Gorgeous day today.

FALA 150900Z 35008KT 320V020 CAVOK 18/04 Q1024 NOSIG

Ok. There is a bit of a crosswind on the 07/25 but it’s irrelevant. Because I’m not flying. And why is that? Because on call….

And there is apparently a massive cold front cruising in. Will probably be there just in time for next lesson on Tuesday. (Of course)



Incipient Stall lesson

(See what I did there?)

My next lesson is due to be on slow flight and stalls. Now I know that these are safe and a necessary part of flight training but the whole concept worries me somewhat. I have 3.7hours of training under the belt so far which is essentially 3 lessons. My instructor says she is very happy with my progress and wants to get all the high work done to get me into the circuit.

I bought the (Excellent) Air Pilot Manual book 1 “Flying training” which used to be edited by Trevor Thom but has now been taken over by others. It has great explanations of the airwork required for the various exercises and I’ve been reading up on the slow flight and stall exercises. And I don’t believe I am comfortable enough with the airplane at the moment to do that exercise – there are lots of warnings about entering the stall regime in level flight and being very precise with speeds, attitude and power. And I don’t think I’m quite there yet.

Also, by the time I fly that lesson it will be 13days since I last flew. So the whole thing makes me a little nervy. I’ve decided to book another lesson which is not as goal directed prior to the stall lesson – just so I can get more comfortable with the plane and the basic maneuvers.

Does this make me chicken? Maybe. But I don’t really care. I’d rather be comfortable behind the controls and ahead of the aeroplane than behind the plane and uncomfortable.. And in the back of my mind always lies the knowledge that a spin (although it is apparently almost impossible to spin the Cirrus) in this plane is only recoverable by using the CAPS. I don’t want to have to pull the CAPS.


Attitude Flying – Lesson 2

So its been a bit of a bad time for flying of late. What with the persistent winter inversion and ongoing IMC at Lanseria and then someone apparently broke an engine mount on one of the Avidyne equipped SR20s. Which prompted the flying school to pull all the Avidyne SR20s off the line and inspect the engine mounts. This is an advantage of having the maintenance facility for the aircraft on site. The engineers know the flight instructors and won’t send them off into the wild blue yonder in dodgy aircraft. Bad news for me was that I had a lesson cancelled. Better safe….

But there’s always another day. And that was Thursday. Lots of work to do in the plane. On the plus side – my NFlightCam GoPro ATC Cable arrived on Monday so was able to use that. Now if I’d actually managed to plug it in correctly I’d have ATC audio. But I didn’t. Next time..

But back to Thursday. Got to fly the lovely ZS-JAB complete with her  faux USAF markings..

Actually, I wonder if this isn’t one of the Cirruses used by the USAF for ab-initio training and then sold on? Apparently these SR20’s are some of the highest time Cirruses in the world.

First hurdle was that I managed to flood the engine. #facepalm. Fixed that. Instructor says, “OK, you can do some of the radio calls.”

So I belt out the first contact. She looks at me sideways and says… “Are you sure you aren’t a pilot already?” Then I have to confess the hours of online Flight Simulation and virtual ATC I’ve been doing for years and years. At least that’s one thing I don’t have to worry about.


ROUTE:-  FALA – Magalies GFA – FALA


Hours:- 1.4

Goals: – Exercises 6-10

Taxiing is coming right!! It’s less like a runaway shopping cart and more like an aero plane. I’ll get on top of that free castoring nosewheel yet!

Takeoff was OK-ish – overdid the right rudder and really struggled to find centerline again on the roll but liftoff was good – was able to find Vy easily at 95kts. It was very bumpy en route to the GFA and pretty hazy making heading holding difficult. Turning left over Hartebeespoort dam we flew UNDER a vulture. Which was really cool. (Better to fly under than into…).

On to Straight and Level – same speeds, different attitude. Climbs, descents, turns. I’m starting to get the feel of the plane and looking OUT is definitely an improvement on staring at the panel. Turns are going to take some work. Left turns are okay – the spinner traces the horizon nicely at 30deg of bank. Right turns are harder because I see mostly sky and while the spinner may well be tracing the horizon, I can’t see it. But after (quite) a lot of turns they were getting easier.

