Monday, February 25, 2013

Giraffe, lurking cumuli and other monsters

I am enjoying the Caravan course here in South Africa. Today, when I was over Kunkuru, evaluating a dirt airstrip from the air, I made note of a certain four-legged obstacle on short final. A noisy low pass was all that was needed to chase away this giraffe grazing from a tree about a hundred yards in from the end of the runway. I'm used to watching out for power lines and telephone poles which don't move about. Giraffe are a whole new level of interesting obstacles.

The Cessna Grand Caravan is a lot of fun to fly and I'm starting to get a good feel for it. It is big - the bottom of the pilot's door frame sits at about mid chest height - it has lots of power (although those who fly it complain that it needs more) and it glides like the dickens. Actually the Canadian-made Pratt & Whitney turbine engine is so reliable that most Caravan pilots will never need that feature. I'm looking forward to filling all 13 seats with interesting people who are doing really cool things around Uganda, DR Congo, South Sudan and finally Chad.

Today we we're doing some IFR work on the way back from Kunkuru. IFR is flight by reference to instruments alone. Marco, my instructor and resident MAF guru, was wanting to get me into some real IFR weather today. His wish was fulfilled when we entered cloud about 20 minutes from home base in Lanseria. Flying in cloud is always a bit of a faith exercise. Prior to entering cloud, your instruments do a great job of confirming what you can see as plain as day outside - that the blue needs to stay up and the greenish brown needs to say down. In cloud, you suddenly switch to being severely focused on those half-dozen glass circles and their every twitch and roll. You're a dog looking at your bone waiting for the kill command, you're a cat peering into the fish bowl. Ok, a little over the top perhaps - but at once, six or seven needles are all you have to keep you upright when every spatial instinct in you is trying to convince you you're already upside down.

Why is this worth writing home about? Well in Canada, I rarely got to spend time actually in the clouds. In winter we would always try to avoid icing - freezing cloud/water particles building up on your wing causing the wing to quit flying - which usually happens in clouds when it's freezing or below. Conversely, in summer, while you don't have to worry about icing as much, you have no way of knowing if within the cloud there lurks the dreaded towering cumulus - those massively tall thunderstorm clouds which like to eat little planes for breakfast. Most MAF Caravans have a handy device for finding these monsters and planning our route around them, just out of their reach. The weather radar dome, mounted on the right wing, scans 40 miles in front and paints us a colourful picture of what can't be seen in the clouds ahead. As long as we stay away from the pink and red areas, everyone gets home safe.

Today we were in the soup until popping out the bottom - nicely lined up with the runway - and I kept the blue and greenish brown from switching places. For all these reasons, and many others, I'm looking forward to tomorrow's flight - let's hope the forecast calls for grey skies again. I'll snap some related photos when I'm able.

1 comment:

  1. Great post Phil, I'm reminded of the many "flight minded" thoughts I had during the years I dreamed of taking flying lessons. Great to live vicariously through you!