On the morning of Sunday, 16th March 2014, I took off from my local airfield at Twisters and set course for Brakkeduine 4x4 off-road track. My heading was pretty much identical with my course setting, which meant there was little side wind (N-S or S-N). Because I reside within 20Miles/30km of the sea (to the South), any strong wind in that direction is a forewarning for wind shear.
Taking off at Twisters.
Setting course for Brakkeduine 21.5km, 231deg @300m agl
There was no turbulence whatsoever. Just a slight wind from behind.After climbing to my cruising altitude of 1000ft/300m agl, I tried to get my boot-camera on but couldn't. Usually I get it going before I take off but this time around I forgot it in my pocket.
Later that morning I wanted to go to church with my family. The idea was to take a few pics from Brakkeduine and get back ASAP. Well, that was my intention but the day turned out "quite a bit" different.
Approaching Impofu dam on the way to Brakkeduine.
Overflying the Impofu which meant I was halfway there :-)
Man, the weather was so nice. I enjoyed taking pics and just looking around. However, after a few hundred meters on the other side of the dam, the situation changed. Not by much but it did change. All of a sudden I encountered some turbulence. Not to bad but the direction it came from worried me a bit. It was from the North, in other words from my right and back. For a sec I hoped it was just the cooler dam waters but it could have been something else (and more worrying) too. The sun was getting higher and I was expecting weak thermals plus the Tsitsikamma mountain range on my right . . . Anyway, even by my very sensitive ears and stomach the turbulence was still well within (my) limits. So I kept on going.
Trying to ignore the mild turbulence by enjoying the scenery below.
By now I could just make out the Klipdrift dam. Brakkeduine and my turning point, is just behind the dam. However, there was another issue which was drawing my attention: Without any doing on my part, my speed went up to 55 - 60Kmh. It was nice to fly so fast (by my standards) but how would I fly back?
Finally - The end is near. Taking pics with my old Nokia N8 cell Phone.
At that speed did not take me long to cover the last 5-6Km. After all I was doing almost a Km every minute :-) In the above picture you can see the Klipdrift dam to the right and Choppy's house to the left. The vegetation free area at the top of the pic, are the Brakkeduine/dunes. Choppy and his dad are the owners of this beautiful and renowned 4x4 track. I know them well because I work here as a police man (Farm Unit) and I have to visit now and then. With all the wind-turbines coming up to the East of Brakkeduine, the gravel roads are worse then ever. By car, depending on how much dust you want to breath and whom belongs the vehicle you are driving, the 35 Km from Humansdorp takes you almost an hour.
The Brakkeduine track from 150m up.
Brakkeduine with the Klipdrift dam to the NE.
Turning back into the wind over Brakkeduine.
Brakkeduine looked very nice in the morning sun. There was a bit more turbulence as soon as I flew over the dunes but I was still ok. My bigger problem was of another kind though. As soon as I turned around my speed dropped to well under 20-Kmh! I was like WTF. What now? At first I thought of landing just there and asking Choppy to take me back. I was sure he would have not minded. But was he home? Didn't he left for church already? Then I thought to fly North to the N2 national road and land there and phone my wife (or some friend) to come fetch me. One thing was certain. The NE wind was supposed to get even stronger and my home was right into the wind. After taking a few more pics I moved away from the dunes and as expected, the turbulence decreased a bit. That encouraged me and I immediately set course North, for the N2.
The Tsitsikamma mountain chain to the North. The N2 runs parallel and just in front of the mountains.
Now, my heading was to the North but I was drifting badly to the left. So much so that after a short while I realized I will not be able to reach the right side of the mountain chain. I will end-up much further to the left, right into the turbulence of the mountains. Keep in mind, the wind comes from E-NE, right top corner of the above pic.
Tsitsikamma mountains to the right, with the N2 national road below.
As expected, as soon as I approached the mountains, my wing began moving around, protesting the condition. While I knew I am on a very safe EN-A certified wing, my stomach did not get the message. I did not have much of a choice other then land. So I began descending and looking for a nice & safe spot, not to far from the N2. However, no sooner I realized that the turbulence is much less down here and when I looked at one of the dams nearby, the ground wind must have been close to zero! Wow, that was an eye opener. Clearly I was in the wind shade of the very same mountains which were causing the turbulence higher up. Or at least I wanted to think so. Either-Way, I kept at 100ft/30m for a minute or two and my stomach thanked me for that. I continued flying in a Westerly direction, parallel to the N2. If I could keep on like this for another half hour (22Km) I could land at my in laws in Tsitsikamma. Now that was something to brag about :-)
Getting a bit higher over the Klarkson location - after-all it is Sunday morning.
