Hangin’ At The Hangar Pays Off

Stavros wanted to take a flight to platinum mines around Rustenburg which is 20 minutes by plane  (at least from Lanseria).  So on Saturday 18th October he came around to my house as we were going to drive to the airport together.  The bad news was all was not well.  He was suffering from a back ailment but he was determined to complete the trip.

ZS-BOR was allocated as the Cirrus for out little excursion.  After taking off at 9.15 and setting the heading for Hotel Bravo Victor (HBV) or the Hartebeespoort VOR, Stav appeared fine. The ride up to 7000 feet was a little bumpy at times with a wind blowing from the South East, gusting around 15knots.

ZS-BOR, taking off at Lanseria.  Image Courtesy Avcom.
ZS-BOR, taking off at Lanseria. Image Courtesy Avcom.

As we climbed passed 6500 the bumpiness eased and I levelled out heading north. In  a few minutes we were over the Dam and Stav commented that it looked clean. He was right, last week it was green.  Maybe the dust storm that blew over the region changed the water PH?

This is from a Balloon showing the ridge to the right and dam on the left. Stav was too sore to shoot pix and I was flying. From our hot-air ballooning buddies.
This is from a Balloon showing the ridge to the right (looking West) and dam on the left. Stav was too sore to shoot pix and I was flying. Courtesy our hot-air ballooning buddies.

Turning West, we followed the northern Magaliesburg ridge and I was planning to skip over to Rustenberg so that he could take a few pics of the mines.  But he was pale and growing paler.  And not because of motion sickness.  His back was killing him so I turned south and dropped to 6000 feet – calling Lanseria as we passed the tracking station.  It’s a satellite tracking facility that we use to enter Lanseria airspace on the North West of the airfield.

As we descended Stav got worse and I got worried. We flew in fast, slowing down to a flap friendly 100knots at the left base for runway 07, then were cleared straight in to final as the circuit was quiet.

After a smooth landing, Stav climbed out of the plane.  As I pushed the plane back into its spot outside the hangar, Stav offered to help.  The bloke is tough, that’s for sure!  The flight folio was filled out and Stav and I got read to leave.

At that point one of the CDC Aviation instructors, Jared, rushed in.  A client had bought a brand new Cirrus SR-22 and was expecting to be converted onto it – but the client lives in Springs.  Jared needed someone to fly him over to Springs Airfield immediately.

ZS-JAB.  Courtesy Joe Evans.
ZS-JAB. Courtesy Joe Evans.

I was quite happy to offer my services having cut short the previous flight. After ensuring that Stav was fine (he said walking ok, it was sitting that was excruciating), I prepped ZS-JAB which luckily had just been refuelled.  It’s the Cirrus decked out in the US Air Force livery.

Jared printed out the numbers for the short hop and when everything was certified correct, we fired up the hot Cirrus (always a challenge with its fuel injected engine) and we were off.

I hadn’t done the Pinedene Route for a while which requires flying a very precise track for a number of reasons.

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Firstly, you need to get out of the approach path to Lanseria runway 24 as quickly as possible.  Then you follow the concrete highway north to a water tower, and turn South East to another.  In the meantime you’re contacting Waterkloof because the approach is directly off to the left.  And you don’t muck with WKV because the air force is always busy there.  Directly off to the right is Grand Central Airport.  So its like literally flying a fine line.  After a few minutes you spot the power pylons below and then its following the Pinedene route almost East to Kittyhark airfield.

We turned South towards Springs Airfield, and at this point there were two veld fires and smoke was drifting across our track. I turned right to avoid them, but needed to be aware that we were now close to OR Tambo Airspace.  Talk about tricky!  The turbulence had increased so we were bouncing about, and holding the track was difficult enough.

The Springs approach is enter at 6800 feet, then turn right and head downwind for runway 210, threshold elevation 5340 feet.  Which once again put us really close to OR airspace to our West.  And just to add a little more spice to the aviation equation, there’s a bloody great smoke stack right of airfield, and a mine dump just to the right on final.

Springs Airfield- FASI. Pic: Google Earth.
Springs Airfield- FASI. Pic: Google Earth.

Jared monitored the airspeed as I flew the approach, warning me at one stage as we dropped to just under 80 knots.  Then it was full flaps, descend to the threshold and land the baby.  The runway is in good nick and, while narrow, not narrow enough to cause a problem.  I dropped Jared off, then back tracked, did the power and other checks, and flew back to Lanseria.

