27 March 2011

Shake, Rattle, and Roll

Okay, no roll…

Friday, 25 March

A dream has come true; I flew the Huey. I sat in the left seat, and I actually got to get an idea of what it feels like to fly a helicopter. And wow, was it different!

We were flying to the east of the Steenbras dam in order to drop water on a few spots that might flare up and burn the rest of the mountain (fires have been burning in that area for days). After we left Stellenbosch, I was given permission to follow on the controls.

So I wrapped my right hand loosely around the cyclic, and I rested my toes on the (anti-torque) pedals. Uhm, what am I supposed to be following? Sure we’re going straight and level, but the controls are hardly moving.

I know that flying helicopters is all about small movements. But I didn’t realise just how small they had to be. When he gave (almost) full control to me, I soon learnt that my small movements weren’t small enough. And every now and then I could see him still the cyclic out the corner of my eye.

I slowly figured out how to correct any mistakes I made, and I managed to keep us level… for about 10 seconds. When we crossed the mountains I was expecting the wind to have some sort of effect on the helicopter, but it was as if the air was as smooth as glass.

It was at this point that the pilot took control once again so that I could take photos. I got my first look at the fire-damage, and it made my jaw drop. The ground is black and grey, the rocks blackened, and it looks like a wasteland.

We landed near where he would be working, and the Bambi Bucket and I were thrown out (not literally, of course). I took photos from the ground while he worked, and I got to see a helicopter picking up water for the first time.

After about an hour of bombing (+-19 000l was dropped), the chopper pilot, Spotter pilot, and guys on the ground decided that the fire shouldn’t flare up, and if it did, it wouldn’t burn for long because there was nowhere for it to go (it was surrounded by rocks).

After thanking the guys that helped from the ground (gave advice as to where to drop the water), the bucket was put back in the Huey and we jumped in. After waving good-bye to the guys on the ground, we routed along the coast where I got some fantastic photos.

After we passed overhead Gordon’s Bay, I was given partial control once again (my left had stayed far away from the collective), and this time I managed to keep us level for most of the flight back to Stellenbosch.

I followed lightly on the controls during joining and landing. There was very little cyclic movement once again. I’m going to have to practice keeping my hands very steady.

So now that I’ve actually had the opportunity to fly a helicopter, I’m starting to see what they’re all about. In a way, it feels a bit like I’m experiencing all of these wonderful things now, so when I experience them when I’m older and wiser, it won’t be as awesome. But I’m still extremely grateful that I’ve been able to experience these things.

Maybe I’ll leave the skydiving and shark cage diving for when I’m in my 20ies.


Saturday, 26 March

My way of giving back and showing that I’m thankful for what people have done for me, is by volunteering to fly ‘youngsters’ around. Today the Young Falcons were getting flips, and I was one of the volunteer pilots. While I didn’t fly a massive amount of people around, I did give two young ladies the opportunity to experience the wonders of flight. Judging by the smiles on their faces when we landed, I think they enjoyed it.

5 Down, 3 To Go

Right, I wrote Navigation and Meteorology last week.
Things were off to a bad start before I had even woken up. Why? I overslept. Instead of leaving the house at 0620, I only woke up after 0630. And I had to race across to the other side of town to pick up a friend.

Luckily the traffic wasn’t took hectic, and I arrived in time for my exam.
Now then, Navigation was first. I was handed my stuff, and as I flicked through it I thought ‘Where’s the question paper? Maybe she’ll hand it out separately.’ We got some more stuff, but still no question paper. I looked back at the others and they also seemed puzzled.

When she was finished handing everything out, she walked over to me and I asked where the question paper was. She frowned, went through my papers, and, like me, didn’t find any questions. She did the same to two other people.

Well done CAA, you have failed to give us our question papers! Now what? They’ll fax them through. What’s the fax number? Uhm…

After much sitting around and twiddling our thumbs, we finally got our papers. Well, sort of. I took mine, and saw that “PROCEDURES” was written on the front page. I flicked through it just incase they had made a mistake on the front page, but when I saw questions on MDH (minimum decision height) and things I’ve never heard of, I knew I definitely had the wrong paper. “Sorry?” I raised my hand and the invigilator walked over to me. I pointed at the paper. “It’s the wrong subject.”

