The Blown Job

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No, go back and read the title again, it’s not what you thought it was! Today I took my first step to a more complicated aircraft. I already have a Variable Pitch propeller endorsement, and so the next step up to the plane I want to fly next was a turbo endorsement.

For a number of years now I have been flying The Airplane Factory’s Sling2. I have flown the 2 common Rotax engine options, being the 912ULS (Carburetor) and the 912iS Fuel Injected version. And in more than 60 hours have only had one problem crop up and that was a due to a faulty sensor. It has long been my aim to fly the Sling4, but to fly that plane our CAA insists we have the Sling2 Turbo endorsement. So off to Wonderboom airport I went, about 60km from my home, to the only flight school in my area that has the 914ULS engine. Flitecare were fantastic, and my instructor for the conversion, Pieter, was extremely knowledgeable and very relaxed. I tend to get quite intense when I do things (not a bad trait for an anesthesiologist!) and he was the perfect instructor for a somewhat tense student. Thanks Pieter!

After a thorough briefing on the turbo engine, it was time to meet the beast in the flesh. ZU MDV was to be my ship for the flight, and she didn’t disappoint. No sirrreeee, she did not. Bright red in colour (aren’t all the fast planes red?) and neat as a pin. Pieter pointed out the differences in the preflight to the 912 engine variants (not much) and the all-important turbo caution lights. That done, we hopped aboard and taxied out to the run-up bays. Being the first flight of the day, the 914 engine needs to warm up a bit before taking it through the engine test parameters, so its the ideal opportunity to do the other pretake-off vital actions while you wait. So by the time we got to the run-up bays, the only thing left to do was the engine run up. All went as per normal, and we were cleared for take off. Pieter had said we were going to do a short field take off in the briefing, so now was the moment of truth. Flaps 20, full power against brakes, taking the throttle through the gate and release brakes. Whoooosh! By the time I’d said “Engine developing full power, Pressures and temperatures in the green, Airspeed coming alive” we were at Vrot! And a few seconds later, off the ground. All before the PAPI lights! Wonderboom is at 4095 feet above sea level, and we were 2-up with half tanks, so no mean feat to be airborne in about 100m. I guess the POH says it all under the heading of ‘Short Field Takeoff’ when it says ‘Not considered necessary.’ But that’s only the start. As I leveled off in ground effect to accelerate, we were already at 65 KIAS. Time to pitch up for the climb. But the beast kept accelerating faster than I could raise the nose! Talk about being behind the aircraft…

When I got it settled at 70 KIAS I felt like I was in the space shuttle. The MGL EFIS display showed only sky, no earth on the AH display as we climbed at over 1000ft per minute. Now, I know that doesn’t sound like a big deal to the experienced boys flying the fancy planes, but it is fantastic performance from a locally manufactured 2-seater plane burning mogas. And I was impressed.Having flown a 912iS-engined Sling2 for the past few years, I have to say that the guys at the Airplane Factory have done a great job on this one!

The rest of the convex went smoothly, as we explored several aspects of the engine’s performance. Pieter was at great pains to emphasize the need to manage the turbo, especially as it relates to shock-cooling. Cool it too fast, and the vanes weaken, especially on the compressor side of the turbo. And if one breaks off and gets sucked into the engine, rest assured an interesting landing will ensue.

The final landing was a short field landing, and again, the Sling2 with full flaps is very draggy. Even with being a little high on final approach, applying full flap and reducing power quickly had us at a better speed and rate of descent. A good flare at touchdown and we able to stop in short order, again before the PAPIs. I wonder if I can get a discount on the landing fees since we used such a small part of the runway?

Now for the next part of the plan – the conversion to the Sling4…


Four years later..!

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It didn’t take me 4 years to finish my license, but it has taken me more than 4 years to get back to writing. Talk about procrastination!

I guess I should continue the story from where I left off, but truth to tell, I’ve probably forgotten the details. And now you know the end anyway, as I’ve done 2 renewals since the last time I posted here.

Umpteen hundreds of reminders from WordPress, and I am trying to dust off the cobwebs, remember my password (thank goodness for email resets!) and park the proverbial in the chair and get down to writing.

