28 February 2011


On Saturday, 26 February, I attended the Riverdance show at the Grand Arena in Grand West. I’ve always been a big fan of tap-dancing, so I was really looking forward to it.

The Grand Arena is, well, grand. It can hold about 5000 people, and we had seats in the middle level, to the right of the stage. While a reasonable distance from the stage, you still have a good view, and they have screens on either side of the stage so you don’t miss out on much.

The Grand West staff was very efficient, which was pleasant, and we were seated in no time. Unfortunately the show wasn’t as great as I was expecting it to be. It turned out to be song and dance, with bits of tap in-between. I thought it would mostly be tap.

The music was excellent, and the drummer was absolutely amazing! He had at least two drum-kits as well as chimes and a huge array of cymbals and shakers, and who knows what else. He alternated between the instruments with ease and grace.

The sound was also great; crisp and clear. At first I thought that it had all been pre-recorded.

When they did tap-dance, it was phenomenal. The speed at which the people moved and the different sounds that they could make by using different parts of their feet was quite amazing. My favourite parts were when the entire group would come together and dance. The klikkity-klak of a few pairs of feet would turn into a thunderous wave of sound that sent shivers down my spine.

Another great part of the show was the ‘duel’ between the ‘street’ tap-dancers, and the Irish tap-dancers. It had both humorous and technical elements, and the guy that did the splits was amazing.

The show told a story, and there was a lot of “ballet”-styled dancing, which made it boring for me. Towards the end, I found myself more interested in the massive spotlights that were situated right at the back of the Arena.

Would I go to another Riverdance show? No, I don’t think so. I was hoping it would be explosive and full of action, like Tap Dogs had been, but it wasn’t.

But it was still impressive seeing the way those people moved in unison, each tap of the foot perfectly synchronized.

23 February 2011


The "RV-smile" is the goofy grin/smile that remains on your face for several days after flying in an RV...

Yesterday I was planning on going on a flight through the Franschoek Valley to Theewaterskloof Dam in the Cubby, but when I got to the plane I saw that the left tire was in the process of going flat (thorns are evil and puncture fix doesn't always work). So that plan flew out the window.

But, there was a seat open on an RV-8, so I went flying in that instead. Doing some aerobatics and formation flying makes up for the fact that I can't log the hours.

And the formation flying, wow! It's amazing seeing another aircraft that close to you, with the mountains forming the perfect backdrop.

We flew in formation to the Franschoek Valley, and then split up. We did some aerobatics while the people in the other aircraft watched, and then they did aerobatics while we watched. Watching aerobatics from the ground is amazing, but watching them from the air is breathtaking!

I felt like I was in a dog fight; craning your head around to keep the other aircraft in sight is hard work. And that was only at about 160kts. Imagine doing that at 500kts or more!

Loops, Rolls, Barrel Rolls, Stall Turns, Half Cuban Eight's, Steep Turns, and some other things I can't remember the names of. He also demonstrated that stalling has nothing to do with airspeed; it's a function of your angle of attack. While I know this from studying Principles of Flight, it was one of the first times I got to experience it; pulling the nose up, you turn 90 degrees and pull back on the stick until the aircraft begins to buffet (the sign of an approaching stall), you then release the back-pressure slightly, roll the wings level, and climb gently. Great fun.

I think the highest amount of G's that we pulled was 3.5, and I still don't think that the blood has fully returned to my brain yet. After a mere 30 minutes I was tired and sweaty, and ready to have a nap. So I have great respect for fighter pilots and aerobatic pilots. It's going to be a while before I'm "Aerobatic fit"!

I also have great respect for the people that do air-to-air photography from aircraft with small cockpits. Trying to focus on the other aircraft through the glass(or plastic) of your canopy is a challenge; you need to deal with turbulance and reflections, and you need to be very careful and avoid hitting the canopy with the lens.

All-in-all, another awesome experience. And I'd still love to have an RV-8.

Now, Navigation is calling my name. What an anti-climax.

22 February 2011

4 Down, 4 To Go

The results are out; I passed Flight Planning and ATG, so I’m ecstatic! Only 4 more subjects and another 100hrs left. Time to hit the books... hard; Navigation and Meteorolgy are next.

It's also time to get my x-country hours up. On Sunday I did some circuits at Fisantekraal, then went back to Stellenbosch only to be greeted with a 90 degree x-wind. But somehow I managed to put her down without a problem.

Yesterday I made my way along to mountains to Tulbagh and Porterville. Two little towns in the middle of nowhere, but the flight was good and I can add another 2 hours to the logbook.