Well done CAA, you faxed us the wrong subject’s paper. After waiting an hour, we finally received the correct question papers. We couldn’t decipher some of the numbers (5’s, 6’s, and 8’s looked the same), but at least we had our papers.

The exam was horrible, and I didn’t finish in time. Needless to say, I failed it. But at least I passed Meteorology (surprisingly enough; it was also a horrible exam).

Thank you, CAA!

21 March 2011

Cubby and Tail-dragger Fly In

This year, Mossel Bay played host to the annual Cubby Fly In, hosted over the weekend.

Thursday, Day 1

I woke up at 6am, planning on leaving the house at 0645. 7am, right, I’m finally ready to go. It’s a nice day, but there’s lots of cloud over Sir Lowry’s Pass. My brother-in-law and I headed to the airfield to refit the Cubby’s tailwheel (had another puncture), refuel and re-oil the plane, and prepare for my trip to Mossel Bay.

With everything done, I’m ready to leave, however Mossel Bay is IMC (instrument meteorological conditions). Great. So I waited at Stellenbosch. And then I waited some more. At 12pm, I decided that even if the weather did improve, I would be too tired to make the long journey. Friday is another day.

The 'taxi'...

Friday, Day 2

I didn’t bother getting up at the crack of dawn; I knew there will be clouds and it will take a few hours for them to burn off. To kill some time, I browse the interwebs, check Facebook, and try to check the weather on Weathersa (unsuccessfully… my password wouldn't work).

My sister wandered in and asked if I wanted to go cycling. I figured I might just die, but yeah, okay, why not. So I run around, eat brekka and all that. The place is 5 minutes away; it’s a beautiful farm on on the north-western side of the Helderberg Mountain. This was my first real mountain biking experience, and I almost did die. Why did they put all the steephills there; it’s just climb after climb!

That done, I went home, showered, ate, and decided to try get to Mossel Bay.
I opted to route via Franschoek Pass instead of Sir Lowry’s Pass. It would add an extra 20 minutes to my trip, but that’s better than hitting turbulence.

As I left Stellenbosch airspace and made a call saying I was routing to Helshoogte, a voice said “The female caller, your registration please.” As soon as I heard it, I knew it was ATC (Air Traffic Control), and I thought ‘Oh no, did I climb too soon and enter their airspace by accident?’
“The female caller is Delta Victor Romeo.”
“Delta Victor Romeo, please be advised there is a formation of 16, that’s one six, aircraft routing to Stellenbosch.”
“Thanks for the warning sir.”
Yay, I wasn’t in trouble!

I didn’t take chances with Franschoek, and I climbed to over 5000ft before going over the pass. All I encountered was a small bump. There was a fire on the other side of the Pass, and I thought ‘Where’s Working on Fire?’. Then I looked to my right. Oh. The area between Kleinmond and Sir Lowry’s Pass was on fire, and a huge plume of smoke was rising from near the Steenbras Dam.

Once overhead Theewaterskloof Dam, I descended to FL035, and routed to Caledon. Eish, I cruised at 40-50kts groundspeed for most of the way. My slowest was 38kts. To entertain myself, I started singing “I’ve got a lovely bunch of coconuts…”

I passed overhead a tiny town called Protem, and the GPS said it would take me 50 minutes to get to Riversdale. 15 minutes later, I checked the GPS again. Still 50 minutes to go. Great. What if I descend? As soon as the thought crossed my mind, some wind threw me around. Okay, climb then. Once at FL045, my groundspeed stayed above 60kts. Happy days!

The rest of the Cubby-drivers decided to meet me at Riversdale. The place is interesting (the runway, not the town). The wind was pumping so there was a lot of wid shear, you fly over a road on short Final, and there is a very convenient bump on the runway just after the point of touchdown. My thought process on landing was something like “Okay, cool, I’m on the ground… wait, I’m airborne again! Hmmm, how did that happen?”

After meeting everyone (I only knew one of the 6 guys that was there), getting some magic juice for the Cubby and a quick photo session, we were off. The flight to Mossel Bay took just over an hour.