What a beautiful way to spend a few hours on a Saturday in Johannesburg.  Because the turbulence had increased greatly, by the time I tacked West back along the Pinedene route, there was no traffic around. It felt wonderful staring out across the city, not a plane in sight and the visibility CAVOK.  I landed a bit roughly as the wind shear had increased at Lanseria, but it was safe enough.  Heading towards 3 hours of flying, mostly in tight airspace and turbulence.  Great practice for a budding pilot like me. Practice practice practice.

ZS-CTP: Tighter Than A Scottish Referendum

It smells like a new car.  But better.  It’s also the first time since I began aviating  in 2001 that I climbed into a brand new aeroplane and took off.   Gushing time.

First, the plane was only registered two weeks ago in South Africa, having been flown out here by a US pilot with a spare rubber tank which gave it over 6 hours airtime.  I remember being around when a previous Cirrus flew in and the delivery pilot got himself in big trouble because he hadn’t checked clearance out of Botswana airspace into South Africa.

The SA Air Force was not impressed.  He escaped arrest – only just.  This time there weren’t any glitches.

ZS-CTP has all the trimmings.  AWACS weather warning.  Anti-collision system.  An AIR CONDITIONER which is almost unheard of in most light aircraft because they’re so heavy and eat up too much power.  In this plane you switch off aircon before the ground roll or bad things happen on take off.

It's simpler than it looks.
It’s simpler than it looks.

When you’re up up and away the natural fan in the front is your aircon.  But waiting at Lanseria in midsummer without an aircon inside a glasshouse in the holding bay doing the checks can be extremely sweaty and tiring so the cooling wind blowing through the plane helps concentration and increases energy.

The new Cirrus SR-20 is quite different from its predecessors.  It’s more than six inches higher for one, which doesn’t sound like much until you stand at the cowling to check the oil.  Usually I can stare into the engine and take a hard look inside,  but the new higher model means its up on tip-toes.  The decision to lift the plane has come after numerous prop strikes with the older versions and the design was altered to ensure that if there’s a hard landing, at least its Hartzell $11 000 propellor won’t hit the runway.

The two things I love about the new Cirrus are its feel and its Garmin G1000.  I’m used to old planes which are a bit like old machines of any sort.  The older they get,  the more play in the controls.  This plane is as tight as a Scottish referendum.

Garmin G1000 - PFD on left, MFD on right.
Garmin G1000 – PFD on left, MFD on right.

The Garmin is not just a GPS.  It’s a fully fledged avionics package with terrain avoidance, engine monitoring, autopilot and weather reporting.   Russell Donaldson (total airtime > 28000) jumped in the right seat and showed me the ropes.  You can’t fly this plane and its updated package without a 1-1 session with an instructor, the computerisation is so advanced.

It’s split in two parts.  The Primary Flight Display or PFD on the left and Multi-Function Display or MFD on the right.  As you can see from the image courtesy of Garmin, there’s a lot to take in.  But compared to some digital displays, this just seems to make sense when you’re galavanting around.  This blog doesn’t have the space to capture all the elements (the Garmin handbook for example is over 600 pages!), however after using both the Avidyne and the Garmin G1000,  I prefer the latter.  Avidyne users are vociferous in their support, so I guess its all subjective.

It took ten minutes to be shown around the innards of the PFD.  I found that having used the Cirrus Avidyne glass cockpit previously, the Garmin pretty much came naturally.  Russell patiently went through the comms and nav setup, with the GPS, VOR and RMI all selected using the same selector.

Garmin G1000 PFD.
Garmin G1000 PFD.

The brakes on ZS-CTP were new and sharper, so I was careful not to over brake as we headed up Alpha to the holding bay.   The wind which had been blowing at around 19kts dropped to around 5kts by the mid-afternoon.

The check list can be “barged” 0r parts that are done through the usual mental/memory can be skipped like the post fire-up and pre-taxying.  However, the usual engine run up and Too Many Pilots Go Flying In Heaven Early checks are always doubled – first I do it by rote,  then by the selector check list on the panel.  It’s always good to make sure.

The take off was inspiring with the rotation smooth as silk and power at hand.  It’s not surprising as I’ve been flying planes that are older- most well over 4000 hours logged, while ZS CTP had only 66 on its Hobbes.

