The Fly away to beat all fly-aways
THE MUCH ANTICIPATED DEPARTURE DATE:
On the 29th of November the Blue Chip Flight School fleet once again departed on a flyaway of epic proportions. We were a total of 8 aircraft, and 29 people, spread between the aircraft and the Quantum Bus. Our planned departure time was delayed due to some inclement weather en-route in the Gauteng area for the first leg to Bloemfontein, which was a last-minute destination change due to a fuel shortage at the originally planned fuel stop of New Tempe.
The time spent on the ground was however used constructively in discussing the route and procedures for the days flying. Eventually at 10:00 local time the first aircraft departed Wonderboom for Bloemfontein. All aircraft landed safely two and a half hours later and once the fuelling was done and pre-flights conducted, the fleet departed for the second leg of our journey to East London. The weather en-route was fantastic and the changing landscape below was spectacular, especially as we crossed into the Eastern Cape.
Approaching East London the conditions started to change in that the wind was picking up, but the conditions remained well within the capabilities of all PIC’s. 7 of the 8 aircraft landed within 45 minutes of each other with the last straggler ZS-GDA landing approximately an hour and twenty minutes later, for no other reason except that this aircraft is fitted with a climb prop, which does affect the cruise speeds slightly.
After successfully putting the aircraft to bed, which included tying them down to deal with the high forecast winds expected during the evening, we managed to settle down for an evening of hangar talk and a braai with our friends from the Border Aviation Club.
THE PLAN TO ROUTE FROM EAST LONDON TO MARGATE………..THE REALITY:
Michael and myself were up fairly early to check the weather forecasts for the route and the day, and round about our second cup of coffee, we came to the realisation that the days flying would be put on hold due to winds being forecast to be gusting 40 Kts at East London and enroute. Discretion being the greater part of valour, the decision was made unanimously to spend an extra day in East London, which Ronell efficiently arranged.
The day was pretty much spent walking around town buying provisions for another braai that evening, as well as visiting the beach and experiencing a thorough exfoliation of our skins by the sand being blown up.
Our plans for the evening were almost ruined when a huge thunderstorm blew through almost completely obliterating our braai, fortunately however the Blue Chip spirit was somewhat greater than that of Mother Nature at the time and we carried on regardless.
SCENE TWO ACT 2 ATTEMPT 2 FOR MARGATE:
Another early wake up for the crew and especially Mike and myself to check weather. This time we would be greeted by very favourable forecasts for the day. Calm winds no significant weather for the routing or destination.
Departure from East London was uneventful even though it was a bit later than originally planned, two and a half hours to be precise due to refuelling and payments of all outstanding parking and landing fees. Departure again was uneventful, the only real change this time was that we sent the slowest aircraft of first, with Michael bring up the rear in the fastest aircraft.
The coastwise routing was spectacular initially, with many whales being spotted from the air. The picturesque settings however changed as the first aircraft approached Port St. Johns, with the weather starting to deteriorate, which was completely un-forecast, and an inflight check of the Weather SA radar image didn’t even show up the weather building up around us. Eventually after roughly 3 hours of flying all the aircraft landed at Margate airport.
The evening was quietly spent in our guest houses with no braai, but rather some KFC, in anticipation of the final leg home. What was probably the funniest thing ever was the look on the face of the lady behind the counter at the KFC, when we walked in and asked for 27 burgers and chips and 42 pieces of chicken. She triple checked to see if we were being serious, and feeling alright.
ANOTHER DAY ANOTHER CHALLENGE:
The planned routing for the day, Margate, Pietermaritzburg (fuel stop) and then onwards to Wonderboom. The challenge for the day however started when the SA Weather service servers were offline, and we could get no forecasts for the expected weather for our routing, this was however circumvented by using other weather applications to determine the viability of our homeward journey. After fuelling and getting the necessary paperwork and preflights out of the way we bode farewell to Margate and departed for our flight home. Approaching Maritzburg the forecast weather, we were able to obtain, was again to say the least inaccurate, with the cloud bases touching the mountains to the North. Safe arrivals were conducted by all, and after refuelling and approximately almost an hours deliberation and a 45 minute phone call to the national weather forecasting office in Irene, the decision was made to spend the night in Pietermartizburg.
However, being a Sunday evening, and the possibility of insufficient accommodation for such a large group, the decision was made to only keep a group of 10 people there to ensure the safe return due of the aircraft, the remainder would finish off the trip by doing some “low flying” in the Quantum.
For the ten of us remaining the evening was spent reflecting on our trip thus far and enjoying two or three cold beverages and a small braai.
THE FINAL COUNTDOWN:
The weather servers were up and running again and the forecast let us know that we were in for a fine day of flying. Monday morning was the first on time departure we managed for the entire trip, an uneventful routing to Wonderboom was completed, with all the aircraft landing safely after about two hours and thirty minutes.
The flyaway was a lot of fun for all involved, with valuable experience being gained by the pilots flying, this included landing at international airports, dealing with moderately gusting winds some poor weather and visibility flying as well as and most certainly the most important lesson, that at no point should you be pushed to fly EVER! The fact that we cancelled plans to fly, and altered routes to suit the conditions which were presented to us is a lesson I hope that each and everyone of the pilots that participated take forward with them in their future careers.
Here’s looking forward to our next epic adventure together through the skies of our wonderful country.
Article by Brendon Lubbe – Chief Flight Instructor