31 December 2013

2013 - The End of Another Year

2013 has been filled with scares, thrills, and many laughs and great opportunities.
Obtaining my first flying job, and realising that people weren’t joking when they said that an instructor’s students are out to kill them. Learning the art of teaching, learning when to intervene, and when it is safe to allow a student to continue and make a mistake.

I’ve been fortunate enough see sun rises and sunsets from the air, and soar with the birds (and in some cases, take drastic action to avoid hitting some of the birds). I’ve said good bye to friends, and seen people grow and move on. I’ve met people from all over the world, and made new friends.

I’ve learnt to love the Cessna 172, something I never thought I’d find myself saying (I mean, come on, it’s a tri-gear aircraft). I’ve flown in formation with RV’s, and T28’s Trojans; Bosbok’s and Cessna 152’s; I’ve experienced formation aerobatics from the front seat of the highly capable MX-2; and I’ve seen the majestic Boeing Stearman navigate through the skies, from the rear seat of the highly-capable Atlas Bosbok. I have flown in the back of the Huey, and relished in the feel of the blades beating the air. I’ve been to Gauteng several times, and seen the country from the pointy end of a Boeing 737-800. From advanced aircraft, to the basics; a J3 Cub with the flapping door acting as your stall warning; landing at Ysterplaat AFB in a 1940’s Howard.

I’ve flown in the early morning, where the air is so still and smooth that it feels like you’re dreaming, and I’ve flown through horrible turbulence and rain. I’ve flown to – and landed at – the most southern airfield in Africa, and I have experienced first-hand what it is like to chase zebra and ostrich off of a grass runway.

I’ve had days where nothing seemed to go right, and where I eventually made the decision that, after the third issue, it wasn’t intended for me to fly that day. And I’ve had days where everything seemed to go well.  I’ve flown with B777 pilots, and old retired pilots. I’ve introduced young and old to the wonders of flight, some of whom are natural pilots, others who simply didn’t have a clue, but enjoyed it nonetheless.

I’ve seen Cape Point from the air more times than I have been there by car, and no longer fear the water crossing to Robben Island. I’ve seen waters so crystal blue and beaches so white, it was as if they belonged at some tropical island, not off the coast of the Western Cape.  I’ve witnessed whales swimming with their young, and seen sights I never would have seen from the ground.

All in all, I’ve had a good year.

Here’s to 2014. May fewer students try to kill me.

03 December 2013

Working on Fire Demo Day

Monday, 2 December

Every year, Working on Fire holds an open/demo day at the start of the fire season. It is normally held at Fisantekraal Airfield, but not anymore!

For the start of the 2013/14 season, the Stellenbosch Airfield was the host.
Which meant that for the first time in my memory (and possibly ever), there were 7 Huey's at the airfield. It doesn't get sexier than that.

Along with the Huey's there were also 3 Dromaders, 7 Spotters, and the FFA's brand new Air Tractor AT-802.

The 802 is a monster of a machine, and has a hopper with a capacity of some 3100 litres. 

As is the norm, an hour or so is spent giving speeches and showing videos to the invited guests, and then a fire is "started" (this year they used a smoke machine) so that the guests can see the pilots and aircraft in action.

The display consisted of 3 Huey's (two with Bambi buckets, and the other the troop carrier), 2 Dromaders, the AT-802, and 1 Spotter. 
The Dromader's are quite impressive when they drop water, and it's always amazing to see. But the AT-802 took it to a whole new level when it deposited its load of water and foam down most of the length of the 760m long runway.

Even though only 3 Huey's flew, having 7 there at once made it feel like something out of Vietnam. Okay, not really. But that didn't stop me from humming Paint It Black by the Rolling Stones for most of the day.

18 November 2013

When it rains, it pours

We had some hectic weather last week, and I decided to set up the GoPro to photograph the movement of the clouds. It's quite interesting watching clouds form and dissipate.

Eventually it started to pour with rain, with plenty of thunder and lightning, and I decided it was time to fetch the GoPro from the top of the steel tower (that was scary), and put it in the clubhouse in order to film the lightning from there. Here is the result of my efforts.

20 October 2013

Flying in a MX-2

It was with great happiness (and a little bit of fear) when I finally had the opportunity to park myself in the front seat of an MX-2, for an aerobatic (formation) sortie.

Before we could get going, I first had to figure out the parachute. The last time I was handed a parachute was when I went for a flight in a glider. I know, a parachute while in a glider, doesn’t seem right, right? But anyway, it was quite simple to strap on, and once I understood what to do should I need to bail out (right hand across chest, grab ring, pull), it was time to climb into the red beast.