An hour of flying by instruments as the visibility dropped, and heading back via the tracking station, it was time to go home.  But one thing’s for sure.   I’m looking forward to more flying using ZS CTP over the next few weeks – in spite of the increased cost.  It’s R300 more per hour to fly,  but when you’re enjoying the increased instrumentation and the tight setup, its worth the extra Madibas.



It was an almost two hour simulator session and I was flying a  Piper Seneca or PA-34. It’s my first attempt at controlling a twin.   That alone had created some challenges as managing manifold settings below the redline and balancing power was a unique experience.

It’s supposed to be second nature.   In the meantime, I’ve got to think about power issues while balancing the props and flying on instruments accurately.  I was put through my paces for an hour flying the approach and missed approach to Bloemfontein (FABL).

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Instrument approach chart, FABL

All was going fairly well until the last segment which put me back over the airspace above Lanseria.  I’ve flown this leg on sim as well as under the hood and generally flew safely without any major hiccups.  Even the break-cloud and ILS approach while sometimes a little high, was not an outright fail.

That unfortunately changed when I flew on ADF alone.  The VOR was disabled by CFI Russell Donaldson and I was forced to fly the pattern without GPS or VOR – aiming at Lanseria’s NDB known as Lima Alpha or LA.  Because I have not used the ADF as a stand-alone instrument for months,  I confused a few things.

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Lanseria RNAV courtesy of CAA.

All appeared normal until I was 3.1 nautical miles from LA.  Then the DME remained unchanged for a minute.  I thought it was Russell purposefully throwing another curve ball to add a little more spice to the instrument flying recipe.

But all was not normal.  I had turned north instead of remaining on track and had actually begun to ignore the ADF in favour of the broken VOR.   What compounded my confusion was the fact that the red error flags had been removed as it tended to obscure the Artificial Horizon.

Eventually I realised that things were going pear shaped.  In these circumstances the idea is to report



to control that I would have to reset my approach and do the entire approach again.  Instead I thought I’d wait another minute just in case the DME kicked back into life.  By the time it was clear I was now heading north and was over 8 nautical miles away from the beacon and on my way to Thabazimbi.

Screen Shot 2014-07-16 at 2.42.45 PM
Altitudes and reporting points, FALA.

But the experience convinced me that while I was practicing flying on instruments, I was unable to properly process a restricted instrument panel.  Not that the plane was in danger – unless fuel became an issue.


So its back to the drawing board with my copy of X-plane.    When I next train on instruments (probably this weekend) its going to be on a limited panel and only on ADF for part of the training to imbed the logic and practice efficiently.    It may be true that the NDB’s are being allowed to “die” as the technology is replaced by GPS.  Still, aviators know that mantra.  Use all tools at your disposal in order to ensure survival.

Yes, I have backup technology.  I have a hand-held Garmin (about to upgrade to an iPad) for GPS navigation,  but its still not good enough.   More practice please.


Inauguration Blues – its good to be in touch.

So on Saturday 24th May a 25nm no-fly zone was extended from Pretoria and the union buildings outwards.  That created a few challenges for General Aviation scuttlebutts like me – even with reference number and flight plan clutched in my sweaty paw.   Jacob Zuma was being inaugurated – again – and the Air Force shut down part of Gauteng’s airways in fear of the president’s safety.  Or is it because they felt like practicing for a proper moment of danger?  I dunno.  Whatever.  The bottom-line was no flying out of Lanseria towards the East and North.

That’s ok,  because I was heading west to Potchefstroom.  A suitably quiet route usually at 8am on a Saturday.  I wanted to practice approaches and let-downs.  After refuelling ZS-ZIP and adding two quarts of oil I fired up and taxied to the runup zone on Lanseria’s 07.  Checked map, Cirrus Avidyn GPS working,  Garmins both up and running, my handheld Garmin on the passenger seat in case of failure.   Short hop 63 nautical miles to Potch,  and I added 5 minutes for approach and landing.

Clearance from Lanseria was special VFR.  Remain above 5500 ft at all times was the ATC parting message, and route via the Northate Dome.  With a slight tailwind,  the Cirrus SR-20 managed 140 knots which cut the time to Potchefstroom down from the 30 mins expected to closer to 20.   But I was not alone.  A Baron and a Cessna 210 were also flying in to Potch,  while at the airfield two sports cruisers were conducting training.  Even so,  it was quiter than usual in this airspace.

The route courtesy of vrfplanner.org.
The route courtesy of vrfplanner.org.

