This report is really too long, so please feel free to skip through as you wish. Both reports were written only a few days after their respective flights so as a result there’s lots of detail… A few notes before I start:
Movies (including sound!) are discussed at the very end of the report along with their links.
Photos are throughout the report although only at various points, for example, there’s none of any takeoff or landing because I was filming the movies then. One of the problems with the flights was that for most of the time we were flying in the dark, thus no photos of the taxi outs from LHR or JNB. In a few cases there are links to a.net photos, where it’s obvious why, but in all other places I have made them as big as possible and they are all linking from my website’s server so there shouldn’t be any bandwidth exceeded problems… Please, please, if there are any accomplished a.net photographers reading, let me know if any of my photos are possible candidates for a.net submission. I have them in much larger versions than the 650 pixel widths displayed here.
And thanks must be said, even before the report, to in particular a.net member SA006 at JNB. Also to BA777 for his help from the UK and Julian Whitelaw, a photographer and SAA pilot with many excellent photos to his credit on a.net. He answered my questions relating to flight deck visits and forms on SAA.
SA 235: LHR-JNB
General flight information
Captain: Walther Raubenheimer, based @ JNB First Officer: Vernon Jacobs, based @ JNB, Relief Pilot: Ernest Kekana, based @ JNB
Registration: ZS-SAZ (engines RB211), selcal ID: LS-QR
Passengers: 338 LHR stand: 134 JNB stand: A8
Nautical mileage: 5013nm Trip wind component: +5 knots
Cruise FLs: FL310/330/370 Cruise Mach/TAS: M0.86/500 kts
Estimated flight time: 10 hours 21 minutes Actual flight time: 9 hours 59 minutes
Estimated JNB arrival: 0528Z
LHR blocks off: 1844Z LHR engine start: 1844Z
LHR taxi: 1851Z LHR airborne: 1907Z
JNB actual arrival: 0506Z JNB blocks on: 0516Z
Runway: 27L Departure taxiways: Bravo, Uniform Holding point: ETTIV
Forecast wind: 290 degrees/9 kts Takeoff flaps: 20
Takeoff OAT: 9 degrees Celsius Takeoff thrust setting: TO1 = Takeoff EPR: 1.78
V1: 141 kts VR: 163 kts V2: 175 kts QNH: 995 mb
Clean speed: V2+80 kts = 255 kts
SID: MID 3G Engine start order: 4+3, 2+1 (2 at a time @ sea level airfields)
Runway: 03R Forecast wind: 060 degrees/5 kts Landing flaps: 30
Autobrakes: 2 Clean speed: 223 kts
MDA: 152 ft RA
Flap 30 VREF: 144 kts
STAB TRIM: 6.6 degrees UP Approach: ILS CAT 1 Landing: Manual QNH: 1027mb
Arrival taxiways: Yankee, Hotel, Alpha, Echo STAR: HBV 3A
Takeoff weight: 362 417 kgs ZFW: 236 417 kgs Landing weight: 253 587 kgs
Max landing weight: 285 763 kgs
Start fuel: 127 100 kgs Trip fuel: 108 830 kgs Diversion fuel (to furthest alternate FADN): 8 300 kgs
Reserve fuel: 12 600 kgs Taxi fuel: 1 000 kgs Fuel on takeoff: 126 300 kgs Actual fuel burn: 109 000 kgs
N0494F310 DCT MID UA34 SITET UN859 REVEL/N0494F330 UN859 MODIL/N0495F330 UB31 ZEM UB726 BSA UR985 RIMEL UA605 KIRMI UA605G INISA UA605 MIU UG727 AMPIL/N0494F370 UG727 BZ DCT KSA UM998 ANUBI UB733F BUGRO UB733D MNV UG853 HBV DCT
Alternates: FABL (Bloemfontein), FADN (Durban)
The flight plan is basically a series of airways between certain waypoints. In the cases where there is DCT it stands for direct, i.e. no airway. At the start, EGLL1830 means leaving LHR at 1830Z. Then N0494 is the estimated TAS and the initial cruise altitude of 31 000 feet, FL310 which is abbreviated to F310. Notice the SID/STAR is not included since that is dependant on ATC and the runway in use. At any point where there’s another N****F*** it means a change in cruise altitude or TAS. It’s perfectly natural for long haul aircraft to climb higher as the flight goes on: as more fuel is burnt up the weight is less so it is possible to climb higher, and the higher you go the less air resistance so a more efficient cruise.
Here’s the flight plan in visual form, courtesy of FS2004’s flight planner because, um, my trial of FSNavigator has expired . Included on the sides is the taxi in and taxi out (routes marked in red) and the SID and STAR (again routings marked in red).