So here goes…

Looking in my logbook, I see that I flew my initial solo on 20 July 2012. I remember that day very clearly indeed. It was a typical Johannesburg winter’s day, bright and clear, not a cloud in the sky and still too early for the windy conditions we encounter around August. I now felt quite familiar with the circuit, having resigned myself to the fact that I was likely going to be flying it a lot longer than I had hoped. I felt a bit like Sisyphus, pushing the same boulder uphill in a never ending cycle. However, this day was different. Waiting for me at the aircraft was not my usual instructor, but the Grade 2 instructor from the adjacent flight school. My stomach immediately knotted. Had the day finally arrived? I was assured that this was just a check ride, as per the policy of the CAA and the school. “Ok”, I thought, “Check ride…”

After the preflight, start, engine run-ups and pre-takeoff vital actions were done, ATC cleared us for departure off runway 29. Normally, I love 29. Long, downhill and a straight out climb towards the General flying area, with few traffic concerns. But today wasn’t a day for the GF. Today was circuits. And circuits on 29 mean a descending turn from base onto final to remain out of the flight path of the ‘heavies’ on final approach to OR Tambo.

“Juliet Zulu Sierra ready for departure”

“JZS, wind light and variable, cleared take-off runway 29, report left hand downwind runway 29”

“Cleared take off 29, left hand downwind 29 next”

Full throttle, engine developing full power, pressures and temps in the green, airspeed coming alive, waiting for 65 to rotate…and we were up. Uneventful so far.

We flew 3 circuits, including a simulated engine failure after take off and a glide approach, when Waqas (pronounced Wakkas) told ATC that this would be a full stop. Full stop? After 3 circuits? And then realisation struck me – this could be the day!

On the apron, Waqas got out, gave me a thumbs up, and walked off to monitor my first solo flight from the Tower.

After being cleared for take off again, I sat with a lump in my throat. This was it. The moment I’d been waiting for! And as I pushed the throttle forward, JZS bounded forward, as eager as I was. Airborne in much less distance now that I was on my own, I recalled the words of Ernest K Gann – this was my ‘island in the sky’. Having taken JZS into the sky, I was now responsible, on my own, for bringing her (and myself) safely back down to earth. “I’ve got this,” I said to myself.

“JZS left hand downwind 29, full stop”

“JZS report final approach runway 29, number one”

“Report final approach, number one”

Downwind checks. All good. Base-to-final descending turn, check.

“JZS final approach”
“JZS, winds light and variable, cleared to land runway 29”

And that sentence was my invitation to join the ranks of those who are called ‘pilot’.

More Circuits and Landings


“Take-offs are optional, landings are mandatory”, states  the well-used maxim.
This is the undeniable truth. And for me, this is also the challenge. Not the take-off part – I’ve got that now. And not the when to take-off part – so far I have scrubbed a number of flights for reasons of bad weather, or technical aircraft-related problems. The tricky part which I still need to nail down is the landing bit. Every week I keep hoping that my instructor is going to say, “OK, Nick, now you’re ready for solo.” Instead, after every lesson, I’m hearing “One more lesson”. I know it doesn’t help that three of my last four lessons have been in 15 knot winds, with one flight gusting 20 knots. At least I am getting the feel of what winds can do on final approach!

Today the weather was better, but the circuit was bedlam! After several “JZS, commence one orbit to the left”,”JZS early left turn approved” (that instruction brought me into conflict with helicopter traffic, who complained to the Tower about traffic in his airspace! And ATC put me there!). When I was on left base, I was instructed to commence an orbit to the left, which said left turn put me on final approach. Nevertheless, I applied power and continued the orbit, only to be told that I was clear to land. A quick change of direction, application of full flap and judicious use of throttle got me to the numbers. Again, great practice towards being a more complete pilot, but when you’re trying to consolidate what you’ve learned, these things can be a bit off-putting. I have found that they distract me from flying an accurate approach, getting the airspeed correct and the aircraft trimmed for landing. In these situations, I feel like I have to suddenly get lots of things done in a very short space of time – and this makes me a bit uneasy, and I think makes my instructor believe I am not confident enough to fly on my own. Well, so be it. He is in charge, after all! Anyway, keep reading – I will eventually solo!