All did not go exactly according to plan.  First I overshot Potch the visibility was so bad.  It was down to 5km or less which is borderline for visual rule flying.  After attempting a letdown,  I missed runway 03 to the East and decided at that point to do a missed approach and head back to Lanseria.

Flying back there was only one moment of real interest.  A Robinson helicopter pilot to the south of the Dome near Joburg was warned by the Air Force to get out of the air as he was in a no-fly zone.  The pilot was not aware of the online Notam which had gone out warning about the inauguration.  It made me think about aviation.  Many pilots are basically loners and independent in spirit, but sometimes its good to be communicating with a group – just to avoid the embarrassment of missing a Notam.

I contacted Lanseria Tower – and was told to head straight for the threshold and avoid the Dome.  The problem was the visibility.  With the sun still low in the East,  I was basically flying almost blind directly into the burning disc.  That means at 2 nautical miles I still couldn’t see Lanseria’s threshold.  The VOR reading showed I was to the left,  but my  head said the runway was directly in front.  Suddenly  I realised at 1 nautical mile that runway 07 was actually at my 2 0’clock and I requested a go-around which was confirmed by the tower.

On downwind I had to orbit as a Mango flight was taking off on runway 250 and caused me to fly an extended base leg.  That meant Lanseria’s runway disappeared in the murk as I turned onto finals, but this time was flying more accurately with instruments.  The landing was clean and off on Alpha back to the hangars.

Practice practice practice.   Read Notams.  Communicate with other pilots prior to takeoff, particularly  in today’s digital world where hard copy Notams are no longer sent by mail to pilots around South Africa.  In the age of information,  poor communication is growing.  Pilots are less informed than their predecessors about changes to the rules.  Now that’s a worry.


A note about safety – how performance dipped 40% this summer.

The CAA has distributed a note from the commissioner Poppy Khoza warning about the rate of accidents at the start of 2014.  Twelve accidents in January alone, and 10 in February – 20 people are dead both crew and pax. While I read the page feeling somewhat disturbed,  there was something in the public relations exercise that was pretty clear.  Are the plethora of training institutions operating out of smaller airfields featuring low hour instructors?  Or is the latest crop of pilots  gung ho? Are we now producing pilots who’re useless?

Too busy trying to survive to be Gung Ho. A lesson from history.  WWII female pilots.
Too busy trying to survive to be Gung Ho. A lesson from history. WWII female pilots.

Or something instrinsic to all of our experiences – the weather? We have had by all accounts an extremely  hot and dry summer.  In fact, in parts of the north west of South Africa,  a drought.  That may have all ended with the low pressure system overhead right now,  however for most of this Summer it has been blazing.  And many  of the incidents have occured at altitude.

In some cases,  performance levels of aircraft have been reduced by almost 40%. CDC aviation for example, where I fly the Cirrus,  issued a safety update to all pilots – caution.  Hot and High.

The density altitude was, on some days,  over 8500 feet!  The ground roll doubled as Lanseria is already fairly high at 4400.   The Cirrus 20 is no plane to muck around in when it comes to peformance and retardation. Combine that with a propensity to fly slow and low,  and disaster awaits.  Particularly in tight turns.  Particularly taking off and landing.  And that’s where, as usual,  most of these incidents this year have taken place.

Poppy is also fingering another fact.  The majority of accidents since 2006 feature pilots with fewer than 500 hours. That be me. But hold on.. lets take a closer look at a few more bits of data.  The CAA says its now going to concentrate on categories of pilot responsible for most accidents.  Many would say there’s overwhelming evidence to say the category of pilot who breaks the rules would be at the top of the list.

Really, really hot and extremely high.  Time for the turbo.
The Atacama. Really, really hot and well, extremely high. Time for the turbo.

Are you aware of the temperature and the reduced pressure and density altitude?  Do you know what that’s going to do to your aircraft?  Particularly in a turn?  What’s the new stall speed? The CAA says its going to look at some sort of induction programme for trainee pilots.  Well, sounds good.  But who’s going to induct? There aren’t enough CAA officials to inspect runways, let alone go through the thousands of would-be trainee pilots.   Who gets to induct the inductees?  Is there an FAA process?  Apparently yes. But back to our accident rate.

Thanks to the US Coast Guard for this pic of the CAPS system for Cirrus working.
Thanks to the US Coast Guard for this pic of the CAPS system for Cirrus working.  It may have been hot, but it wasn’t high.