This in itself is an art. Stand on the step, shake sand and grass off shoe, step on the pilots seat, shake sand and grass off other shoe, climb over the instrument panel, stand on the forward seat, put each foot on the floor by the rudder pedals (being careful not to kick the throttle, or any of the pipes winding their way around the cockpit), hands on either side of the ‘tub’, and lower yourself in. The seat is just a hard bucket-type of thing, and if it weren't for the parachute, it would make for an extremely uncomfortable sitting place (or rather, ‘lying down’ place, as the seat is reclined a fair amount).

Once in, I realised just how small it is. I couldn't rest my arms next to me, as then my elbows will be in the way of the pilot’s feet. I couldn't put my hands in my lap, as the harness and stick are in the way. So my only options were to put my hands on my knees (which I couldn't actually do, because I had my camera with me), or cross my arms (and camera) over my chest. And the latter is what I did, with my feet flat on the floor.

Right, settled, strapped in, nothing in the way of the controls. Time to light the fires!
Taxi-ing is done in the typical zig-zag fashion required for most taildraggers. I don’t know what the pilot sees, but I couldn’t see a thing in front of us (that nose is long!).

The take-off was different to say the least. It really is a beast. Engine roaring, you’re in the air before you know it, climbing like a homesick angel, with the speed steadily increasing. 1000ft, left hand turn, and we’re off to our playground to the east.

Climbing at a pace, I keep my eyes forward, occasionally looking left and right. Catching something out the corner of my eye, I look back, and hello, there’s the Sbach, sitting on the wing. I’ve done some formation flying before, but nothing like this! Everything is bigger, faster, closer, and it is so different to the few flights I did in an RV-8. You can’t even really compare the two.

Then came the real fun.
 Formation is one thing, aerobatics is another, formation aerobatics... are just out of this world. For quite a while, I didn’t bother taking photos; pulling 3G’s while trying to turn back and take photos just seemed too risky for me, so I kept my arms crossed across my chest, being sure to hold on to the shoulder harness, and not to grab the parachute’s handle by accident.

After a while I figured out what to expect from each manoeuvre, and felt comfortable enough to try snap a few photos. Needless to say, it wasn’t easy, and I couldn’t get the entire Sbach in the frame. And when I did, the reflections from the canopy wreaked havoc with the shot. Oh well!

On the way back, we switched positions, and I managed to get a few decent photos of the Sbach. Those aircraft really are just beasts!

After a quick break, it was time for the next sortie. Arms already feeling sore from holding the camera, I decided to take the GoPro instead of the huge stills camera; a much better choice. This time the Sbach led, and we were number 2.

After take-off, and closing up on him, I thought “There’s no way we’re going to slow down; we’re going to shoot straight past”. As we got closer, Mark reduced the power, and the MX slowed down immediately. It was as if we had thrown out an airbrake.

Sitting on the Sbach’s wing, I got filming, occasionally eyeing the mountains of the Jonkershoek Valley. Straight and level wasn’t exciting enough for Mark, and while taking in the world, I realised that it had started to rotate.
 Well hello, we just rolled over the Sbach. A little unexpected, but an awesome feeling nonetheless.

We did a few more of these, and I tried my best to film it, but the video really doesn’t do it justice. But wow, what a feeling, and the view was spectacular!

I had some other ramblings, but I've decided to delete them and let the photos and video do the talking.

This is what happens when you take two high performance aircraft, check in some turbulence, two experienced pilots, and have some fun. The only problem now is... I want more!

23 August 2013

A Short Nav

It was one of those ideas that floated in through the door to the bar. Naturally. While having dinner after having attended a presentation on Meteorology and mountain waves and the like, my friend and fellow aviator said "I want to fly to George tomorrow. But I don't like flying alone". So I jokingly said I'd go with. He said that would be great.

So the next day we arrived at the airfield and were greeted by a glorious morning. We set off at 09:00 in his trusty Jabiru, heading towards Tulbagh, then Ceres to see the snow. Despite flying a fair amount this winter, I hadn't yet been to see the snow, so I was quite excited.

Airfield at Tulbagh

Tulbagh/Worcester Valley with Ceres ahead

When we got to the Matroosberg, I was a bit like "Well? Is that it?" I always envisaged the Matroosberg to be a huge mountain range (ok, sitting at FL075 and looking down at the mountains might've made it seem a bit smaller than what it actually was), covered in snow (just the peaks had a dusting of white powder). You'd think that with the cold weather we've been having, the place would be covered in snow. Nope.
The coldest OAT (outside air temperature) we had was 6degC.

