30 January 2017

A New Mercy Air Record

A feat was accomplished at Mercy Air recently that will take some beating.

Something took off from our airstrip and climbed to near space (over 100,000ft) before descending and landing again.

To give you an idea:
100,000ft is in the Stratosphere and is where the ozone layer is located.
It is three and a half times the height of Everest.
Airliners fly about 35,000ft.
The SR-71 Blackbird spy plane flew at 80,000ft.
The Space station orbits only three and a half times higher at 350,000ft.
In contrast Mercy Air fly locally at around 4500ft and only up to to 12000ft when we go international.

If you've glimpsed the photos yet you will understand that this was no ordinary aircraft but three weather balloons that were launched as part of a project organised by Yellobric (http://www.schoolspacerace.com/news/). This was part of their 'School Space Race' program that aimed to encourage school children from around the globe to use maths, physics and geography to build, launch, and retrieve an unmanned craft as high as possible on a budget.

It was a bit cloudy and damp when they arrived on the day of the launch but the lack of wind was a bonus.

There was quite a lot of preparation to ensure all connections were.. er..connected...
..and that the tracking equipment was talking to the transponders.
The payload of the transmitter, camera, radar reflector and parachute was 0.55 kg and helium was used to create a lift of 0.65 kg.
The balloons start about 1.5m in diameter but as they ascend and the air gets thinner they expand until, between 6-8m, they burst and return to earth under the parachute about 5 hours later.
The anticipation was immense!
And the crowd went wild!
There was just time for the obligatory selfie...
..before all three balloons were lined up for the countdown.
..and release.
Then the tracking team got to work...
..while three cars drove off to recover them.

There was a nifty website that we used to see progress.
A zoomed-in screen shot later shows the green balloon descending (it was recovered 106km away), whilst the yellow one achieved a maximum altitude of 30625m (100500ft). I wonder what the view looked like from there?
We were happy to be able to help these schools in their quest by providing a launch site but we won't try to emulate any of their performance figures any time soon - promise!

Here is a You Tube video the group made. The Mercy Air portion starts at about 02:40.
Thank you

Mercy Air team.

25 January 2017

Long Legs and Intelligence - What a Dream

The Kodiak is a very capable aircraft in many aspects especially in terms of load and range. Perhaps we can just tell you of two things that have impressed us as we have now been operating it for over three years.

A recent picture of the display in the Kodiak shows two green circles or range rings which equate to where we can get to with the fuel load we have on board - dotted line is with 45 mins fuel left and the solid line indicates maximum range.
North is up to the top right and Cape Town is to the left. We had already flown about an hour when the photo was taken but you can see we still had enough to reach just about anywhere in southern Africa with a range at this point for almost another 1000nm. You will also notice that we had just over 3/4 tanks and a slight quartering head wind at the time.

The Garmin 1000 is clever and works out the wind speed and direction and takes that into account when displaying the range. A strong wind would give you quite an oval green 'circle' as in the pic below.
This above flight was helped by a hefty 32kt tail wind and helped us work out that we didn't need to stop in Pretoria (WB) for fuel as we could make it easily to Nelspruit (FAKN) and could even continue to Maputo, Mozambique if we wanted without going into our reserves. Without knowing the wind and the range it might have been a different call and would have cost us time and money for landing fees etc.

Another clever thing the Garmin does is give you terrain awareness. The middle screen in the cockpit has a map showing you where the hills are. Red is within 100ft, yellow between 100ft and 1000ft and black is far enough away it shouldn't be an immediate problem.

The pic below shows we are in a valley that opens out 4nm ahead.
The synthetic vision on the main screen also shows this...
How handy is that!
.. and a glance out of the window proves it all the be very true.
There's a stack of other things it does also but before anyone asks, no, it does not make coffee and no, you can't get satellite TV on it - there are limits!
General cockpit view.
So why a blog post about this - it's not a trip report about how we have helped some people in a far off country or even an impassioned plea for funding for a worthwhile cause?

It's really a thank you to those many people who in some way, large or small, helped Mercy Air obtain the Kodiak in the first place. Because with it, we can now not only do what we were doing before - and more, but we can do it more efficiently and with a greater margin of safety.

Thank you.

The Mercy Air team

24 January 2017

Go North Young Men

For several months one of Mercy Air's hangars has been home to a beautiful Cessna 210 which is operated by the United Methodist Church (U.M.C.) in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
After extensive maintenance here in South Africa, it was time for this workhorse to return to service. But, first the plane needed to be flown back up, across South Africa, Botswana and Zambia. With a full day of flying, fuel stops, paperwork and uncertain weather conditions Rukang (UMC pilot) invited Azarja (one of the Mercy Air pilots) to join him. After an hour delay with paperwork, they were airborne and on their way.
Despite the clouds and isolated thunderstorms which littered their entire route, they did not end up having to divert significantly. The newly installed engine performed flawlessly and they had a good time taking turns flying.
It was great getting to know Rukang better. His passion and commitment to mission aviation are a real treat. With thankful hearts for answered prayers they landed just before sunset in Ndola.
The next day Rukang briefly showed Azarja around town. To his surprise there was a Subway (which had to be checked out)!
In the afternoon Azarja took a commercial flight back to South Africa while Rukang flew the last 45 minute leg back to his home base in D.R.C

Thank you

The Mercy Air team.