I’d love to hear your experiences in the circuit!

Fly safely!

Stories of Echo 1

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After I completed my internship at JG Strijdom Hospital (now called Helen Joseph Hospital), I was determined to embark upon a career in surgery. So it was quite acceptable to spend some time working in a trauma environment for a period, which is what I decided to do. The mix was fantastic – Trauma casualty, Flight for life duties and a bit of Intensive Care thrown in as well. What I really wanted to do most, though, was fly. I couldn’t wait. But I had a few hoops to jump through first. One was the ATLS course. ATLS stands for Advanced Trauma Life Support, and there would be no flying without it. I had to kick my heels around casualty for about a month before I finally got to do my course, and was cleared to fly. The day of my first flight was quite memorable, and even 16 years later I remember it very clearly. For some good and not-so-good reasons. You see, I wasn’t rostered to fly that day, even though I had been cleared to fly. There were always 2 of us per shift, and one was on heli call. So if your pager beeped and the words “Primary Response” appeared on it, it was time to leg it to the helipad. On the day in question, my colleague was halfway through his lunch when the pager went off. Quite magnanimously, I offered to go in his place while he finished his lunch at a more leisurely pace. I was probably quite insistent, and since he had already been flying that day (he did his course before me, so was cleared for the line before I was) I wasn’t going to take no for an answer. “Off you go!” he said, with a mischieveous grin on his face. Its a look I will remember, because of events soon to unfold.

I dashed to the pad, and arrived as the rotors were reaching lift-off speed (sorry rotor-boys, I can speak fixed-wing but not heli!). The pilot looked at me like I was some imposter, and wasn’t quite sure what to do. Fortunately I recognised the Flight Sister who waved me aboard. Now, I had done all my heli safety briefings etc, so I wasn’t completely out of my depth. The crew, however, were not pleased with the sudden switch of flight doctors, and took no pains to hide that fact. After we lifted and were on route, the pilot severely chastised me for this unwarranted change in crew. I was back at school again, being told off by the teacher! But I was in the wrong, even though I hadn’t been told about this one small fact. I took my punishment and resolved to do my best at the scene we were en route to, and to enjoy the flight.

We were routing from Johannesburg to Sun City, a resort complex about 150km North of Johannesburg, and roughly 45 mins flying time. It was a typical Highveld afternoon, with the temperature well into the 30’s (celcius). At that time I knew nothing about density altitude, but was definitely experincing the effects of unstable air. It was decidedly bumpy, and the heli (a BO 105) had no aircon, so it was hot too. I also had my work clothes on, not the flight gear we had been issued with, and was starting to feel a mite uncomfortable. A very bad combination, I was begining to realise. We had been given our landing zone – the golf course. Turns out a visiting German tourist was having a heart attack (golf sometimes does that to me too, when I’m having a bad round!) and needed urgent treatment and transfer to a cardiac hospital. As we turned on final approach, I realised that she was not the only one in need of medical attention. My stomach began sending signals to my brain, or was it the other way around? I reached behind the seat to where the airsickness bags were stowed. “Let’s just have a look and see whats in this little brown bag…blaaaarrrrgh”. I confess, here publically, as I did at that time to my colleagues, that I parked a cat on my first heli flight. Not my most auspicious moment, I do say.