Man was I happy when I saw the Clarkson location. I know this entire area pretty well. I had 20 years to learn it. From here to the farm are only 11 Km left. I also knew from our Police chopper pilot (Arnold), that I had to keep close to the mountains to avoid turbulence. Higher-up the NE must have been blowing strong by now. That meant I will have to cross the N2. And so I did.
Crossing the N2.
That's it. Almost there. On the other hand I knew, the last few km will be the most challenging . There is a sort of gap in the mountain chain. The civil engineers used this opening to build a link road between the N2 interstate and Kareedouw, a nearby village on the other side of the mountain. Will I be able to coupe with the soon to come turbulence? Again, I remembered Arnold's tips. "If turbulence hits you and you are fairly close to ground - get some height ASAP. Unless you are in the Tsitsikamma and on the downwind side of the mountains. If so, remain low and fly as close to the mountain as safely possible and you'll be fine". That was exactly were I was. Arnold himself had a close shave some years back. Not even his gas turbine driven police chopper could fight the up and down droughts. If you panic and get high you'll end-up in the North-Easterly wind with all its turbulence. Funneled between the mountain galleys the wind can easily double in speed. A just just manageable 35Kmh wind can easily turn into a 20m/s turbulent nightmare! What chance do I have. Look on GE and note the 600m high Blaauberg with all the broken-up galleys. 600m measured over the surrounding flat lands where I was flying. In a strong NE not even the Paragliding pilots fly here although they have a TO site a few Km to the West. Oh, and unlike me, they do like strong up/down drafts.
But yes, I knew the dangers and I knew what I had to do. I was flying as low as possible and not far from the shielding mountain to the right. Don't let the pic fool you. I used a wide angle lense which makes everything appear further away then it is. In reality I was but a few meters above the tree tops.
Finally home, I made it.
Wow, what a feeling. And all this open spaces to land . . .
Tula's house with the N2 in the background.
After making a "victory circle" above the farm houses I decided to land ASAP. The turbulence was still there (even a few meter above the ground) and I was quite tired. More mentally then physically.
Low's house with the ill chosen landing field just behind the trees.
With all this open spaces and very little wind at ground level, one would think that landing is a mere formality. What a mistake! Lesson learned: when flying, you are not finished until on the ground. And even there, make sure your wing is safely disabled. Ok, my mistake was completely idiotic and with lots of luck and some skill (instinct), it all ended up just fine. Here is some background (before I write about the incident). Most farm houses in South Africa are electrified. ESCOM, the local provider, brings the electricity close to the house via 11KV overhead wires. Here it is stepped down to 220v and the farmer takes it into the house via underground cables. I know this house/farm for 2 decades now. I understand the dangers posed to pilots by overhead electrical cables. So much so that I had a plan in place should I ever land close to the house. s a rule of thumb, everywhere is OK to land apart of the field you see in the pic above. Because of some inexplicable memory laps, I chose to land in the only restricted area. It happened more or less like this: While flying over the houses I killed the engine. When I crossed the small gravel road you see in the pic, I realized that I am looking straight into the HT wires (which cross the ill chosen landing field from left to right). I was flying at some 10m/sec, was about 10m above ground ans descending some 1.5m/sec. I was setup just perfect for a collision halfway between me and the wing. I could not believe what I was seeing. But there was no time for thinking. If I did not do something, in 3 seconds is all over. And here is where my instinct took over. Luckily I know this wing very well. All the sand dune practice paid off. In a split second I went just over 3/4 brake on the left toggle and just under 1/3 on the right. I knew exactly what would happened, I just hopped I can get the wing back over my head before hitting the ground. And with a bit of luck in the form of a wind gust from my left, I did it. The wing absorbed most of the vertical speed while I glided mere inches over the grass and did a perfect, 5m long skid landing. My paramotor has a fiberglass skid underneath and I have 12-15cm of high density foam under my butt. Yes, it looks f... and ugly but over the years this setup literally saved my butt on 2 occasions (3 including this one).
I was soooo upset with myself after the landing . . . I slapped my face twice just to vent some of my frustration. Given the correct equipment, weather and training, paramotoring is safer than one might think. Now, if I only can find a pill for stupidity . . .