Over nearly 3 years Carl & myself have been building our Whisper –
Steadily working towards our dream; mine of 20 years, since I first saw a Grob 109
Our proving flights were going well, and some longer cruise testing was called for;
So our first cross-country was planned to coincide with the gliding club’s annual trip to Harrismith over Easter
I did what every VFR pilot does for days beforehand – watch the largest cold rainy front in history develop over every bit of our flight path in KZN & beyond into the Free State!
Easter Friday dawned cold and wet – Amazing how they always get the bad stuff right!
“Huge challenges, massive learning curves, and mistakes by the dozen”
The best breakfast in the Midlands at the Howick Flying Club only saw the die-hards – and us with fuel, brand new maps and a Whisper prepped for flight
“Driving to specialist engineering shops countless times for machining, hydraulic, pneumatic and hardware fittings”
Around midday we agreed it wasn’t going to happen so we retired to Nick’s house to watch videos of WW 2 aircraft
“Building an aircraft requires an exceptional wife - Laminating the main spar on your wedding anniversary, preventing exotherm with a frozen chicken and veggies from the freezer – thanks Jenny”
I woke up early on Saturday for a run with my daughter Kerry, to sort-of-clear skies & sent an SMS to Carl “YES, YES, YES”
“Jumping up & down in the garage when the engine first fires, after spending half of Sunday afternoon trying to sort it out”
Durban Met predicted cloud base at 2500 AGL & the escarpment clear; this was it. Nick, our CFI and retired airline instructor & I strapped in & taxied out, backtracking down 34 & going through the checklists.
“Cajoling half a dozen friends into laying up the spars – 70 layers of Uni direction glass, up to 8mt long, 1 sitting X 4 – one of the highlights – & a huge sense of achievement ”
A straight climb out over Midmar Dam would put us directly onto course for Ladysmith, via Estcourt
“Staring at the Subaru engine and its massive redrive for hours, wondering how to fit it into that tight, sleek cowl”
I must say, climbing out over Midmar, leaving home base for the first time was quite daunting – I spent the first half hour
Looking for possible out landing sites - ears acutely tuned into the hum of the engine
“Buzzing with excitement as she skims through the grass during a high speed taxi test
Devastation when one of the home made wheel axles breaks off during another taxi test - take some hard earned advice & get the recommended Grove wheels - the Whisper is not a microlight !”
As we gained altitude to 7500, I started relaxing and looked more “around” and less down. I last flew this route 20 years ago, in a homebuilt Jodel
“Unintentional liftoff during a high speed taxi run, with 15 knots of 70 deg crosswind, rain, and a storm approaching,
which became the maiden flight. Suddenly realizing that you have to land her sometime, in this weather (all went well)”
Mooi River lived up to its name, and Estcourt soon came into view, trundling past at a princely 140 kph
The ground adjustable prop needs more pitch & the wheel pants need fitting if we’re going to get anywhere quicker
“Sitting in the cockpit for the first time & closing the canopy”
It was warm under the bubble, so I removed my jacket & stowed it behind the seat – man, that cockpit’s huge
“Itching from working with glass”
Ladysmith promised activity, so we announced ourselves early on 124.8 & started the descent into my old stomping ground
“Calling Russell frequently for advice”
A descend into the circuit found a limp windsock, no traffic and finals over the freeway traffic station.
“Centering up the spinner – one or the more fiddly jobs; got to be done right”
Our wingspan seemed longer than the runway short grass verge, so we throttled up at 10 ft AGL and accelerated away, setting course for Harrismith.
“I’m a 3 times builder -
Remaking the yoke, aileron bellcranks, engine mount, spoilers, cowling, canopy, rudder pedals and panel 3 times to get it right.”
I used to live in Ladysmith, & flying along Van Reenen’s Pass evoked memories of my younger adulthood. When I moved to Ladysmith & joined the RC aircraft club, I was the only one who could fly, so was immediately elected instructor - Skill never came into it!
“Staring at the aerie for hours, wondering how to do something & dreaming of “one-day” planning this very flight”
As the Drakensberg approached, our altitude and the surrounding hills seemed to match. 4500 engine RPM yielded 2mt climb, and we eventually attained 7500 half way up Van R’s. BTW the redrive ratio is 2.1, so prop RPM is very low at just
“Standing back & seeing the painted wings for the first time”
Soon we were over the top and looking at all the Easter traffic congestion on the highway, and were pleased not to be down there. I think I went “nah, na, nah, nah” or something equally articulate !
“Fitting the panel – the highlight of the build”
Platberg on the right was at our level, with cloud pouring over the top like Table Mountain. The ridge is approx 8 km long, & the gliders really enjoy the lift it provides, but not today ! We started calling the glider pilots on 123.4, with no response – still eating breakfast. Someone found a handheld when they heard our flyby and acknowledged.
“Receiving the Proving Authority To Fly, thanks to Collette at Van Zyl Aviation”
HUGE turbulence on approach to 33 and an abort. Nerves wrecked – thinking all this way, only to ding it on landing, with everyone watching.
“Me stressed beyond limits when proof loading the wing with the last few of 3200Kg of sandbags”
A go-around, and an attempt onto the grass at 33L, all the other pilots watching from the clubhouse. Much better & a smooth touchdown – PHEW.
“During climb out on an early flight, watching all the coolant blow out from the cowling as the engine starts boiling.
Immediately throttling back & diving into a short finals – all that glider training paying off. BTW, if anyone wants to fit an auto engine, call me; I can tell you many things that don’t work, and some that do”
Adrenaline still pumping, turn onto the tarmac, backtrack, park & shutdown, everyone applauds when we open the canopy – very touching.
All that effort – a 20 year dream – absolutely fantastic – still floating.
Thanks Stuart & Russell you made it possible – a world class product, right here on our doorstep.