Feeling somewhat better, I attended to the patient. We put the monitors on the patient, and I established an IV line. Our flight sister got the oxygen out and began administering it to the patient. A quick glance at the monitor confirmed my initial clinical findings – a very rapid heart rate, in this case a supraventricular tachycardia (SVT). Her blood pressure was reasonable at that time, and her chest pain had settled somewhat. We were left with a dilemma – to treat the abnormal heart rhythm here on the ground, or get the patient to the hospital ASAP. Now, as a doctor I was trained to treat patients, which is what I wanted to do in this case. I did realise that the golf course was probably not the best place to do what needed to be done, and given that the patient was stable and in no immediate danger, the best course of action was to get the patient to the nearest facility, which was a short 15 minute trip away. So the patient was packaged and loaded into the back of the heli, with the flight nurse calling ahead to the intended destination to be ready to receive the patient.
And this is where I learned a remarkable thing about medicine and flying. One of the ways we are taught to treat a SVT is to perform a Valsalva manoevre, which entails trying to breath out hard
whilst closing your throat. I had never seen this work as a student or as an intern, and we always went on to the next option. However, in the helicopter, lying flat on her back with a great view of the turning rotors, and the unstable air, the patient was beginning to feel a little queasy too. And with a mighty wretch which delivered up the offerings of the halfway-house, her heart rate stabilised to a normal rate and rhythm, and the chest pain vanished.
15 minutes later, we landed at Unitas hospital (they have great facilities, and always offered the crew toasted sandwiches and cool drinks!) and handed over our tourist to the relevant Drs. She made a full recovery and went safely back to Germany.

In the next installment, a fireman gets a dose of grass…

Circuits and Landings


No posts for a while, but not for lack of flying, thankfully!

I am now into my circuits and landings phase of training, and having an immense amount of fun! It is certainly the most challenging phase so far, by a long way.


At this time, I’ve been in the circuit for a few lessons, so I can reflect on the progress to this point – and it has been progress, even if it has not been as fast as I would have liked. It is remarkable how similar it is to learning how to drive. At first, you learn how to control the vehicle – for me it was a nice quiet morning, good weather with no other traffic – none! I could not have asked for better conditions. Teaching was pleasant and relatively stress free.
Radiowork was straight forward, and all proceeded well until the middle of the downwind leg. Then things got a bit technical and complicated, having to remember the downwind checks talk to the tower, control the airspeed and start turning base.
The final approach over the golf course was quite bumpy, and this I have subsequently learned is the norm for this approach to run 17. My instructor then began telling me to not let the aircraft land, which entailed pulling back on the column until the plane ran out of lift, whereafter it settled very smoothly on the runway before applying full throttle and taking off for the next circuit

And so the pattern of circuits and landings has continued, with me becoming more and more comfortable with the ‘how-to’ of landing. Now if I could just get the instructor out of the aeroplane…

All checked out!

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What started out as the most unpromising day turned out quite well for me. When I got my kids in the car for school, the clouds were on the deck, and I guess that in some areas one could call it fog. I was scheduled to fly at 8:15, but by the time I had dropped my son off at school at 7:30, the weather was not looking too good. “Ok”, I thought, “Let me drive to the airport and see what happens”. Sometimes what looks like terrible weather actually blows off by mid-morning. 8:15 is hardly mid-morning (although sometimes in my ‘real’ job I’ve been out at 2 or 3 in the morning, so 8:15 is mid-morning!)

From fog and overcast to this in 20 minutes!

As I arrived at the airport, I noticed a glimmer of sunshine trying to break through. My prayers were being answered! By 8:00 it was noticeably brighter, and looked to be improving. One can hardly believe how quickly things can change, and 15 mins later, as I was walking out to the hangar, the sun was beating down on me and the clouds were moving off!
As we arrived at the plane, I was pleased to notice that all appeared in order. The tyres had not been replaced, as I had hoped, but they were at least inflated. I went through the pre-flight inspection under the watchful eye of the check instructor, and found all in order.

Pre-start checks done, passenger briefing out of the way (I remembered to do it this time!) and with a shout of “Clear Prop!” the little Continental was humming nicely. After-start checks all ok, and I was calling the tower for taxi clearance.
“KHZ taxi to the holding point runway 29, QNH 1019”
“Holding point runway 29, QNH 1019”, I repeat.
As we taxi out, I go through the taxi checks, ensuring the DI, compass and slip-and-turn indicator all turn as they should. So far no criticism from the righthand seat, so all good. I do the engine run-up tests, and complete the pre-takeoff vital actions.
“Rand Tower, KHZ is ready for departure”
“Line up and wait”, comes the response. I repeat the instruction and do as instructed.
“KHZ cleared for takeoff runway 29, surface winds light and variable, lefthand turn out, report zone outbound 6500”

While I get a check ride on the Tomahawk, some other lucky soul gets to fly this PC12!

