So on Saturday 24th May a 25nm no-fly zone was extended from Pretoria and the union buildings outwards. That created a few challenges for General Aviation scuttlebutts like me – even with reference number and flight plan clutched in my sweaty paw. Jacob Zuma was being inaugurated – again – and the Air Force shut down part of Gauteng’s airways in fear of the president’s safety. Or is it because they felt like practicing for a proper moment of danger? I dunno. Whatever. The bottom-line was no flying out of Lanseria towards the East and North.
That’s ok, because I was heading west to Potchefstroom. A suitably quiet route usually at 8am on a Saturday. I wanted to practice approaches and let-downs. After refuelling ZS-ZIP and adding two quarts of oil I fired up and taxied to the runup zone on Lanseria’s 07. Checked map, Cirrus Avidyn GPS working, Garmins both up and running, my handheld Garmin on the passenger seat in case of failure. Short hop 63 nautical miles to Potch, and I added 5 minutes for approach and landing.
Clearance from Lanseria was special VFR. Remain above 5500 ft at all times was the ATC parting message, and route via the Northate Dome. With a slight tailwind, the Cirrus SR-20 managed 140 knots which cut the time to Potchefstroom down from the 30 mins expected to closer to 20. But I was not alone. A Baron and a Cessna 210 were also flying in to Potch, while at the airfield two sports cruisers were conducting training. Even so, it was quiter than usual in this airspace.
All did not go exactly according to plan. First I overshot Potch the visibility was so bad. It was down to 5km or less which is borderline for visual rule flying. After attempting a letdown, I missed runway 03 to the East and decided at that point to do a missed approach and head back to Lanseria.
Flying back there was only one moment of real interest. A Robinson helicopter pilot to the south of the Dome near Joburg was warned by the Air Force to get out of the air as he was in a no-fly zone. The pilot was not aware of the online Notam which had gone out warning about the inauguration. It made me think about aviation. Many pilots are basically loners and independent in spirit, but sometimes its good to be communicating with a group – just to avoid the embarrassment of missing a Notam.
I contacted Lanseria Tower – and was told to head straight for the threshold and avoid the Dome. The problem was the visibility. With the sun still low in the East, I was basically flying almost blind directly into the burning disc. That means at 2 nautical miles I still couldn’t see Lanseria’s threshold. The VOR reading showed I was to the left, but my head said the runway was directly in front. Suddenly I realised at 1 nautical mile that runway 07 was actually at my 2 0’clock and I requested a go-around which was confirmed by the tower.
On downwind I had to orbit as a Mango flight was taking off on runway 250 and caused me to fly an extended base leg. That meant Lanseria’s runway disappeared in the murk as I turned onto finals, but this time was flying more accurately with instruments. The landing was clean and off on Alpha back to the hangars.
Practice practice practice. Read Notams. Communicate with other pilots prior to takeoff, particularly in today’s digital world where hard copy Notams are no longer sent by mail to pilots around South Africa. In the age of information, poor communication is growing. Pilots are less informed than their predecessors about changes to the rules. Now that’s a worry.