26 May 2011

6 Down, 2 To Go

So after much waiting, pacing, hair-pulling, and listening to excuses from the CAA, I got my exam results.

Instruments = Pass. Happy!
Air Law = Fail.

Here I thought I had aced Law. Just goes to show you that these things are so unpredictable.

All that's left is Air Law and Navigation. And I have just under 3 weeks to study. Please, please, PLEASE let me pass these next time!

18 May 2011

Oh Fog!

Friday, 13th
Today was the first time in a long time that I was up before 8am (I’m definitely not a morning person). I eagerly made my way to BP to get some petrol for the plane, and then headed towards the airfield. Not even 5km from home, the weather went from sunny to fog.

Oh well, I’ll take my time putting the fuel in and maybe it will burn off. Almost an hour later, and no improvement. Okay, I’ll go and have some coffee. After 30 minutes, there was still no improvement. Great. The met office said it should start to clear... Rule of thumb, when the met man says something, expect the exact opposite ;)

So instead of flying, I went to Cape Town in search of boots. That mission was also unsuccessful.

Saturday, 14th
Yes, sunny with a light breeze. I went for a walk around the neighbourhood, and when I looked to the north and west, I was greeted with walls of fog. Right then, no flying for me today.

Monday, 16th
Fog isn’t bad in Stellenbosch, it’s just hazy. So I decided to stay close to the field and do circuits. They went well, and I was quite happy even though I wanted to log at least 1.5hrs and I ended up with less than half of that.

Tuesday, 17th
Finally, good weather! After studying in the morning, I went to the Club and dragged my little yellow bomber out of the hanger. The plan? Fly to Dimerskraal. One of my friends had been nagging me about flying, and he had some free time, so he came along at the last minute.

My first landing at Dimerskraal seemed to be going well, but I took power just as the wheels touched in a perfect 3-pointer (I thought the ground was further away than what it actually was). The second landing was a real landing, and we stopped and taxi’d around a bit. Now, Dimerskraal is a little dirt strip with one heck of a slope (that isn’t constant), and I hadn’t been there for a while, so it was great knowing I could still get in and out there. And it’s also quite a nice little strip.

On the way back we routed ‘low-level’ (everyone seems to have a different definition of low-level. My policy is that if it isn’t safe, you’re too low. If it is safe, fly just above that.) The stretch between Dimerskraal and Stellenbosch is full of power lines, trees, vineyards, and little fences. So while one can fly 100ft off the deck, if your engine coughed, you’d stand a greater chance of ploughing into one of the aforementioned obstacles.

We returned to FASH, and I managed to put her down nicely (I even got some compliments from some of the members). Another 1.6hrs done, 50-something to go until I hit the 200hr mark.

Oh dear.

12 May 2011

Law and Instruments

On Monday I wrote the Law & Ops exam. In true CAA fashion, they asked some strange questions. But luckily there was a total of about 44 questions, so you have room for error. I can barely remember what the exam was like, so I’m just going to have to wait and see if I passed.

Instruments, well... I was most worried about the Magnetism side of things, and for the last couple of days I worked hard on those sort of questions. The CAA threw a real curve ball and gave us quite a basic paper; a whole 22 questions, four of which required calculations. I had been so focused on mastering the complex calculations that I forgot to study the basic stuff. So I have no clue as to how well I’m going to do in that exam.

I wish I could really relax and be even more lazy than usual, but I still have Nav left, so I suppose I should start studying for that. Ugh.

Until next time.

07 May 2011

Hell on the Helderberg

I realise that this is a bit late...

Saturday, 16 April 2011

Swirling smoke rises into the sky, obscuring the sun and giving everything an orange glow. The source; a raging fire on the Helderberg Mountain.

Curious person that I am, I went to investigate, and I was shocked at how much of the Nature Reserve was going up in flames. Fire engines, Police cars and Traffic Cops were everywhere, and crowds of people had parked on the side of the road near the dam at the base of the Reserve in order to watch.

