March 26 2015 | Letaba XC 2015 Another gathering of the Nirvana family of adventure pilots and another awesome flying adventure that won’t be forgotten.
Each XC event offers its own challenges, whether it’s factors such as the weather making conditions difficult or troubleshooting under ‘Murphy’s Law’. It is for this reason that we as the organizers meticulously plan for as many possible scenarios as possible. We always hope that an emergency would never happen but if and when it does, our team of pilots would be geared to assist and save the day.
Our adventure started with a 6 am take-off from Letaba Airfield. Pilots that have been to our previous XC events were quick to set up their gear and eager to take advantage of the mild wind conditions for take-off. Our plan this time round was to divide the group into two formations, the first formation led by myself would orbit no longer than 15-minutes, the second formation would follow under the Lead of Riaan Marais - a experienced XC pilot that joined our group for the first time.
After a predetermined 15-minute deadline the first formation with only myself, Mike Solyom, and Deon Botha broke our orbit pattern and departed on a very academic flight route across the flat but beautiful terrain of the Tzaneen region. The 70 km distance crossed both rivers and multiple game reserves for which we obtained special permission.
After about 20-minutes of flight time ‘Murphy’s Law’ stepped into the ring. Deon Botha was experiencing rough idling on his motor as he had forgotten to set his mixture for the lower altitude of 1500ft MSL. This caused him to avoid a possible engine failure by maintaining higher RPM which in turn caused a constant altitude gain. Worrying about possible damage to his motor he reported that he wanted to execute a ‘priority landing’. At this point both Mike and Myself started grazing ‘the deck’ to spot the best possible landing area for Deon which turned out to be a newly plowed farm field. With both of us in orbit around the landing zone, Deon executed a perfect glide into the field even though it was ‘a bit’ of a rough landing. His joy at being safely on the ground was quickly followed by a thumbs-up wave to me as I dropped a smoke grenade at his side for him to mark his position when the ground crew arrived. Mike gained some altitude to report the position to the ground crew and once the message was received, we continued to the LZ.
Meanwhile back at Letaba airfield our remaining adventurers where either having fun or fighting off feelings of frustration as some struggled to get airborne. With the help of an awesome ground crew consisting of organizer Gerrie du Plessis and Ronny Purrel, the remaining pilots Etienne Viviers, Riaan Marais (Lead Pilot) and Bernard van der Berg got airborne and headed out. Pilots that are exposed to XC events are reminded of one very important point- flying at large club fields should serve as preparation for XC events which pushes pilots to give their very best when it come to overcoming a multitude of factors including changing weather conditions, short take-offs and even smaller landing zones.
The designated landing zone was a small ‘cricket field’. Anyone that ever been on a cricket pitch knows that obstacles such as tall lighting posts are but just a few things to watch out for. On this event, our windsock was giving us a favorable direction for Final Approach. Each pilot took his time to scout the landing zone and to determine glide ratio. The Fun however really starts when each pilot commits to landing with a fixed heading, glide ratio and the halt of propeller spin. There is no doubt in my mind that when push comes to shove, the increased concentration forces pilots to give their best and so each pilot landed within a 15-meter diameter of the windsock. Some came down gracefully and some came down ‘a bit less graceful’ but what we all shared was a smile and a cheer of jubilation after a long flight, a light rain shower, 14km/hr cross wind and a challenging landing zone.
The rest of the day, well, lets just say that flying was off the list of activities and pilots did what comes naturally when the propeller stops and the atmosphere is one of jubilation!
To all the pilots that earned their XC badges, congratulations! To all the pilots that missed out, see you on the next Nirvana XC!