And today, well... that deserves its own post :)

13 February 2011

Wap, Wap, Wap

It’s not easy to describe the iconic sound of a Huey, but I thought that Nelson DeMille’s description of them going “Wap, wap, wap” fitted the bill.

Today a dream came true; I finally got to go for a flight in the iconic UH-1H Huey. I’ve been waiting for this for two years, so it just goes to show that good things do come to those that wait.

Unfortunately I wasn’t able to sit up front; so I sat towards the back, facing sideways. With the doors wide open, it meant I could get some amazing photographs.

After a quick safety briefing, we piled in, and got strapped in. The pilot said “You are flying in a legend.”
Then one of the pax said “Are we leaving the doors open?”
“And we don’t have to turn our cell phones off?”
“This IS a legend!”
I couldn’t help but laugh.

After that exchange, we started up. Wow! It was completely different to the Eurocopter. It’s loud, and you shake and wobble in your seat as the main rotor picks up speed. As the rotor begins to turn faster, the wobbling stops, but there’s still a lot of vibration. I sat there and thought “This isn’t so bad; I thought I’d be blasted by wind.” I was wrong.

With everything set and ready to go, we gently lifted off the ground, flew backwards a couple of meters, swung to the left and climbed out to the south. We then turned left and headed towards the Simonsberg Mountain. As soon as we had lifted off, I was blasted by wave after wave of icy air. I actually started to shiver.

As I admired the view and listened to the blades turning above me, the machine vibrating beneath me, I thought that all I needed now was a gun, helmet and flack jacket. Then I thought about the young soldiers that flew in these during war time. That must have been something.

As we approached the Simonsberg, we turned left to fly along the western slopes, almost level with the peak. I felt like I could reach out and touch the rocks. We then hopped over some trees, flew clockwise around the mountain and looked for a place to land.

After a couple of minutes of flying around, the pilot decided to try put her down. I think one of the skids was on the ground, but it wasn’t stable and she began to tip backwards. The pilot immediately took power and climbed, the blades thumping. He tried again, but this time she wanted to roll to the side. So the co-pilot jumped out, and directed the pilot towards a suitable landing spot.

It’s the first time I’ve landed on a mountain, and I must admit that it was quite freaky. He shut down and we jumped out once the blades had stopped turning. The aircraft rocked back and forth slightly. Two of the pax left and climbed to the peak of the Simonsberg to join their friends, and I stayed behind and watched the pilots jam rocks under the skids to try and make it a bit more stable.

The reason for the flight was to drop two people off at the top of the mountain so they could join a group of people for their initiation (first year thing at university). The one guy had an injured knee, so he couldn’t hike up the mountain, hence the heli flight up. Talk about arriving in style.

It was absolutely amazing up there! Wisps of cloud floated past, but the air was perfectly still and I had gone from freezing to melting in a matter of minutes. We sat around for about 20min-30min, and then it was time to go. Two other guys would be joining us.

We all climbed in (me somewhat hesitantly as the thing still rocked back and forth), strapped ourselves in, closed the doors (good), and sat tight while the machine started up. Hearing that turbine always puts a smile on my face, and hearing the blades when they reach that certain speed where they sound ‘chunky’ sends shivers down my spine.

We lifted off and turned right as soon we were clear of the rocks and shrubs. The flight back to Stellenbosch was rather uneventful; the landing however, was quite something…

We flew overhead the field and came to a hover just to the west of the hangers. The pilot then pushed the cyclic forward so we were in a nose-down position, and turned relatively steeply to the left. Getting sucked into me seat, I’m sure I had a stupid-looking grin on my face. He then flew over the Dromader’s and turned left so that the nose was pointing west, and flew sideways along the taxiway to the landing spot.

Awesome! He set her down gently and that was that. The flight was over. It was definitely much better than my Eurocopter flight, and now I just want to be able to sit up front and see what it feels like to actually control a helicopter.

Thanks to everyone that made it possible for me to go with! Not many people get to say that their second helicopter flight was in a Huey, and involved landing on top of a mountain.

10 February 2011


I wish I could say that I'm writing this from Namibia, but unfortunately I'm not. After waiting for months to go on my trip, I was told that the flight had been overbooked. Guess who didn't get a seat. . .

So, I'll try again next week. And if that doesn't work out, then it's safe to say that I won't be going to Namibia any time soon.

