What a week – the highs and lows just didn't stop! By yesterday morning, Friday 3 March 2011, the final day, the team was beginning to get quite serious cabin fever and a strange “Big Brother” sensation was beginning to descend upon everyone. Nevertheless, all pulled their weight on the final straight (though some more in their own style than by riveting and filing). The last nacelle was screwed into place at 17h30, against a beautiful Highveld skycape, only to discover that the oil pressure indicator was reading incorrectly on the MGL Voyager. Gareth and the rest of the team's best efforts were to no avail and at about 18h20 Mike made the right decision – not to fly an aircraft that isn't 100% serviceable.
So ZU-SOL, nevertheless looking beautiful in the evening light, was pushed across the airfield down from her home of six and a half days days to the TAF hangar on the northern side of the field where her parts were fabricated only weeks before and the team and friends took the chance to unwind with some boerewors rolls and beer. Although a number of people came past to give support and see developments, and many stayed on for some social chit-chat, there was a definite disappointment that ZU-SOL had not taken to the air as planned. That, together with a tidal wave of exhaustion on the part of the build team, meant that the ensuing party didn't quite live up to some of TAF's historical 'opskops'.
Perhaps that was a good thing, though. Mike was off and in bed by 23h30 in the 'Big Brother hangar'. But, woken by his wife Charmaine at 02h00, he had a vision – that a failed ground wire was what was to blame for the problem with the oil pressure indicator. So down he came again, this time to TAF's hangar, at 02h00, to have another look. Working alone until 05h45 he eventually isolated the offending wire, got the MGL Voyager reading the pressure and started the engine for the first time. Initial excitement was soon tempered by very low oil pressure readings. Another three hours of work, however, and the reasons for this too were identified – two ground wires instead of one! At last at 09h20, exactly 6 days, 23 hours and 50 minutes after the ZU-SOL kit arrived, she was fully ready to fly. 9 minutes 45 seconds later, just 15 seconds ahead of the ultimate 168 hour (seven day) deadline, Mike took off, confident that everything was right (James and Jean having given up their entitlement to 'ching chong cha' it out to see who would do the first test flight – in deference to Mike's overnight efforts).
The plane flew absolutely flawlessly and has, in the short time since then, flown more than 2 additional hours. The build crew, deliriously excited and exhausted, witnessed the first flights and many got to fly in her in her pristine, yet unpainted state.
It's a sad moment when the time comes to disband after a great project, but TAF thanks everyone for their help and support during the project. Most especially Cathy Jones and family for their unstinting support, the Howells for their generosity with their hangar, and the camera crew Lloyd, James and Blaine for their herculean efforts.
I don't yet have the photos James Lewis and Blaine Venter took of the first flight, but I'll put them up as soon as they arrive. Meanwhile Bruce Perkins, thanks for your absolutely magnificent images of the build, people and other aircraft as posted on Avcom – they really are awesomely spectacular.
Stand by for more news and then, starting 1 April 2011, reports on ZU-SOL's trip to Europe.