Once at Mossel Bay, I did my first straight in approach (okay, we joined on left Base). The wind made sure we knew it was there, and the runway is like the sea; up and down. I got the Cubby down. She came up. I got her down again. The left wheel decided to get airborne again. I finally got all three wheels planted firmly on the ground. Yes!

I was knackered (still am). I did 3.8 hours. It was supposed to take me 2.5, but the wind, she is pesky. I got to know the rest of the Cubby-drivers, and they are all a really great bunch of guys. Yes, I was the only female Cubby-driver. I think I’m the only female Cubby pilot in the country.

After dinner, JP, R and I left. JP and I were staying at R’s place. We couldn’t have asked for a better host. He and his family made me feel right at home, and R even provided us with some entertainment… He had an ostrich egg, and he wanted to show us how strong the shell is.
“It’s so strong you can stand on it! Look, I’ll show you.”
He placed it on the (tiled) floor, and started putting his weight on it. Crunch. Egg everywhere! Yummy.

Now, it’s time for some sleep.

Saturday, Day 3

Early (0645) wake-up. Breakfast is at Oudtshoorn, and we want to be airbornce at 8am. Well, being pilots, we only took off at about 0845.

It took us just under an hour to get there, and I was so tired of sitting, but the breakfast was worth it; fruit salad, juice, toast, and a delicious omlette, all for R30! Brilliant!

Oudtshoorn has a lovely airfield, and I don’t know why they don’t have airshows there; the runway is long and wide, Jet A1 and Avgas are available, and there’s ample space. What more do you need?

Unfortunately Oudtshoorn has something you don’t need; thorns. Out of the 7 aircraft parked in the grass, I was the only one that got punctures…

After brekka, we headed back to FAMO (Mossel Bay). I didn’t know the area at all, so I just followed S (CYB) and C (DJZ). E in OHI (C172) flew back with us too. He slotted in behind me. He seems to enjoy flying slowly behind us Cubby’s. After crossing the Robinson Pass, we did a fast descent, and the Cubby hit 100kts (groundspeed). That's the first time I've gone that fast in the Cubby.

As we approached the airfield, a little white ‘rocket’ shot past us. Cessna Mustang ZS-YES had come for a visit.

After landing and shutting down, DVR and YES posed for some photographs. Lunch was delayed, so we changed my tailwheel tube while we waited. When I say “we”, I mean everyone else did the work; I just stood there. Guys, thank you so much for all the help, I really appreciate it!

Lunch still wasn’t ready, so I got myself acquainted with R’s Cutlass (Cessna 172 RG). What a beautiful machine!

The food was finally ready! After our snack, we planned the afternoon’s activities. We were going to go on a scenic trip up the coast towards Knysna. The Mustang had to leave, and we were graced with a couple of fly-pasts.

We had a quick briefing before our flight along the coast, and some of the guys decided that they didn’t actually want to go; they would be flying that way tomorrow, and didn’t want to do the trip twice. I didn’t mind not going; if there was a strong headwind, there was a good chance that I’d come close to running out of fuel.

So we decided to fly in to Billy’s field instead. It’s about a 5 minute flight, and the ‘strip’ is essentially a dirt track. After we were all on the ground we stood around and chatted. I looked down the ‘runway’ and decided that I’d quite enjoy flying into places like this often. It’s different and exciting.

10 minutes later and we were ready to go again. I was airborne in no time, and my “low-level fly-past” didn’t really work out; it was more of a spastic sideslip.

Right, now what are we going to do? Flour-bombs and spot landings? Sounds good! We went two at a time, so that the others could watch. As soon as we were done, two more would take off. S in CYB and I were the first two.

I lined up for the flour-bombing, and just as I was about to lob the ‘bomb’ out, my door closed. I ended up overshooting by something like 10m (or was it 16m? Either way, I came in 3rd).

I had only planned on doing one spot-landing (we were meant to do one glide approach and one powered approach) because I didn’t want to place too much strain on the punctured tires. Well, that one spot-landing turned into several bounces down the runway, and I ended up going around.

