17 November 2011

NSRI/SAAF Exercise: Simon’s Town

Saturday, 12 November

The morning dawned cold and bright... no wait, it was 4am when I got up; it wasn’t bright. As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, there’s pretty much only one thing that will get me to wake up that early; aeroplanes.

And in this case, it was the Oryx!

A friend of mine who volunteers for the NSRI told me that they (the NSRI) would be conducting an exercise with the SAAF, and asked me if I wanted to go with to take photos. While the thought of having to wake up at 4am did put me off a little bit, the opportunity to see the Oryx in action motivated me.

The exercise took place in the Simon’s Town Harbour (military section), and an Oryx and 4 NSRI boats were involved. Crews from various NSRI stations took part.

Things kicked off with the Oryx arriving in style, sending sand everywhere (I think I still have some in my hair). A safety briefing was held, outlining everything from approaching the helicopter, climbing in and out, and how the strop for lifting people worked.

The first exercise was ‘dry-lifts’. The Oryx hovered above the dock, and the NSRI swimmers were hoisted up to the helicopter, and then back down. This was to allow those that had never done it before, to become familiar with the sensation, sights and sounds.

After that, the groups of swimmers were chucked in the icy waters of the harbour. The Oryx would then pick them up one by one, fly to the dock once about 6 were in the chopper, chuck them out, and repeat. Every time she came back to drop the swimmers off, I braved about 5 tonnes of downwash, while sand was blasted into my eyes and mouth, and down my shirt, just to take a few photos.

I regretted not buying a filter for my camera lens; I don’t think it enjoyed the sandblasting (at least it wasn’t as bad as when I went out on the boat when they had an exercise with AMS; the sea spray wasn’t fun).

Unfortunately I had to leave before they completed the exercise; I was hoping to be able to climb into the Oryx and have a look around. Oh well, maybe next time.

Thanks D, for inviting me. And thank you to the NSRI for allowing me to hang around and take some photos!

13 November 2011

Flying the R22

In October I stumbled across a competition on Facebook to win an introductory flight in an R22 with Base4 in Cape Town. All one had to do was write no more than 1000 words about why they wanted to fly helicopters. In the mood to write and with nothing better to do, I decided to write about my few helicopters flights, and why I enjoyed them.

It turned into a lot (997 words to be precise) of waffling, and I never submitted it. A couple of weeks later I saw that the competition would close soon, and I decided “What the heck, I’ve got nothing to lose, I’ll submit my story.”

Not long after that, I received a phone call to say that I had won. I haven’t won many competitions in my short life, and all I could say was a rather unenthusiastic “Okay, cool, that’s great.” It took a couple of hours for it to sink in.

On Monday 7 November, I made my way to Cape Town International for my flight. The staff at Base4 were friendly and welcoming, and I met my instructor, signed my life away (indemnity form), and then my instructor and I sat down and talked aerodynamics.

Helicopters are like fixed wings, they just have more parts that can break. After much nodding and me thinking “Yup, that term sounds familiar... I know how that works... Okay, I didn’t know that applied to helicopters”, we made our way to the chopper.

My instructor explained every aspect of the pre-flight to me, and we probably spent over 20 minutes on that alone. And during all that time I kept thinking “I can’t believe I’m going to willingly strap myself into an R22!”

Eventually the time did come to climb into the chopper. I was told to sit in the right seat (opposite to fixed wing) and make myself comfortable. The R22 is about as cramped at the Cubby, and the anti-torque pedals aren’t in line with the seat, so your legs and feet are at a funny angle, which was mildly annoying.

Start-up is much like that of a fixed wing. I’ve never liked the sound of the R22, and always thought of it as a lawnmower. Ironically, it’s equipped with the Lycoming O-320 engine, which is what the Super Cub I flew the other day has. Hmmm... It sounds better on a Super Cub.

By the time we were ready to go, we were both melting; it was a hot day and the large perspex windows didn’t help reduce the heat. So it was a welcome relief when we took power and some cool air flowed in through the vents in the doors.

I followed on the controls throughout the take-off, and once we were safely routing to Muizenberg, I was allowed full control of the cyclic. Which was a weird and new sensation! The 22 is equipped with a ‘Teetering T-bar’, and the best way to describe that is: it’s a central control column, with another bar attached perpendicularly at the top, forming a ‘T’. That other bar can be moved up or down without having an effect on the rotor blades; it’s purely for pilot comfort (if you tilt it down, you can rest your hand on your leg).

In order to manipulate the blades, you need to move that bar left and right, or back and forth. But I kept accidentally moving it up and down instead of left and right. The trick, I discovered after a few minutes, was to just move your fingers, not your whole hand.

