark clouds rushed passed the windows, the overhead baggage lockers rattled as the aircraft yawed all over the place, and the pitch of the engines was constantly changing.

Sunset in the Cape

The pilot made sure that we knew we had landed by slamming the aircraft into the ground and jumping on the brakes, throwing us forward in our seats. One of the passengers laughed and said “And that’s how you know the landing gear is down.”

Despite the fact that I didn’t do much there, I’d love to go back. I really like the feel of the place; the relaxed atmosphere, the ‘rural’ life(style). While I can’t see myself living there (especially if I had to live by myself), I definitely wouldn’t mind if I got to fly there often for work. Now I want to see what Botswana is like! From desert to swamps.

There's a desert out there!

Birds by the River