My next try was better, but I flared too early and dropped the last few feet. I took power at the last second and managed to cushion the landing. It was fun watching the others, and E in OHI was the only one that landed within 5m of the line.

I’d done almost 3 hours of flying today. Booya! Time to pump the Cubby’s tires up, tuck the planes in, relocate puffadders, eat, and chat. Dinner was fantastic (braai), and dessert came in the form of a night flight over Mossel Bay. Thanks E!

Sunday, Day 4

Everyone was leaving today. The guys were up at the crack of dawn, but I decided to have a little lie-in. Once I finally got up, R informed me that the Cubby’s tires had gone flat. Great…

After some breakfast, R and I made our way to the airfield. We jacked the plane up, put more puncture fix in, and pumped the tires up. I was only planning on leaving on Monday, but we wanted to see how long the tires would stay hard for.

Job done, we went back to his hanger. We were going to do some flying in his Cutlass. The best thing? He’s instructor rated on it, so I can log the hours. The pre-flight was pretty standard, but the rest of it, well, I was thrown in the deep end.

Not only does it have retractable gear, but it also has a variable-pitch propeller. R explained the basics to me, and then we were off. It was different to say the least. We did medium turns, steep turns (I really need some work there), clean stalls, dirty stalls (landing gear and flaps down), and a simulated engine failure.

She stalls in a docile manner, and she’s also very forgiving in general. You don’t need to worry about accidentally extending the gear when you’re going too fast because, well, you can extend it at almost any speed. The controls can get heavy though, and I found that I constantly had to adjust the trim.

Upper-air work done, we returned the airfield for some circuits. Apart from the gear, flaps, pitch, cowl flaps, manifold pressure, and carb heat, it’s the same as the Cubby. After the second circuit I started getting to know the machine. I could hear the slight change in sound as you coarsened the pitch on downwind, the slight clunk as the gear extended/retracted and locked, the fact that 10 degrees of flap didn’t seem to do much, but 20 degrees definitely did. After a few circuits clunks and slight variations in sound became comforting.

But by the end of the flight, I was tired and pretty much drenched in sweat; it was hot, and it was stressful. I couldn’t believe that we had flown for 1.4 hours; I thought it was less. Time flies…

We checked the Cubby and one tire had started to deflate, but the other was fine. I also phoned the Met Office to see what the weather was doing. The chap was very kind and he said “Go now, leave, get in your plane!” The weather between FAMO and Stellenbosch was good, but it was going to deteriorate. So I decided to leave that afternoon. (Good decision!)

We went back to R’s place so I could get the rest of my stuff and plan my flight. His wife made us a wonderful lunch, and I’m grateful for that; I think the pasta was the only thing keeping me going, because after getting back to Stellenbosch, I was ready for a nice long sleep.

The flight back took much less than the flight there. The wind couldn’t decided if it wanted to be head or tails, but it was very light. The visibility, however, was shocking; a layer of smoke hung between FAMO and FASH.

I landed at FASH 20 minutes before sunset, and was greeted by a C172 and C177RG parked where the Cubby normally sleeps. Luckily one of the members came and helped me rearrange everything. I wouldn’t have managed without him!

I logged 10.7 hours between Friday and Sunday, bringing my total Cubby hours to 108, and my grand total to 127. This weekend has showed me what flying should be like; friends getting together, sharing stories, flying to random places, helping each other out, and having a good time.

R, thanks for organizing this trip, and thank you for letting me be your guest. To all the other pilots that attended the fly-in; it was great to meet you. You guys are absolutely amazing, and I’m glad that I could be a part of everything.

Until next time…

12 March 2011

Son, Sea, and Helicopters

Saturday, 12 March 2011

Wow, I can’t believe it’s already Saturday. What’s even more unbelievable is the fact that I was not only awake, but up and ready for the day before 7am. Amazing. Of course, I had a motive…

An AMS helicopter would be conducting training exercises with the NSRI by the Gordon’s Bay Harbour. So I made my way over there to take some photographs. The helicopter arrived about 45 minutes after it was supposed to be there (helicopter pilots, pfft). So I spent that time walking along the Gordon’s Bay Harbour wall, praying that a huge wave wouldn’t come thundering along and drench my camera in water.