I managed to keep us straight and (almost) level, and attempted a few turns. They say that if you can fly an R22, you can fly anything. I found it much easier to fly than the Huey. But maybe that’s because I was shaking with excitement when I flew the Huey, and it possess a lot more inertia than the little R22.

Then I was given control of the collective, which was also a bit of a weird sensation, but easy enough to get used to. After playing around a bit, my instructor demonstrated an autorotation. It’s one thing experiencing weightlessness in a fixed wing, but it’s unpleasant in a helicopter...

However, being able to land on a patch of grass in the middle of nowhere was really cool! Well okay, we didn’t touch down; he flared just before the ground, brought us into the hover, and then climbed towards the sea and gave me control once again.

We routed along the coast for a couple of minutes and then returned to Cape Town. One thing I’ve always struggled with when flying helicopters in flightsim, is the approach and landing. Real life was no exception, and I wasn’t entirely sure of what to do. But that’s why I had an instructor!

We reached the ground without bumping into it, and proceeded to hover a bit. My instructor showed me what to do in order to hover, doing 360’s a couple of times to make sure no one was behind us (I think he was bored and wanted to have some fun and show off), and then ATC (air traffic control) got a bit annoyed because we didn’t state our intentions.

So we hover-taxi’d to the Base4 hangar and I was given the opportunity to try my hand at hovering. First I had to crab along to the little circle where we were to land, then pick a reference point, and make sure we didn’t drift left, right, backwards, forwards, up or down. And I managed to kind of keep us above the circle. My reference point was the corner of a bus, and the thoughts going through my head were “Small movements. Don’t over-correct. Don’t let the tail hit the ground. Don’t let the tail hit the ground!”

But there I was keeping a little helicopter almost-steady, for the very first time in my life. I was chuffed, and even my instructor said that that was good for someone that had never hovered before.

After we landed he showed me the toys in the Base4 hangar, and I met some other helicopter pilots and engaged in the usual fixed-wing/fling-wing banter. Needless to say they all felt sorry for the ‘poor fixed wing pilot’, and asked when I was going to start my helicopter training. I just laughed and asked them if they would sponsor me.

A very big thank you to Base4 for the opportunity! I never thought I’d climb into an R22 (I’m not fond of them), but it just goes to show that there’s a first time for everything.

08 November 2011

Flying the Super Cub

Ever heard of Kyle Franklin, aka Ben Whabnoski? C’mon, the dude with the drunk pilot routine... Go and paste the following link, or Google "Kyle Franklin, drunk pilot" http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QESHF6bBk6E

After watching that video, I thought “Is it really possible for a Super Cub to do that?”
On the weekend, I got my answer.

I’ve had the opportunity to fly the Piper Super Cub twice, I’ve also flown the Piper Cub, and Tiger Moth, and out of those three, I liked the Tiger Moth the best. I think the Super Cub was my least favourite, and I never really appreciated it. Until last weekend when I did a conversion on to it.

It’s quite a big machine, roomy interior, 150hp engine up front, beautiful metal propeller, long sturdy legs (undercarriage), and big wings with big flaps. It’s a workhorse, and oh so lovely.

The first part of my conversion consisted of a history of the Piper Cub’s. Then identifying the differences between the Cub and Super Cub. And then a quick breakdown of the different models of Super Cubs. I was then given the Super Cub’s poh (pilot’s operating handbook), and told to study it.

Study what? It consisted of about 40 pages. Performance graphs? Who cares about take-off and landing distances? Weight and balance envelopes, what are those?! Google is normally my friend, but I still struggled to find more material on the aircraft. So I read what I had, and prayed I would remember all of it.

Not much later, the day came to fly it. The aircraft’s owner was my instructor, and he did what he does almost every time I fly with him; he said “I’m not here. Do what you think you’re supposed to do.” Now, I can’t describe how nervous I was about potentially breaking this man’s pride and joy.

Everything went fine until the run-ups. The mag-selector is old, and it’s difficult to feel the indents as you change mags. And sparky over here turned the handle just a bit too far, so instead of switching from the right mag to the left mag, I skipped left and went straight to OFF. While the engine was running at 1800rpm. The backfire scared the pants off of me, and I wished the earth would open up and swallow me.

That mistake meant I was kicking myself for the rest of the flight (circuits), which meant that I flew like an idiot. I was upset, I was angry, I was scared of the aircraft; I like to think that I’m relatively good at flying, but that day, I really screwed up.

But things changed with my second flight...

Before starting, I fiddled with the mag-selector and got a feel for it; I wasn’t going to make the same mistake twice!

The plan: short-field take-offs, stop-and-go’s, upper air work, and circuits.