“Have you done the takeoff yet?” the instructor asks me. I tell him that I have, and he says, “Off you go then”
Full power against brakes, last check of the mags. A touch of right rudder and we’re off down the runway.
“Pressures and temps in the green, airspeed coming alive and engine developing full power,” I say, “Waiting for airspeed 65 to rotate, 70 to become airborne”
At 65 I lift the nose, and the little Tomahawk leaves the ground at 70. I keep her level for a few seconds to let the airspeed build a bit, then adjust attitude for the climb and trim the plane.
“3oo feet agl, after take-off checks,” and I go through the list. All going well so far. I make my left hand turn, and before long I’m calling tower to report zone outbound. “Do you know the way to the GF?” asks the instructor. I tell him I do, and begin to fly the route, pointing out the features and checkpoints as we go.

The instructor has me do a few exercises, including a climbing turn, a left and right medium turn and before long, we’re heading back to Rand.
So far, I’ve handled all the radio calls, and managed not to duff them. I’ve flown consistently and within the defined parameters (not perfectly, but adequately) and so I feel I am doing ok.
The instructor tells me its time to descend, so I apply the carb heat and reduce power, trimming the plane for the descent. I don’t quite get this right, and we descend at 500fpm, not the 300 the instructor wanted. “Strike one,” I think to myself. But we’re almost home.
I radio the tower and get the joining and landing instructions for runway 35.
“Do you know the circuit for 35”, I am asked. I have landed on 35 a few times, so I’m familiar with the landmarks. “Yes, I do” and proceed to tell him where I will join and where I will turn for final approach. “Ok,” he says, “you fly and I’ll handle the radio. I can see you are having fun”
His last comment causes me to pause and reflect for a few seconds. I have approached this check ride as I have approached all of my med school and specialist exams so far, studying hard and doing my best. But I also realise that I am indeed having fun – and because I felt I was doing alright, I was having an immense amount of fun. Since when should a test be ‘fun’?!!! All pilots out there can relate to this, I am sure. I know that it can be stressful, as any exam can be, and I was certainly far from my calmest on this flight, but I was definitely having a great time.
We did the base checks, and final approach checks and I got the plane lined up on the centre line, adjusted the power and stuttered down to the runway. I say stuttered because I haven’t got the judging of height on the approach ‘right’ in my head yet, so one minute I feel we’re too high, then too low, so less power, then more power. I eventually contact the runway, bounce sideways a bit and the instructor puts it down properly and gets us moving down the centre again
“Oops,” I say.
“Don’t worry,” he says, “You’re going to do a lot more of those in the next few weeks”
My competitive personality immediately rebuffs this (not out loud, of course – that would be arrogance in the extreme!) by saying “we’ll see about that!”

We taxi to park and I shut down the engine, reflecting on the flight. I must say that I enjoyed it immensely, but I think that is in part due to my naturally competitive nature. I also enjoyed the experience of having another instructor to learn from. And learn I did! I am accustomed to a quiet, calm istructor. This instructor, whilst calm, made a few very valuable comments during the flight. Everyone has something to teach, if you are ready to learn. And I love learning, especially if it interests me – and flying definitely ticks that box!

How about you? Any thoughts on your first (or subsequent) check rides? I’d love to hear about them!

Check-ride aborted

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Well, as you can see from the title, the check ride didn’t happen. For the obvious reason depicted in the photo.

Now, I don’t know about you, but this kind of thing makes me very nervous. As a newbie student, I am still not always sure as to what constitutes adequate maintenance, but I haven’t liked the look of this tyre for the last few flights. My instructor always assures me that it is fine. Well, clearly not fine on this day! I am seriously ticked off that I didn’t get to fly, though. The one thing I am very grateful for is that it was flat when I arrived, and didn’t suddenly go flat as I was landing, or taking off!

So now the check ride is scheduled for tomorrow. Let’s hope the weather plays ball…

"I wonder if I can get the Automobile Association to change this one..."

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