Minutes after arriving (12:20), I heard the tell-tale ‘wap, wap, wap’ of the Huey. ZS-HBU, based at Stellenbosch airfield, came through the Helderberg Gap and immediately set to work.

Twenty minutes later, a Kamov came along to join in the fun, and the two choppers set about bombing the flames closest to the residential area. The fire extended from the bottom of the Reserve, to the very top of the Helderberg Mountain. The strong south easterly winds were pushing it towards the western slopes of the Helderberg.

After 40 minutes, I left and I had no intention of coming back. But while sitting at home, I heard the drone of two Dromader’s as they flew low over the houses towards the fire. As I had never seen a Dromader in action before, I decided to go back.

In the space of about an hour, two more choppers had arrived on scene, and the fire had spread. But what was interesting is that it was moving east; into wind. In a way the wind was good; the fire progressed very slowly towards the east, but unfortunately it was still moving west, and it was making its way to the Stellenbosch side of the Helderberg Mountain.

Just after 15:00, another chopper arrived and landed on one of Beaumont’s fields to quickly get the Bambi bucket out. The aerial support now consisted of five Choppers, two Spotters and three Bombers.

The main focus was obviously on protecting the residential areas, but after bombing the area intensely for several hours, two of the choppers, as well as the Bombers, began bombing the line of fire that was slowly moving east.

I left at about 17:00 and made my way to the Stellenbosch Airfield. It was scary to see how much the fire had spread on the northern side of the mountain. A line of flames steadily made its way down the mountain to vineyards and forests. The rising smoke reminded me of a mushroom cloud forms after an atom bomb has been dropped.

Come 18:30, the aerial support was forced to leave. After many hours of hard work the various fire crews had managed to extinguish the majority of the flames on the southern side of the mountain. But despite the best efforts of Working on Fire, VWS (Volunteer Wildfire Services), and the Fire Department, the fire continued to burn throughout the night on the Stellenbosch side of the mountain, and parts were still burning by Sunday afternoon.

On Monday, a friend and I surveyed the damage from the air. It was as if we were looking at another planet; the black and brown ground, blackened rocks and the shell of a house, its walls blackened, stared us in the face. Large expanses of forest and Fynbos had simply vanished.

Patches of ground were still smoldering, and the forests that hadn’t been completely obliterated were merely clumps of trees here and there. It was surreal to see how many houses were surrounded by burnt ground, but their walls seemed to have been untouched by the flames, some of them even had beautiful green patches of grass.

On Saturday, I witnessed a community coming together. Traffic Cops, and members of the Helderberg Crime Watch worked together to block roads and redirect traffic. Police and Traffic Cops kept the public at bay and made sure that onlookers didn’t park in the way of the fire crews. VWS (Volunteer Wildfire Services) managed to get in on the action, and their volunteers did what they could to help. The members of the Fire Department did a sterling job. Working on Fire helped by having two Spotters (Spotters 1 and 5), four Huey’s (ZS-HBU, ZS-HBV, ZS-HLA, ZU-RAS), and three Bombers (Bombers 5, 6 and 9, with Bomber 7 making an appearance) tackle the fire. Titan Helicopter’s Kamov ZS-PXU with it’s massive 3000l Bambi Bucket joined in on the fun as well.

It’s the first time I’ve witnessed five helicopters and several Bombers fighting a single fire, and I believe that that is an indication of just how serious it was. Seeing the air and ground crews working together was something to behold (watching the choppers as they picked up and dropped water was better than watching any airshow display). Along with all those that were on the fire line, we must remember those that worked behind the scenes and collected and delivered food and water to the ground crews (I’m sure it was greatly appreciated).

Now, then, what was the cause of this? They said it was a controlled burning of a fire-break that got out of control. I think not; who burns a fire-break in strong wind, at the end of the fire season?