Sunday, 7 August 2011 Jean and James starts the first leg of the adventure
In a way it was a blessing to have the delays. We worked so hard and so late every day that all of us were absolutely exhausted. So, early yesterday morning when Jean told James on the phone that we had a fuel leak that we absolutely had to fix and he then told Jean that we couldn’t leave anyway because the weather in Durban was bad and that we probably would not be able to get through … it was huge a relief. By early afternoon we had fixed the leak and checked the engine and rechecked the engine and rechecked everything so we all headed home for a much needed early night.
Like yesterday, we had lots of friends and family arrive at Tedderfield to see the courageous aviators off. I had thought of filling all the tanks at Tedderfield but after chatting to James and Jean we decided to be conservative and do the topup at Lanseria. After we had packed and James had finished filing the flight plan, 4 standard Slings, a Robin, an Extra 200 and the Silver Bullit took off for Lanseria. The flight was fun with all of us in close formation.
While James and Jean went into the terminal building to have a coffee and clear customs and immigration, Andrew and I looked after the filling up of the Sling 4 with Avgas. It took 195 litres to fill the tanks to their maximum capacity of 450 litres. The goodbyes were warm and cheerful but it was an anxious moment – this was their heaviest take off and they were about to fly off into the night. It looked like they lifted off after about 500 m ground roll and with a density altitude of 7,600 ft they climbed so well and were so fast that we had difficulty catching them … I had to ask them to slow down. We flew with them for about 20 minutes and then headed for home as it was starting to get dark.
When they were about 70km away to the east I got hold of them on the radio and they reported that everything was going well – the engine was performing perfectly with everything in the green and they had a tailwind.
Right now they are halfway to Madagascar and are looking good with clear weather for the next 3 hours .. and with quite good tailwinds. But.. There is a storm cell that seems to be developing off the south eastern edge of Madagascar. I am going to sleep now and will wake up again at 2am to see what the weather is doing. Luckily I can send them short emergency messages like “storm turn left 10°”. I’ll let you know.
Saturday, 6 August 2011 Problem solved, potent weather tools and a new departure date
First things first – thanks to Sias Dreyer for setting up a magnificent weather tool for The Airplane Factory Aviators to use in the circumnavigation. More about that in a minute.
Sadly I failed to take a photograph of the left wing main tank off (perhaps someone else out there has one?), but to get at the B tank that was leaking it was necessary to drill out the rivets which hold the A tank in place. That was swiftly done by Mike, Jean, Jan and Buto, and the leak (actually a loose piece of hardware on the tank wall) was fixed in seconds. By 10h30 the tank had been re-riveted on and the aeroplane is again ready to fly. Bad weather off the coast, however, makes it wiser to leave tomorrow.
There was a great turnout for the departure – thanks to all supporters. Sadly most left a little early to see the Beamish family depart in style in an RV 7A and an Extra 300 – what a privilege!
Then after a Wimpy breakfast care of Jean’s sister, Hazel, we had a quick sit down to re-plan departure. Meanwhile Sias Dreyer, a veteran advice giver from 2009 circumnavigation, quickly walked the pilots through the weather webpage he’s created especially for the journey. Phoowaar, the web is powerful machine! The only way to really understand this thing is to have a look at it – see www.vfrplanner.co.za/mwx/sling.html . Choose the leg, choose the features you want to see, choose the time (over the next 5 days at 3 hour intervals!) and choose wind levels you want to see.
A good look at the three screen shots below shows how we’ve selected our departure time. Shot 1 is 0300Z Sunday morning. The cold front and associated cloud off the east coast are clear. (And a look at earlier and later times shows that they’re moving north). By shot 2, 1200Z Sunday (2pm local time), they’re enough north to avoid the most of them even departing from Johannesburg rather than Durban. Winds are also from behind, although the ice level is at 9 000 feet just behind the front, so care will have to be taken with that. The flight will take about 14 to 15 hours, so any departure from Johannesburg before about 16h00 local time will result in arrival before sunrise on Monday.
Shot 3, 2100Z (11pm local) on Sunday night shows a substantial cell on the south west coast of Madagascar. In Madagascar that’s midnight, so we won’t be able to see well. That means we’re going to route about 20 to 30km south of the island, rather than direct. By 0300Z, landing time at Reunion, the cell is still at Madagascar (so it’s not worth waiting it out by leaving a few hours later), and there’s a bit of cloud at Reunion, but nothing particularly heavy.
If you’re interested you could check out the hurricane currently over the China coast but looking at the Phuket to Songshan leg. Predicted movement can be tracked by checking progressive times.
Anyhow, all other things being equal, we’ll now depart Tedderfield at 15h00 Sunday, filled with fuel and packed to go, for Lanseria. There we’ll clear customs and depart for Reunion, direct, at 16h00 local time. I’m afraid we’ve decided to skip the Durban stop in the interests of simplicity.