On we went, to the quaint (not) town of Lainsburg. It's been almost a year since I flew a very similar route on my way to deliver the Cubby to Wonderboom. And I thought 'How the heck did I survive all that with no one to talk to?!' . Lainsburg hadn't changed; still just a speck in the middle of nowhere.



Lainsburg just right of the nose

Then it was on to Ladismith. A new location for me, I never realised how close it is to Lainsburg. Cute town, decent-looking runway, and some green fields breaking the monotony of the bush-covered, rocky, inhospitable terrain we'd had below us since Tulbagh.

The terrain that lay ahead

You don't want to go down here

Snow on the mountains near Ladismith


Runway at Ladismith

To the west. Some snow in the distance, and a bit of green below

It's truly amazing watching the landscape change. Upon reaching the mountains near Riversdale, it was like stepping (or flying, as it were) into another world; south of the mountains were lush green fields, smattered with bright yellow canola flowers, and rivers, and happy, welcoming terrain. Look behind you (north of the mountains) and it's barren and brown, with no where to land.

No-man's land

'Dividing mountains' at Riversdale

Looking back. Green mountains, brown beyond

Looking forward. Much more inviting

That always plays on my mind in places like that: Where will I land if the engine coughs? It was something that I asked myself a lot on my trip to Wonderboom. Another thought on this flight was mountain waves, and dangerous turbulence you can't see (which is what the presentation was on). The most we encountered were a few barely noticeable bumps.

With the town of Riversdale in sight, we descended for the field. The original plan was to visit George, but we decided we needed a break, and we'd already heard enough "Avic so-and-so's" bombing along (students from AIFA, based at George and Oudtshoorn).

I can see the sea!
 Overhead Riversdale airfield, we determined that both windsocks were missing (we found one lying on the grass next to the parking area), and guestimated the wind direction.
After conducting a runway inspection, we landed, played "Dodge the bushes growing through the tar of the runway" and trundled over to the parking area.

Riversdale airfield

Runway inspection

Runway needs some mowing

Extracting ourselves from the Jab, we saw some people walking around, and we weren't quite sure what they were doing. Then we noticed they were playing golf. Now, it's not very comforting having three people walking towards you, brandishing golf clubs, and looking like they want to beat you up... I later realised they looked so serious and 'meant business' because they were actually looking for their golf balls...


The Steed

We enjoyed a lunch of banana bread (yum!) and then hopped back into the little white steed to set course for home.
Only when we had lined up for take off did we see how uneven the runway was.
Another trip down memory lane; the last time I was at Riversdale was two years ago when I obtained my CPL.

Wonky runway
And we're off!

Not keen to spend time climbing, we stayed between 1500ft and 2000ft AGL most of the way back. Following the N2 with the occasional detour to look at farmstalls and possible landing spots (dirt strips used by the cropsprayers), we wound our way past Heidelberg, Swellendam and Caledon, spotting a Turbo Thrush along the way (such majestic aircraft).


The Blue Crane Farmstall just outside Heidelberg 

Swellendam with their airfield in the foreground

Patterns in the crops look almost like Celtic Knots

At the base of the mountain, a crop sprayer can just be seen (look for the white stream of chemicals)


Dirt strip near Riviersonderend

Caledon Airfield


 Then we were faced with a decision: straight to Botrivier, then Sir Lowry's Pass and home, or to Betty's Bay and home via the coast?
It was such a beautiful day we decided to hit the coast. Good thing too, because we saw another crop sprayer near Botrivier (I'm crop sprayer-crazy), and 7 whales near the beach by Kleinmond! I had forgotten it's still whale season.

Crop sprayer below us


Betty's Bay

Cruising around that stretch of coast is fun, until you reach Rooi Els; between there and Gordon's Bay you have sheer mountain on your right, and the cold Atlantic on your left. With all that water, I kept saying "It's a good thing Jabiru's float!"
Sometimes it gets turbulent and flying above the mountains is unpleasant, but today it was as smooth as silk. So we hopped up over the mountains, which gave us some more landing options (that didn't involve water) should the need arise.

Routing to Gordon's Bay. Nowhere to land there

Beautifully clear, we could see across False Bay

Cutting the corner by the Steenbras Dam, we scooted down the coast from Gordon's Bay to Strand, then headed home.

Home Sweet Home

A morning well-spent!