It’s been a while since I’ve been in a harbour. I must say, it was good to smell the smells (the salt, not the rotting fish), see the sea, and listen to the waves rolling in and out. The helicopter finally arrived and landed by the Gordon’s Bay Naval Base. The AMS crew and NSRI had a briefing before going off to their respective craft.

A couple of minutes later I got a call from my friend. “Do you want to come on the boat and take photos from there?”
“Uhm, yeah, okay.”
“Run, you have 5 minutes to get here.”
So I ran, huffing and puffing as I went. I walked into the NSRI building, signed the indemnity form, was given a lifejacket, and hopped onto the boat.

Time to kick the… tyres?, and light the fires!
It’s been at least 5 years since I last went on a boat, and I’m pleased to say that I still have my sea-legs. I’d forgotten how amazing it feels moving through the water, bobbing up and down with the swells and listening to the water splashing along the side.

We went a short distance from the harbour and waited for the helicopter. It was primarily their exercise (the NSRI was there as a precaution, and to provide people to throw into the water, at least that’s the way I understood it); AMS would be practicing dropping swimmers from the helicopter, and then lifting swimmer and the rescuee (forgive me, I don’t know the correct terms) and flying to shore with them hanging beneath the helicopter on a (very) long line.

You have to admire those people; they jump from quite a height. And once they’re in the water, they have to fight with currents, as well as the spray from the helicopter’s rotor wash hitting them in the face. Looking at the water, I noticed a number of white things floating around. On closer inspection, I realised that they were jellyfish. Cute.

I think it was on the final ‘drop-and-retrieve’ when the helicopter hovered very close to the boat, effectively spraying us with water. My camera didn’t enjoy that much, and the salt created a thin film over the lens, making it look all hazy.

Exercise complete, we returned to the harbour. It was an awesome morning, and it’s great seeing the rescue services working in harmony. I would like to say a very big thank you to the volunteers of NSRI Station 9 for allowing me to join them at sea.

That just proves that it’s all about who you know, and being in the right place at the right time.

07 March 2011

Swellendam Fly-In and Airshow

On 4-6 March, the sleepy little town of Swellendam was in for a rude awakening. Okay, maybe not a rude one; being awoken by the sounds of planes, helicopters and jets flying around is actually quite nice.

This would be the first fly-in that I would be attending by myself. I would be camping there, so while I tried to keep the bags to a minimum, I still ended up having four stuffed in the front of the plane (good thing you can take the stick out and disconnect the rudders). I meant to take a photo, but I forgot. The plane looked a bit like a taxi.

I opted to fly up on Friday, my reasoning was that the weather might be horrible on Saturday, and then I wouldn’t have been able to go. I wanted to leave at about 0800, but as I was taxing to the runway, a friend called me on the radio and said that Swellendam was covered in mist. So, I turned around, taxied back to the hanger, and waited.

After waiting over an hour, I received word that it was clearing, so I hopped in the plane and off I went. The 1hr20min flight there was rather uneventful, and I got a bit bored as I bumbled along at a whole 60-65kts. I managed to get up to about 75kts… for about 10 seconds.

Shortly after I had passed overhead Caledon, Bosbok ZU-ADI, passed me (they left about 15 minutes after me). It’s always amazing seeing another plane from the air, and I especially love the way the Bosbok looks as it breaks away, the sun catching it in this magical way. I don’t have a photo of it passing me, unfortunately.

This was my first time at Swellendam, and I was given a kick in the pants during my landing… The windsocks were barely moving, but there was definitely wind! I had messed my landing up before I had even turned onto the Base Leg; I wasn’t concentrating and was therefore too high and too fast. Side-slipping in, I crossed the threshold of runway 15, and I was struck by three things; the wind literally hit me, I realised that the runway slopes down, and I was at least 10kts faster than what I should’ve been.

I landed deep and it definitely wasn’t one of my best landings. But I made it on the ground in one piece, taxied to my parking, hopped out and got my first view of the field.