James, Jean and Mike
Saturday, 6 August 2011 BREAKING NEWS – Departure moved due to IFR Weather and small fuel tank problem
Breaking news – Sadly the Sling will not be leaving for Reunion today. It has been necessary to delay departure by another day because of IFR conditions in Durban and also becuase of a small leak in one of the ‘B’ accessory fuel tanks. Right now we’re busy removing the adjacent ‘A’ tank so as to access the ‘B’ tank to take a good look. We’ll fix that today, watch the weather and hopefully depart tomorrow.
The weather looks better from midday Sunday. More in the next few hours. Anyone who planned to come out today to see us off is welcome to nevertheless come around and pass on best wishes.
Friday, 5 August 2011 Flying through South Africa
Herewith some photos of the last few days while we made up our 40 hours of flying.
Tuesday, 2 August 2011 Luxury accommodation falls into place with help from the Naiade Hotel Group
One of the most important aspects of a flight around the world in a light aircraft is getting rest so that you can remain sharp at all times. In past trips Mike and I have often found that the hassle factor associated with finding accommodation, getting currency, food to eat and suchlike outweighs the value of stopping at all. In fact in our 2009 trip around the world we chose not to make a stop at Colombo in Sri Lanka at all – we re-fuelled, serviced the engine, filed a flightplan and left within three hours.
This time, however, our comfort and security, in Reunion and the Maldives anyway, (our first two stops), have been taken care of. The Naiade Hotel Group, in the form of the Grand Hotel du Lagon in Reunion and the Hotel Diva in the Maldives have very generously jumped in to put us up at the end of each long leg. To get an idea of what that means, take a look at the photographs of these wonderful establishments and eat your hearts out! Since the Diva hotel in Maldives is ordinarily accessed by sea plane it remains to be seen whether from a practical perspective we’ll be able to take up that offer, but for obvious reasons we’ll do our best! Either way, perhaps we can fly over and have a good look!
We’ll report further on our experiences as we pass through. In the meantime thanks so much to Laurent in Reunion – who runs a microlighters forum and has proven to be a friend to even unknown aviators, and to his friend Arnaud Lagesse and the GML Group Mauritius Island. You’ve shown us a very great kindness and we look forward to meeting you.
James, Mike and Jean
Tuesday, 2 August 2011 Clocking up the hours, writing lists and getting a US view on things
So things really are moving on – as at 14h00 today the (peerless) Sling 4 prototype has 23 hours on her airframe and Mike and Jean are off towards Durban to put on some more, test the fuel transfer systems, test the satellite tracker, do more work ascertaining exactly the best power settings for economy and generally just have a good time. You should be able to monitor their flight superimposed onto Google Earth on our website. Actually I can see them right now just east of the Wilge River!
Yesterday evening we had a great time flying a test flight and photographic sortee for SA Flyer’s Guy Leitch who never seems to be without a plan. This time he had Major Kevin “Cuda” Currie, the Air Attache for the US in South Africa, come through to test out the plane while he and John Miller took photographs from FBI, the SA Flyer C182.
Although Cuda’s temporarily doing a desk job here in SA (the Air Attache co-ordinates air activities between the US and the country he’s responsible for, typically military ones) he’s an F15 pilot who has seen action in Afghanistan and Iraq. Despite not being particularly current he flew a very tight formation with ZS-FBI for the shots. To find out his views you’ll have to buy the September edition of SA Flyer, but he certainly had a smile on his face after the flight!
All ZU-TAF’s systems are go and departure remains 10h00 from Tedderfield on Saturday 6 August. We’ll fly direct to Virginia for lunch where any interested Durbanites are welcome to come by, probably best between about 13h00 and 14h00, to have a look at her. Then the hop up to King Shaka to fuel up fully and clear customs before heading off to Reunion.
More as we go.
Saturday, 30 July 2011 Sling 4 ATW (“Around the World”) update from the factory
It’s the final weekend of the month and that traditionally means that the entire Airplane Factory staff complement gets off early on Friday and that no-one works overtime on the weekend. Mike, Jean, Gareth and James, however, are here putting some of the last minute touches (what Jean refers to as “tweaks”) on ZU-TAF before we really pile on the proving hours from tomorrow afternoon onwards.
With 8 hours flown we already know that she flies beautifully, but we’re required to fly 40 hours before we obtain an authority to fly from the CAA. Also, we still need to test her at MAUW, quite apart from the testing on a myriad of other systems and configurations. Some thoughts that have been taking some mind-space over the last few days include –
- Checking and rechecking the fuel system – The Rotax 914 UL engine is turbocharged and requires high fuel pressure to operate. There are two high pressure electrically powered fuel pumps and no mechanical backup. That does mean that electrical failure also results in engine failure. We were always going with 2 fuel pumps (which is standard with the engine). As of yesterday we’re also putting in another 26 Ah backup battery to increase redundancy in the event of an over ocean failure.
