Down In The Drink! (Part 1)

Written By: The Lowdown - Apr• 30•13

2013 04 small coverI was very unhappy about the radios in my Cessna Super Skywagon 185. All efforts to get the local radio engineer to put them in workable order were wanting, he certified them as perfect, but once I got airborne, they always failed, when I had to return to base soon after take-off. Furthermore after my bad experience with the insurance for my 180 taildragger, which another pilot carelessly rammed, and I was paid out only a small percentage of the aircraft value, I decided to insure my Cessna 185 for full hull liability with Lloyd’s of London.


I had to return to Britain, to attend the execution of my late father’s will, and there was also the possibility of a contract to fly an ecological survey for a sub-Saharan Africa state which had been promised me by an ecologist friend. I decided to fly the taildragger back to Britain, attend to business, fix the damn radios and tout around Lloyd’s of London for the best insurance rate. This decided, very little would stop me!


I left Lusaka in April, as I passed over the riverine country of the Bangweulu which I knew so well, I noted the amazing amount of water which inundated the system from the mountains of the north. I landed at Kasama, filling with fuel, and using the few remaining Kwacha in my purse, from now on expenses would have to be negotiated in hard currency!


My course took me over the mountains around the north of Lake Nyasa (Malawi) and I enjoyed the fantastic view from eleven thousand feet as I passed over one of the largest of the Rift Valley lakes. The high LivingstoneMountains beyond, commanded my attention as I wound my way between their imposing peaks. Now the flat country began, and I crossed and re-crossed the Rufijji and RuahaRivers, recollecting their geography from previous safaris on the ground.


Approaching Dar-es-Salaam, I called air traffic control again and again on my reluctant radio, then, as I approached the airport to make a visual circuit, and join the traffic pattern, I was horrified to see a light jet heading towards me, I turned out of the aircraft’s path and overhead Dar-es-Salaam called the airport again. This time I got an answer, and I joined the circuit and soon was clearing customs and immigration. I called an engineering company and arranged for the radios to be examined and overhauled before I progressed any further. This, as I surmised, was a time wasting negative exercise.


Money was a big problem in Tanzania, although one of the best known British banks, had given me a fine credit line, I could hardly raise enough money to pay the fuel bills I required, my hotel account had to be settled out of my emergency dollar billfold stuck in my sock. As I walked from the new airport terminal where I had paid my fees to the old terminal where my 185 was parked, an enterprising teen-age thug attempted to mug me. He had obviously not made allowance for my bad temper at the Tanzanian economy, because I quickly kicked him in his private parts, and as he sat down howling with surprise, I caught him two shrewd blows to the head with my heavy, leather brief case. Then I walked on to the terminal, so mollified by my quick victory, I forgot to report the mugger to the police.


My flight to Nairobi took me to the east of Mount Kilimanjaro, at 19,300 ft. the highest mountain in Africa, where, a few months before, I had played ‘Scotland The Brave’ – my Regimental ‘Quick March’ on my bagpipes, but the weather was overcast, so I never saw the top of the mountain, as I weaved a path between the storm clouds along the way. Arriving at Nairobi, again I experienced radio problems, so I held my correct altitude until near WilsonAirport where I managed to make a tenuous contact.


Just in time I heard Wilson announce that the main runway, zero-seven was closed for maintenance, I joined the pattern for runway one-four, which takes one over the military hospital, with a short final brushing the roofs of the cars and trucks driving on the Langata road. As I passed over the hospital, I felt the drift correction required to hold the centreline, and called the tower:


“Wilson this is Nine Juliet Mike Charlie Kilo, finals, this may be a touch-and-go, as I feel the aircraft is near maximum crosswind capability.”


I noticed that at my approach speed of 90 knots my crab angle varied between 12-16 degrees, which meant that the crosswind component was over twenty knots, very near the maximum for the Cessna 185. The tower confirmed this with the reply:


“Nine Juliet Charlie Kilo, cleared to land, wind zero six zero at twenty knots gusting twenty-five”


I held my sideslip approach with some power on, and flattened my attitude for the wheel landing aligned straight up the centreline of the runway, which would be a safer option than a three-pointer. The main wheels kissed on, and I was soon holding full right rudder. The tail slowly dropped, there was a sudden swerve to the left, which neither differential braking nor the rudder, already flat against the stops, could control, it was time to fly again, and I firewalled the throttle and pushed on the control column to get the tail up and functioning again.


“Wilson, this is Nine Juliet Charlie Kilo, – overshooting – too much crosswind, I’ll try it once more.”


Wilson cleared me for another approach fortunately, with the main runway closed, and strong crosswinds, there was no student traffic, though I could guess the East African Aero Club’s windows were filled with interested spectators.


As I came over the hospital again, the indications were much the same, all I could hope for was a temporary lull in the wind, I touched down briefly before the aircraft started to weathercock into the wind. Now discretion was the better part of valour, and no doubt disappointing the watchers safe on the ground, I powered out of the swing and set course for Jomo Kenyatta International Airport, which was unhappy to receive me, they were evidently of the opinion that small six-seat aircraft made their apron look untidy, and they questioned me closely as to why I did not land at Wilson, It would be too difficult to explain to a non-pilot the exigencies of taildragger aircraft, so I just contented myself with explaining that Wilson’s main runway was closed.


The next day, with only fifteen knots crosswind I had no trouble in bringing the Cessna smoothly down on runway one-four, and as I taxied backtracking, I was concerned to note not one, but two Cessna 185’s with recently broken wings and propellers pushed to a corner of the Cessna Dealer’s apron, obviously this time I had made the right decision!


For the taildragger neophyte, I will explain the rule that states for every sixty knots of forward speed, a crab angle of one degree indicates a crosswind component of one knot, simple mathematics will give the component for your own aircraft approach speed.


To be continued …

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