Back into FALA airspace and I was back on the radio – not making an a*se of myself at least. I’m starting to recognize the landmarks around the airport which will help. I know where the turn point onto final approach to 07 is. My approach and round out  was “very good” (according to instructor) but the landing… Well let’s just say that if you hear the instructor saying “don’t fight me” as you’re about to touch down it’s probably not a good thing.  Apparently I was trying to bank the plane left in ground effect. On debriefing it would appear that as I flared my wrist was externally rotating which was twisting the stick to the left – leading to bank. I’m going to have to concentrate very hard on that.

Here is some audio free GoPro footage from the lesson.

Next lesson 19 July…..

When VFR is not VFR

Yesterday was supposed to be a fly day. My flight school (Cirrus Training at Lanseria) books 2h slots for an hour lesson and 2h slot for an hour briefing (for those lessons that need a briefing) before.  We were scheduled to do the “straight and level” briefing and then fly the exercise.

A briefing is essentially a one-on-one tutorial covering an aspect of flight which then followed by a flying lesson where the concepts are solidified and demonstrated. I had 9h00 to 13h00 carved out for this. I really look forward to the lessons – so from Thursday I was keeping an eye on the meteosat images (for approaching fronts) and from Friday, watching the METAR and TAF for Lanseria (FALA). For those not in the know – the METAR is a coded report on the current weather and the TAF is essentially a long term (16-24h) outlook on the weather to come.

So keeping an eye on both gives you an idea about the conditions at the airfield. IF they are created at the airfield. (Which I suspect they may not be….) Driving in on Saturday morning the ground frequency reports were indicating ground fog and haze with a visibility of 5000m – with the airfield operating in instrument meteorological conditions (IMC) – despite a METAR which suggested CAVOK (Ceiling and Visual OK). Interestingly weather at home was severe clear but at FALA not so much. I suspect it has a lot to do with the informal settlements in the area – when it’s cold there is a lot of heating by burning wood etc and because the field lies in a bit of a valley the pollution gets trapped under the inversion layer.

No problem I think… give it an hour or so and it’ll burn off / blow away. So we start our brief. The brief is, in a word, hectic. I’m not sure how people without some physics in their education manage. Also, I was very much under the impression that I understood lift and drag. Apparently I didn’t. But thanks to some very intense (my instructor takes the briefings seriously and explains things well – lots of colors(!)) lectures I can now expound on induced and profile drag, Centre of Gravity:centre of pressure couples and my personal fave… Power Required Curves.

Straight and level briefing done, we stick our heads out onto the apron and… get blown back into the office. Yes, it’s clearing. BUT now there is 25kts blowing across the runway. Demonstrated cross wind landing limit in the Cirrus SR20 is 26kts. ( Instructor’s comment was that this should not be regarded as something achievable but was demonstrated by test pilots) Guess we aren’t going flying. We decided to knock out some more briefings – this will decrease the amount of time I’ll need to carve out for future lessons. We did Climbing. Then Descending. Then Turns. FOUR hours of briefing.

Induced Drag

I’d consider the morning adequately seized. Could we have flown? Maybe. Would it have been safe? No. The ONE thing I am absolutely determined to do is to train safe, and then fly safe. I really like the school’s approach to safety. My instructor and I see eye-to-eye on safety. The aircraft has great safety features. Is General Aviation dangerous? Maybe. But when I read the accident reports, it’s usually quite easy to see what went wrong. And a lot of the time it’s flying in marginal weather. So we reschedule the flying. I can fly any day. But only if I’ve made good decisions on marginal days….. Blue skies….

First (Official) Lesson

Date:- 24/6/2017

Aircraft:- ZS-BOR (SR20) – Avidyne Avionics

Route:- FALA – Magaliesberg GFA – FALA


First official lesson – briefing required. Had an hour long briefing on the effects of aircraft controls – a great revision for me (I thought I knew most of this stuff already being aviation mad all my life) but there were a number of finer points that it was good to get a hold of. There is a lot of physics. Yes. Physics.

Fortunately in the dark recesses of my mind lies rattling an old physics file from when I started anaesthesia training – physics is quite NB for anaesthetists. We reacquainted ourselves with Bernoulli and Newton, drew aeroplanes on the whiteboard (which may or may not have borne a striking resemblance to dolphins..) #insidejoke

Time for paperwork – NOTAMs to read, Weather to check, aircraft folio to check etc.