- We’re going east again and our routing sees various small changes as we think up new ideas. Right now it looks like Tedderfield, Durban, St Denis (Reunion), Male (Maldives), Phuket (Thailand), Taipei (Taiwan), Sapporo (Japan), Adak Island (Bering Straits, Alaska, USA), Torrance Los Angeles (California, USA), Green Bay (Wisconsin, USA), St John’s (New Foundland, Canada), Santa Maria (Azores), Dakar (Senegal), Pointe Noire (Republic of Congo), Pilanesburg (South Africa). The longest leg is Dakar – Pointe Noire at 4 200km.
- If you read Wikipedia on Adak Island, Bering Straits, it includes the lines – “Gales occur in all months of the year at Adak”, “Adak has an average of 341 days per year with measurable precipitation” and “The foggiest months are July and August when an average of 26 of the 31 days each month have fog” (we plan to arrive on about 18 August). Sadly the airstrip does not have an ILS approach, only an NDB DME, for which we don’t in any event have the instruments. We ought to be able to do a GLS using our MGL Odysseys, however. It does sound interesting with sea temperatures close to 0 degrees!
- We’ve put in two “transfer fuel pumps” to transfer fuel from the B and C “accessory” tanks to the standard “A” tanks, from which fuel is drawn for the engine. Again, there are two for redundancy, only one is needed. The standard Sling 4 tanks take 75 liters each. The B tanks take 65 liters each and the C tanks take 87 liters each. That gives a total fuel capacity of 454 liters. At 20 liters per hour, that’s an endurance of 22.5 hours. And cruising at 100 knots (185 kph) that’s roughly 4 150 km. It does mean that for the Dakar to Pointe Noire leg a little extra fuel will also need to be carried on the back seats.
- The entire trip will involve about 230 hours of flying. At an average engine RPM of 5 200, that means that the pistons will each move up and down more than 71 million times during the circumnavigation!
- With final preparations underway, we’re now even beginning to plan last minute luxury items like the iPod playlist, a small stash of good whiskey in case we have to spend a day or two at sea and so on.
- As appears from the photographs, our satellite tracking device is installed. That means we can be seen by the world even while we’re totally isolated. We have only a VHF radio, which means we have no communications with land except in the first and last hour of each oversea flight. One difference this time is that the satellite tracker does enable us to send out a series of 23 character standard messages, plus 9 characters of our own. And we can receive text messages of up to 23 characters!
- We’ve had an argument about whether to take an analogue compass – there’s an electrical compass in each MGL Voyager and, providing we’re moving, our handheld Garmin 495 GPS operates as a compass. All require electrical power, however. Finally, we’ve an old black and white LED Garmin Pilot III which uses penlight batteries. Do we bother to take a standard magnetic compass on a circumnavigation at all? What views?
In response to the suggestion that we pass through East London on the way out and visit the annual South African EAA convention – we’d love to do that, but it just doesn’t seem practical given that we need to leave from an international airport. It does look like Mike, Jean and James will fly down together in the Sling 4 to King Shaka, Durban, from where James and Jean will depart for Reunion, on Saturday 6 August 2011. If all goes according to plan Mike will then fly the Airplane Factory demo Sling to East London to participate in the EAA Convention. We promise to make up for the absence of the Sling 4 by attending many shows after we return!
Hold thumbs , thanks for the support and please come and see us off from Tedderfield at 09h30 next Saturday if you live in the JHB area. Fly-alongs toward Durban are welcome.
Monday, 25 July 2011 Departure date delayed to Saturday 6 August 2011
Vaughan, Bearcat, Jason and everyone else who supported us at the first flights – thanks for that. Bearcat and Vaughan, what awesome shots! Vaughan, I’ve stolen the flying shot with the sun behind to put on or website. I hope that’s OK.
We did some more flying yesterday afternoon and it looks very much like the lowered aircraft angle of attack resulting from the greater wing area more than offsets any frictional increase from increased wing “wetted area”. The Sling 4 will therefore probably fly slightly faster than the standard Sling, especially at higher loads. On an initial impression the handling is very similar, though it’ll take some time before we can be certain at all weights and in all configurations. More about how she handles as we go. We haven’t yet tested her at her MAUW, but it sure feels as if she’ll perform fine right up the mass at which we intend to fly on the long, over sea legs during the circumnavigation.
This morning the Airplane Factory team sat down for a full factory and flight around the world planning session. The take-off date for Sling 4 around the world is now Saturday 6 August 2011. We’re once again going east, not west, by the original easterly route we planned, and James and Jean are flying the first half, Mike and Jean the second. Half-way point is Los Angeles, which will be the Sling distribution centre in the US.
We’ve all had a good sleep and things are getting back to normal here. Sling customers, you’ll be glad to hear that our eyes are firmly on the production ball and we’ll be testing the Sling 4 in the ordinary course in parallel to all our ordinary activities!
Cheers, The Airplane Factory team