On Tuesday, a PC-12 crashed in Plett, killing all (9) on board. The aviation forums are filled with speculations (naturally). Many have said that it is only human nature to speculate, ask questions, form opinions, etc. and I agree. However, while I'm also bursting with questions, I'm going to keep them to myself, because quite frankly, I feel that it is not my place to ask them (partly due to lack of knowledge and experience). There are a lot of "IF's" and "MAYBE's" going around. Will we ever know what really happened? Who knows.

To the crew and passengers on board that flight, may you Rest in Peace.

The aviation industry is dangerous. Accidents like this serve to remind us of that fact.

09 February 2011

A Gaggle of... Flight Attendants?

Well, "wannabe flight attendants" is more correct.

Monday morning, the day of my ATG (Aircraft Technical and General) exam. About 10 minutes before we received our exam papers, the exam room was invaded by at least 12 flight attendant hopefuls that were writing their exams with us. I think they arrived on a bus, because they all randomly appeared at the same time.

Unfortunately some found the task of finding the desk with their name on it to be far too challenging, and resorted to wandering around the room (which isn't that big) looking lost. Hmmm, lets hope they know where to find the exits on the aircraft they might end up working on...

Wednesday morning (aka today). Flight Planning exam. I'm tired; I only fell asleep at 0230 this morning. I think it's because I only had dessert for supper (melon and ice-cream, yum), so it was my body's way of punishing me for not eating a real meal.

But anyway, I arrived an hour early and sat in the car jamming to Alanis Morissette. Okay, not jamming, I could barely stay awake. In fact, the only things keeping me awake was the smell of car fumes, and the sounds of Golden Arrow buses rumbling past me.

I somehow managed to resist the calls of sleep while writing my exam (amazing, seeing as the chairs we get now are sooo comfortable), and I finished the paper with time to spare.

Lets hope that I can tick another two subjects off the list :)

Now, it's time for me to pack. I somehow need to fit 50 million Avex books, as well as some clothes in a bag, and keep the weight under 25kg. Where am I going? Namibia.

Stay safe everyone.

03 February 2011

Dromader Drone

Wednesday, 2 February

It's evening. I finally got to see and hear my beloved Huey start up and take-off. Beautiful. I also got to see the Dromader's taking off while weighed down with about 1000 litres of water. Stunning.

Now, what could make my evening better? Listening to the Huey landing while the Dromader's circle overhead. The 'wap wap wap' of the Huey combined with the drone of the Dromader's sent shivers down my spine. Unfortunately I didn't watch them come back as I was sitting in ATG lectures (I almost ran out of the room, camera in hand, when I heard the Huey approaching. Almost.)

Thursday, 3 February

Another extremely hot day. Yesterday was in the 40ies, today was pretty much the same. But clouds have been building and a storm is near. About 10 minutes before the storm hit I heard the characteristic whine of a turbine starting up; the Huey had been called to a fire.

Lightning was crackling around, but the pilot went off (it was a smooth lift-off, and he even hovered along the taxi-way), and headed north. I personally thought he was crazy; clouds were closing in fast. The storm hit about 5 minutes after he left. It didn't last long, and while it was nice to have some rain, it was still extremely hot and humid.

After some time, I looked towards the Helderberg Mountain and saw a speck coming through the Gap. Was it a Huey? Was it a plane? I went inside to fetch my camera just in case. Good thing too. Wap wap wap. He came overhead, circled to the left as he descended and put her down beautifully on the grass as a few drops of rain began to fall.

After he had shut down and the rotors had stopped turning, I made my way over to him to help him with the cover for the blade tip. The pilot is a very nice chap, and it turns out that he flew in the Vietnam War. Awesome!

What's better than being in the rain? Being in the rain when you're tucking the Huey in for the night.

01 February 2011

The Desire to Learn

Every now and then I find myself really wanting to learn. This morning I was flying in a Super Cub and as I looked at its (few) instruments, I found myself thinking "It'd be really cool to learn about how all these things work." But just last month I was contemplating burning my Instruments notes.

And this afternoon I was studying while periodically gazing at my Huey (yes, mine), and I felt the sudden urge to run to the Flight Shop, grab the book on helicopter principles of flight, and learn about how those things fly.

And this evening I attended a PPL ATG (Aircraft Technical and General) lecture in order to brush up on some of the stuff seeing as I'm writing the comm version of it next week Monday. Surprisingly, I found it interesting. The 2.5hr lecture seemed to fly by, and I found it to be a real confidence booster when I could answer questions, and sometimes even explain things to the people around me.

I don't, however, have any interest in studying the 29 pages on aircraft electrical systems. Shudder.