Then off to preflight. I was quite concerned earlier in the day that the weather would not be good enough to fly – it was cold and cloudy and Lanseria was reporting IFR only with the field in mist. Fortunately as it warmed up the clouds cleared and the weather just got better and better.

The Cirrus is a great aircraft to pre-flight – there is a nice flow to the process moving carefully round the plane from the left door towards the tail, round the tail, round the right wing, to the engine and prop and then round the left wing back to the door – I find that keeping a hand on the plane at all times makes it easier to not forget something.

There are a few funny things – the stall warning horn needs to be checked prior to the walk round – it is done with the BAT1 and BAT2 switches and the avionics on (which is part of the pre-preflight but needs the right hand door open which is a bit fiddly) And you need to kiss the wing (or apply negative pressure to the stall sensor – we can’t think of any other non anorak way to do it other than sucking on the port). Then you have to get back into the plane, extend full flaps,  kill the battery and avionics switches and then start the walk around. I’ll do a more detailed post on the walk around at some point in the future.

Winds from the East meant a runway 07 takeoff, which means I had a LONG time to get used to taxiing the aircraft. Which is still for me the hardest part. The nose wheel castors, and you’re not supposed to ride the brakes or use differential braking as the primary guidance tool. So you have to increase the power and let the prop wash turn the aircraft with the rudder. Which is fine when you’re going slowly/uphill. Not so cool when on the downhills.. We spent 8minutes doing the run up checks. Hopefully that will get quicker – no need for shortcuts but I need to memorise those flows…

Takeoff was better (RIGHT Rudder! RIGHT Rudder, MORE right rudder – I now know WHY you need right rudder btw) and off to the GFA we go…

Major goals for this lesson were to get a feel for the primary and secondary effects of the controls. Which was as simple as it seems – but for me the major challenge remains keeping my head out of the cockpit. I think I’m born to be an instrument pilot. Too many years of flightsim and too much gazing at screens is an issue. Those lovely 10″ Avidyne displays seem to lock my gaze like the sirens of mythology.

Interestingly my instructor says she can tell without looking when I’m heads down in the displays – apparently there is a slight lag between reality and what is presented on the artificial horizon/HSI and this delay means that I’m continually behind the aeroplane. This leads to oscillations. I’m told these are uncomfortable. I think this means I’m not supposed to be doing that….

Manoeuvres done:-

  • Banking
  • Climbing
  • Descending
  • Effect of Rudder
  • Pitch and Power with flaps in and extended
  • “Virtual go-arounds” (more of these to come I’d guess)
  • Spiral Dives


Spiral Dives

I was warned about these in the briefing. Apparently some people find them “unpleasant”. Not me. These are fun.  Straight and level flight. Add aggressive rudder and hold. Secondary effect of the rudder is to cause rotation or banking in direction of application. As you bank, the nose slips down and there you have it – a fairly aggressive dive.

Recovery is simple and in this order – Neutralize offending control input. Roll out of bank and simultaneously reduce to idle power. Apply back pressure on stick and as nose comes up add throttle while avoiding ballooning (very easy – not).

Why are these spiral dives so important? Because these are what kill pilots in IMC (apart from CFIT of course). Then they are called graveyard spirals. I recorded the flight on my GoPro – the dives don’t look as spectacular as they felt, but, looking at the horizon – on one of the aileron induced spirals we had a bank angle of around 70degrees…


Back next week with some more….


Jumping Through Hoops (i.e Getting a Class II medical)

So part of the process of getting the PPL is collecting a Class 2 medical. Which should be a simple process for a nominally healthy 41y old like myself.  (Well, that’s what I thought)

For a Class 2 medical the following are required.

  • Stress ECG
  • Lung Function Test
  • Visual assessment
  • Auditory assessment
  • Chest X-ray
  • Fasting lipogram (cholesterol)

Thus far there is good news and bad news for my medical.

The good news – My eyes have not deteriorated significantly at all in the 3 years since I last had them tested. I have excellent hearing (apparently supranormal). My chest X ray is pristine (which is always a relief given the massive occupational exposure I have/have had to Tuberculosis (it goes with the territory when working in SA)

The bad news – It’s on the ECG at the top of the page. This is the 2min post exercise ECG. Now understand that a stress ECG requires one to get to 90% of Max Heart Rate. I got to 99%. On climbing off the treadmill the person doing the test said to me “Try not to breathe too much”. OK then, that is easier said than done. So I try to. Breathe. Slowly. – as a result I basically end up doing a Valsalva and the massive change in heart rate seen on the rhythm strip is a direct result of that.