Still, the fact remains – in early 2014 aviators took themselves out at the greatest rate in a decade.  No escape from that cruel reality. Are pilots becoming glorified pen-pushers who are forced to spend more of their cash paying for books and the ever-more-expensive exams than actually flying an aeroplane? Take the real cost of flying since 2009.  While income levels have largely languished, the cost of av gas has climbed from under R8.00 to R18.47 per litre.  That’s more than 200%.  Which means for pilots who aren’t part of SAA’s glorified BEE scheme arnd receive the taxpayers subsidy or don’t have mommy and daddy’s millions, its tough to put in the bare minimum which should be around two hours a week. And when the temperature rises above 32 and you’re now taking off from the African version of the Alps – beware.

Commercial pilot madness

I'm flying a Cirrus SR 20, and have a Maule MX7, Sports Cruiser and Cessna 172 rating.
I’m flying a Cirrus SR 20, and have a Maule MX7, Sports Cruiser and Cessna 172 rating.

The spirit of indominatable energy has flooded through the hallways at Latham manse.  It must be the first few days of a new year,  or perhaps its the sound of a mid-life crisis part II.  Bit like a world war, but fought introspectively, yet publically.  How quaint.  It has become necessary for the blogger known as ANC (aviate navigate communicate) to enter into that crazy world of commercial piloting.

Now don’t be confused.  The author is over half a century not out, and looking at making a ton.  So what would reduce this perfectly abnormal quad-dad into setting himself up to write the dreaded Commercial Pilot’s exams?  Perhaps its the psychosis of a youth born in the 60’s where men (mainly) walked on the moon?  A desperado intent on throwing his ageing chromosomes into the stratosphere?  Yes, probably.

In 2009 I managed to pass both the PPL exams and the crucial flight test to earn my wings as a Private Pilot.  Notice the words are in upper case.  Private Pilot.  Yes, we are a besotted lot, all whenwe stories and machine logic.  Still,  if anyone reading this is thinking of entering the aviation world through the General Aviation back door,  a few words of caution.

At the controls of the SR20 after landing. Note the side stick which takes some getting used to after a yoke and central controls.

It’s about dosh, darlings and daring.

The dosh part you get.  It’ll cost you around R250 000 in flying and training fees.  Then add transport costs to and from the aerodrome. Books.  Then exams. Then insurance (oh, and by the way,  no company offering life insurance will cover you until you earn your Commercial License… so don’t die before then please.)  It’s going to cost you a pretty bitcoin.  If you find anyone out there who’ll accept bitcoins.   While you continue to pay those other bills in your life.  Like rent, food, school fees, holidays to the Seychelles.  You know, the basic costs.

The darlings part are your loved one’s.  Changing your life to fit flying into the scheme of things will have an effect on your private life.  If Darling A et al aren’t ready for your new Starship Enterprise Endeavour – it’ll be divorce or dislocation.

Daring.  Do you really want to swing around the sky upside down attached to a small aircraft that responds to the buffeting atmospheric conditions like a wasp in a sandstorm?  Do you have the nerve.  No really, do you?  It’s not like buying a super Evinrude-powered speed boat and zooming up and down the Vaal while showing off to your entangled mistress and her two brats.  This is life and death in a moment stuff, solo.  If your tree falls in the big wide blue forest,  no-one will hear you scream.

And that’s just the beginning.

But like all folks who start flying then can’t stop,  I love the drug.  It’s true life, no buffing.  No outcome based rubbish here.  If you’re not good enough, boys and girls,  you just die.  If you are,  then you are still facing life and death decisions.  And that’s the drug, my puppies.  There’s no place for losers who bewail their imperfect youth and unequal social standing, waiting for some knight in political armour to offer a bail out clause for failure.  No place for the paternal state to assuage  your ego because you’ve maybe .. kind of .. not met the required outcome.  If you can’t fly,  you FAIL.

It’s pure.  No obfuscation.  Any dereliction and you’re putrification.  To misquote Puff-Adder-Diddly.  {The alternative fashion conscious rapping rockerbilly.}

As we meander our way through this commercial flying malarky,  I’ll keep updating this miserable little blog with the hope that somewhere, somehow, someone reads it an donates the further R300 000 I require to become a fully fledged ATPL Instructor Class 2 pilot.   Or even a full R500 000 to further cover other day-to-day expenses.