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.

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.