While not as nice as Stellenbosch, it’s still a cute field. They had a campsite set up for those that were staying the night, as well as an area where you could sit and watch the show (chairs and umbrellas were provided). I spent most of the afternoon doing nothing. I managed to get an hour of studying in, and that was it for the weekend.

Things livened up a bit when people started doing their validation flights, and the SAAF’s Hawk display was quite phenomenal. Part of his display was a low fly-past in the ‘dirty’ configuration (flaps and landing gear down). He was so low in fact, that the right main wheel accidentally touched the ground. I say accidentally because I think it is illegal for an aircraft to do touch-and-go’s at a field if it can’t take off and land there. Although, I think the Hawk could probably land and stop in time if it has a drag chute. But I’m not sure. When he did his display on Saturday no part of the aircraft touched the ground.

The nice thing about being there the day before the actual show is that I had a bit more freedom; they were still setting up and I knew a lot of the people, so I got to sit in some nice spots. Unfortunately the light was horrible, I didn’t take all that many photos (by that I mean I took less than 1000).

The night was spent chatting to friends and ‘kuiering’. One of the instructors from Stellenbosch and his student were there, so we stuck together and set our tents up next to each other. At midnight, we decided to stargaze. Not only did I look at the Southern Cross for the first time (I know, right), but I also saw two shooting stars.

We turned in at 1am. At 2am I was awoken by the sound of an animal scurrying around. It freaked me out because it sounded like it was inside of the tent. I eventually managed to drift off again, and was up and about at 7am (rather amazing as I’m not a morning person).

The field was covered in mist, but it started burning off at about 9am, and people started arriving by air. They had 45 aircraft movements in 45 minutes, which is quite something. ATC was kept busy, and there were quite a few funny radio transmissions…

ATC: Aircraft XYZ, please state your position.
XYZ: Will state my position, XYZ.


ATC: Lima Sierra November, your level?
LSN: Yes, I am level.


The airshow itself wasn’t that big; it was primarily a fly-in. The SAAF had one Hawk display, as well as Silver Falcon #5, an Oryx and an A109. The other displays were flown by those that had flown in, and included: L39 Albatros, Pitts Special, Harvard, Bosbok, Piaggio Albatross, Gyrocopter, Sanka helicopter, L39 model, and glider aerobatics.

The glider was quite amazing, and I no longer think that they are boring. Doing three consecutive loops without losing height in an aircraft that doesn’t have an engine is quite amazing.

The light was pathetic, and there weren’t really any good spots to take photos from, so I pretty much just sat in the sun and baked.

The solo Silver Falcon display was nice because it was something different; the Silver Falcons have acquired some new team members, so this was the first time we’d seen the new #5 perform. Unfortunately he either forgot to switch the smoke on, or the system decided not to work.

The Hawk display was, wow! Low, fast and loud. He did a low-level fly-past, the roar of the engine making your bones rattle, then pulled up vertically until he was at about 10 000ft. The roar disappeared and was replaced with silence. It was surreal. Eventually he ran out of energy, hung in the air for a bit, then came back down. As he neared the ground, he applied power, and as the engine spooled up it went from a sort of a screech back to that roar. It’s difficult to describe, but it’s a sound I adore.

A lot of the people there that I knew decided to leave during the lunch break, which kind of sucked. There were still people there that I know, but they were all, ah, older. But I still had a good time. And the sunset that evening was absolutely amazing!

The fact that the show wasn’t very big meant that there weren’t thousands of people around, which was nice. It was also very well organized, and the commentator was not only funny (sometimes), but he also got the crowd and the pilots to participate, and he had enough common sense to keep quiet when aircraft were doing displays so that we could listen to the beautiful sound of their engines.

I decided to have an early-ish night. Soon after I climbed into my sleeping bag I once again heard something scurrying around. It sounded like it was under the tent, so I promptly took one of my bags and chucked it where I thought the sound was coming from. Either I killed it, or I scared it away, because I didn’t hear anything after that.

Sunday morning was much like Saturday morning; misty. It was also quite chilly, I only managed to get going after 11am due to the weather. The flight back was bumpy, but I actually managed to hit 78kts every now and then.

Needless to say I’m tired! But it was good to get away for a bit.