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The Rockwell Aero Commander flying on the Vloksrust slope.
With the South African Summer in full swing, and lots of holidays around Christmas we once again seek the tranquility of Volksrust and the 1500 foot high inland mountain of “Tamatieberg” about 290km and three hours easy drive from my home in Randburg- Johannesburg.
This was the third year that we have done so, and so far the best in terms of perfect slope weather. Sadly, only five pilots attended the first group of slope pilots — 28 Dec 2009 to 1 Jan 2010 — but nonetheless we certainly had more than enough models to cater for most weather conditions that could arise during our four day stay.
We took around 1000 pictures between four of us and selecting some to forward with this article proved not too easy; there were so many nice pictures and you just do not know which to select and which to omit.
Preparation for the trip started about a week beforehand when I took all my slope gliders from their hibernation place in my garage attic roof to remove the dust and cycle the batteries for the up¬coming trip.
It is at this stage that you have to select which models to take with and which to leave behind, but over the last two trips I now find the selection process easier. I still ended up with eight gliders to take with, and a small trailer with lid and a custom made “wing rack” is a must to get the gliders safely transported.
We set off on Monday morning at around 6.30 AM the 28th of December, and the weather did not look too promising at all with 5/8 overcast and low clouds. This, however, started to lift and when we got to Volksrust at 9.45 AM “Tamatieberg” was just about clear with a steady and strong NNW blowing up the slope.
The plan was to meet up with Edmund and Sam at the guest farm (they had arrived on Sunday already), unpack our luggage and then ascend to the NW slope. This we did and when got to the main slope could fly straight away. My anemometer registered +/- 40 km/hour.
The wind coming up the slope was, how¬ever, very gusty and cold. Jochen Smit arrived at 12.00 midday and was also wise to leave his planes in the safety of his car and instead he set about taking pictures.
I must admit that I was very tempted to fly my Aero Commander first but played it safe and flew my Hill Billy and Glass/ bagged Zagi first. Launching in this wind proved to be difficult and on one of my launches with the Hill Billy it got totally out of shape, and it shot straight up for five meters, did a half roll to the left and nearly inverted before I could get my hands on the controls.
I managed to get it upright but at this stage the Hill Billy was heading 90 de¬grees to the original launch path and straight for the hip high bushes on my left. Just as I thought that I had it under control it flipped to the right and now with no height left only just managed to get wings and nose level as the Hill Billy flopped to the ground with luckily no flying speed left and minor damage to the fuselage. Jochen managed to take a photo sequence of all this and it still amazed me that I did not end up with a total write-off.
Landings presented similar problems but we soon adapted to the conditions. Once you were safely over the edge you had a ball of a time.
At around 4.00 we stopped flying after having our first fix of slope flying and by now the clouds were just about blown clear, setting the scene for Tuesday. I still had go Volksrust town and Jochen fol¬lowed Edmund to our guest house as this was his first slope trip.
Tuesday the 29th of December and day Two started out clear with very high clouds and blue skies.
Jochen was up before me at 6:30. At this stage of the day there was no wind and after my first cup of coffee I proceeded to rig my E-Tsotsi for the first flight of the day as breakfast was only scheduled for 7.30 AM.
Once again, Jochen set out to take pictures. With the white cloud as back¬ground I could climb out higher than normal and once up high cut the ESC and glide with no wind or thermals down. This is also the ideal time to confirm the still air trim and minimum sink setting on my glider. Three or four long motor runs will get you 35 to 40 min flight and in this farm type setting is very relaxing and a pleasant experience.
Shortly after breakfast we departed to the mountain, and from where we were to the top amounts to a 13km semicircle drive to the NW slope directly above the guest farm.
As we drove up the mountain we were treated with the most amazing and beau¬tiful cloud scenery, the air was clear with no haze or fog to spoil your visibility and I just got that gut feeling that it was going to be one of those near perfect days that you can dream of on the slope.
Once on top and the flag pole set up we could fly straight away again. The wind was coming straight up the mountain at 25 to 35 Km/h with no gusting. Better conditions I don’t think you can get here. To confirm this we were treated by a flock of 30 or so storks that were circling high above the slope and rapidly gaining height. I managed to get a few pictures of them with my camera set at full zoom before they disappeared out of sight.
Jochen started off with his two meter Tsotsi and found the lift too strong for it and switched to his F3B Shongololo and soon had it on the step whistling from the left side to the right side of the slope. I think you can safely bet your bottom dollar that you will see him back on the slope for sure. Unfortunately, Jochen had to leave back for home at around 3 PM.
During the day the wind stayed this way and at no stage did we have the lack of slope lift, and apart from our thermal and electric ships we flew just about every¬thing that brought along. This included the 1/7th PSS Rockwell Aero Command¬er and, like last year, I was just totally amazed with this plane’s handling char¬acteristics and flight performance.
On the second flight I had the privilege to put the Aero Commander thru its passes as a small group of paraglide enthusiasts formed an audience, giving me the feel¬ing that Bob Hoover must have had when he performed his aerobatic routine in front of the crowds with the real Rockwell Aero Commander.
The conditions seemed just too strong for the paragliders and after they left it were just Sam, Edmund, my wife Jenny and myself with whole slope to us. Sam managed to do her first solo take off and landing and later on launched Edmund’s Zagi.
At this time of the day around 4.00 PM the wind kept on blowing and I was flying my CMP Discus with the now experienced toy pilot “Teddy Brown” at the controls and after a perfect flight switched to the Hill Billy. We only stopped flying at 6.00 PM.
Wednesday the 30th of December the day dawned with no wind whatsoever and we made use of this time to go the local town of Volksrust to shop for the necessary odds and ends.
However by 12.00 PM midday we were back on top of the mountain and this time we had to move to the northeast slope before we could fly our Zagis in reasonably smooth lift. The wind direc¬tion kept on shifting to the northwest until we ended up on the main, northwest slope at around 3:00 pm and very light lift.
Thursday 31 December (Old Year’s eve) happened to be the day we had the lightest of wind for the whole week (5 to 10km/h). Allen joined us with his 2.2 me¬ter Fox locally build glider produced by Craig Baker, but unfortunately could not fly because of the lack of wind. Shortly after 3:00 pm we gathered all our mod¬els for a group picture and then disas¬sembled and packed them away for the journey back home on New Year’s day.
Early on New Year’s day I had my first flight for the year and also the last flight of the trip with my E-Tsotsi before break¬fast and the trip back home. Every one of us had lots of flying and one thing is for sure — we will be back at the end of this year, wind or no wind.