It’s called sinus arrhythmia and it’s normal. Well. It’s normal for the average man in the street but it needs checking out to be called normal for a medical. So, it’s off to the cardiologist for me.

Fortunately, my wife is a general practitioner and was able to refer me to a cardiologist without a 6month waiting period. Tomorrow I see said heart doc and I hope he’s able to give me the all clear…



Choosing a flying school

It’s a strange truism that it’s quite difficult to learn something unless you have someone teach it to you. So it goes without saying that learning to fly is going to require me to choose a school.

Let me state at the outset that the school where I did my initial flight impressed me. They are enthusiastic, seemed to be quite well organised and have a number of aircraft. However, there are some disadvantages to learning to fly in Bronkhorstspruit. Firstly, it is A. LONG. WAY. AWAY. 95km door to door requiring me to drive on one of the busiest highways in the country where accidents and heavy delays are a daily occurrence. Early on a Saturday morning it took 70min to get there. 70min to get back. Add to that an hour briefing, hour flight, hour debrief and it looks like a whole morning to get an hour of flying in. Secondly, there is no controlled airspace out there (unless you climb above 7500′ in which case ORTIA ATC tend to get a bit annoyed apparently) – so when/if I eventually transition to busier airspace dealing with other aircraft and ATC in controlled situations may be difficult. On the plus side, they are nominally cheaper, but as I later became aware, their hourly rate didn’t include insurance. Add to that 140km wear and tear on the car and it isn’t looking that cheap any more.

So I thought I’d look at something a little closer to home. I asked around for some recommendations – I have a colleague learning at FAGC – they are VERY expensive – operating C172s. Another contact suggested 43airschool – which turns out doesn’t have a branch in Jhb for ab intitio training – they put me onto Cirrus Flight Training (CDC Aviation) at Lanseria.

Now THIS is a pro outfit. I went out to have a look and have a demo flight and was taken round by Nick, one of the guys working his way through the CPL. They seem very organised – have a fancy system for flight booking, have onsite Cirrus maintenance and have 5 aircraft for training all SR20’s some equipped with the Avidyne Entegra and some with the Garmin Perpective avionics. There seems to be a strong culture of safety in the organization which is appreciated – especially as I get older I’m becoming more acquainted with my mortality. Did I mention they train in the Cirrus?

Aero Icarus from Zürich, Switzerland, Cirrus Design SR-20 N262MP@ZRH;10.03.2012 (6830458136), CC BY-SA 2.0

They hooked me up with an instructor and we set off to preflight the aircraft – ZS-BOR. Michelle gave me a quick briefing and then took me round the preflight – more on that in another post. It was time to fly!

There is a lot to say about the Cirrus which I hope to explore in other posts as I make progress – suffice it to say that it is a beast of an airplane. You really feel connected to it – the side stick feels natural for a long time computer flight simmer, and the performance is not too shabby…..

So there it is – I will be doing my training on the sleek Cirrus at CDC. Lots of hoops to jump through but we’re on our way!


First Steps

I’ve wanted to fly for as long as I can remember. Poor vision and an aptitude test suggesting flying would be a bad career for me put paid to those aspirations.

24y later, with a successful anaesthetic practice, I’m ready to get going on this flying thing. My friends and family clubbed together to buy me an introduction flight for my 40th. Through a combination of being extremely busy and poor weather it took almost a year to get it done.

On the appointed day, we headed out to Bronkhorstspruit to a tiny airfield where we were met by the very enthusiastic team. A quick briefing and we were off in  a Tecnam Sierra which  is classified as a Light Sport Aircraft (LSA) – what an experience! I was amazed at how light the controls were – it seemed that all I had to do was think about turning and the aircraft would bank. It was a beautiful day for flying – crystal clear skies and too early for much in the way of bumps and unstable air. No takeoff or landing for me on this flight but that’s ok – it was enough for a first time.

An hour of buzzing around the Far East Rand – over Bronkhorstpruit Dam and Cullinan and my fate was sealed – this was something I had to do. If anyone thought this would cure me they were wrong….