Now, when they say short-field take-off, they really do mean short. Full flap, full power, release brakes. All you have to do is keep it on the black; the plane will fly when it wants to fly (it normally leaves the ground 150-200ft or 45-60m from the starting point). And when it does fly, it climbs like a homesick angel.

The circuits were a mix of one notch of flaps, full flaps, wheelers and three-point landings. I found wheelers to be the easiest, whereas with the Cubby, it’s easier to do a three-pointer.

For the upper air work, we started with slow flight. Which progressed to slow flight with full flaps. Then stalls. Then steep turns with and without flaps. And we also did an incipient spin.

Because I was scared of the plane, my instructor showed me exactly what it could do... It’s more than happy to bumble along with full flaps, throttle about 1/4 open, and the speed below 40mph (the markings on the airspeed indicator stop at 40mph). It was so incredibly stable, even though there was a fair amount of turbulence; just try and maintain altitude, as soon as it nears the stall, lower the nose a bit. Rinse and repeat.

And stalling was a dream; not violent, little to no wing drop, and very easy and fast recovery with minimum height loss.

Then he had fun and did things like throwing it into a steep turn with the greatest of ease, forces sucking you into the (incredibly comfortable) seat. Climbing without a problem, letting it mush along with very little forward speed. And if he ever did something that the aircraft didn’t like; it would give him a warning before biting. Throughout all of this, I couldn’t stop laughing. I found the performance of this aircraft so amazing.

After that, we went back to Stellenbosch, and I was feeling good. I managed a simulated engine failure, and after landing my instructor told me to vacate the runway, which I found odd because he said we would do some more circuits. I thought it might be because my PTT (push to talk) had popped out and lodged itself between the floor and fuselage (so I couldn’t transmit on the radio). So imagine my surprise when I looked to my right and saw that my instructor had climbed out of the plane and was standing on the taxi-way.

‘You’ve got to be kidding me,’ I thought to myself. ‘This is the second time an instructor has jumped out like that. The first time was when I was sent on my very first solo. Could that mean...’ My thoughts were interrupted by a “So, would you like to do some solo circuits?”


So with the PTT replaced, instructor walking back to the hangar, and with no one sitting behind me, I taxi’d to the holding point of runway 01 while telling myself “Don’t break the plane, don’t break the plane, this is amazing, don’t break the plane!”

I kept things simple and did what I knew best; a standard flapless take-off (which was almost as short as the short-field take-off), a three-point landing with full flaps. A wheeler with one notch of flaps. And then another wheeler, also with one notch of flaps (I was going to do a flapless, but I forgot the approach speed...)

It’s true what they say; “The Piper Cub is the safest airplane in the world. It can just barely kill you.” - Max Stanley. It’s so stable, and so responsive, and if you fly the speeds and respect the plane and listen to it when it starts getting unhappy, you’ll be amazed at what you can do (I’d love to try the trick where they land on the left wheel, then change to the right, then left again :) )

There are very few things that are as satisfying as the bump and squeak of the main gear coming into contact with the runway, followed by the frantic pushing of rudder medals to keep the nose pointing in one direction, the speed decreasing, the tail slowly dropping, and the little bounce as the tail wheel settles on the ground.

04 November 2011

Western Cape Regional Aerobatic Competition

On 29 October 2011, Saldanha Airfield played host to the WC Regional Aerobatic Competition. Thanks to the hard work of Stuart Saward, the Sport Aerobatic Club of SA, Audi Centre Cape Town (who sponsored the event), the competitors, and the fans and wannabe competitiors, the event was a huge success!

Things kicked off around 10am, and only started to wind down as the sun began to sink below the horizon. The competitors put both themselves and their aircraft through their places in a bid to be the best.

A number of aircraft flew in on the day to support the event. Competitors included locals, amateurs, as well as some big names in aerobatics, and seeing each of them graciously take to the sky in their high-performance machines was amazing! A first in SA was a member of the military taking part in a civilian competition... and not only that, but he also competed in the turbine PC-7.

Because it wasn't an airshow, spectators were allowed the freedom to walk right up to the aircraft, and chat to the pilots. Two Silver Falcons aircraft were parked amongst all the GA aircraft. It was the first time I got to see the PC-7's up close, touch them, and be invited to stand on the wing and take a look at the cockpit.

I also got to meet 4 of the 5 Silver Falcons team members. The icing on the cake was Mark Hensman's display in the highly-manoeuvrable MX-2 once the competition had ended. Mark's routine had us jumping for joy, gasping in surprise, and diving for cover. I don't think I've ever seen an aircraft fly quite like that.

Long story short, it was a GREAT weekend!