My family and I set out for LHR at about 1:00pm and we arrived at the Purple Parking depot to drop off the car just before 4:00pm, having been delayed slightly on the M4. Still, there was plenty of time to spare and we were soon aboard the Purple Parking bus heading for the LHR central terminal area. The METARs several days ago had shown that I might get 09R for departure, but I was pleased to see that 27L was in use this afternoon; I have not departed from 27L before. The weather was fairly typical, a low cloud base, grey skies and some spots of rain. We disembarked at T1 and headed inside towards the SAA check in area at the very right of the hall. SAA international flights open check in 4 hours before departure at LHR, as it was we had 3 to spare. There was not much queuing and we were processed by a very friendly check in agent who commented on how little bags we were taking: they weighed 45kg although we were allowed 120kg. She also confirmed our upper deck seating, good good .
My boarding pass
I’m called MASTER because we are taking advantage of SAA’s youth fares, which are 2/3 of the adult price. Not bad, I haven’t come across them on any other airline.
We lost no time in going through security where there were longer queues, however these were soon passed. We walked through into the departures lounge which was crowded as usual, and then up to a café on a raised level above the lounge. I sat at the edge of the balcony, which gave a distant view of the only, yes only, window in the entire lounge. Some years back the BAA liked to claim that LHR T1 had more duty free available than the whole of CDG put together. This is quite understandable, the place is crammed with shops, but comparing the number of windows at CDG…
The only window in the T1 departure lounge. G-EUPZ tail in the foreground.
The window overlooks the Juliet apron and in the background 27R arrivals were just visible. Unfortunately, the window is at the back of a restaurant, so you have to buy a meal there to get any decent view at all. From the balcony the view was very impeded although I did see G-EUPZ, a BA A319, taxiing in to park on stand 117. There was no sign of our SAA 744 (they are usually on 123, 125 or 127), but a glance at the boarding pass revealed gate 30, which corresponds to stand 134 for heavies, round the corner on the Kilo cul-de-sac.
Finishing my drink, I went back downstairs to WHSmith and bought the latest copy of PC Pilot to read during the flight (note to flightsimmers: London Control looks amazing). Time for some spotting . Armed with the camera I followed the signs towards gates 36-56 on the Europier. Heading for the Flight Connections Centre which joins onto the Europier, I soon found a window overlooking the Kilo cul-de-sac, a mass of BA/BMI 'buses and, at the end, the tail of the SAA 744 that would take me to JNB . SP-LLA, an LOT 734 bound for WAW was pushing out of 114, an awkward stand to get out of which involves doing a 180 degree turn on Kilo because there is no room for a left push back. I took some photos of it and then walked into the Flight Connections Centre. Over at the other side of the FCC was a good view of the Papa cul-de-sac which is between T1 and T2. It is possible for T2 aircraft to park on the left hand side of this apron, i.e. on stands accessed from the Europier which is T1. I was reminded of an embarrassing incident some years ago arriving on an AZ 321 from FCO and ending up in the T1 arrivals hall .
Down Kilo, with our 747-400 at the end.
SP-LLA pushing back for departure to WAW.
I-DANV on 207 and a company A321 behind.
G-MIDX sporting the old and best Star Alliance Livery with IB ready to roll on 27L.
After taking some more photos looking out from Papa over 27L and towards T4 I continued into the Europier, far and away the nicest gate area in T1. The pier is predominantly made of glass and also has split arrivals and departures via the large grey protuberances to which the airbridges are attached. On my right, towards the 27L departure queue, were 4 BA 744s all in a row, including BA 025 boarding for the flight to HKG, and G-BNLP, a new reg for me. On the left was the Kilo apron, with three BA Airbuses parked on this side of the pier. A 319 was preparing for departure to Hannover and another pushing back as I arrived. Camera time .
Not sure which reg, but a BA 744 bound to somewhere with better weather!
I walked all the way to the end of the pier and looked out. There are remote stands on either side at which were parked a BMI 320, a BA 319 and a BA 763 with world tail. Beyond, out on the shoulder of runway 23, was Concorde G-BOAB, looking a bit forlorn in the grey weather. The sun was now setting and the airfield lighting on, but the photos came out nice and bright on the camera. Now for the most important part. Turning to my left I was directly opposite our SAA 744, which I had predicted would be ZS-SAZ based on SAA fleet usage over the past two months. Was it? I pulled out my binoculars to take a look. Yes! Four RB211s to power me over Africa . I took a photo of 'Alpha Zulu' and then walked back down the pier, through the FCC and into the departures lounge.
With apologies for the blurriness, here’s ZS-SAZ nearly ready for boarding.
It would soon be time to board. I met up with the rest of my family and we walked down pier 3, not as nice as the Europier. It is a long hike down to the end, but speeded up with the travellators. Interestingly, approaching the end but still with gate 28 between us and gate 30, we hit a security checkpoint. Everyone, except the crew, had to go through security, i.e. X-ray for hand luggage etc, again! I wondered what the point of this was, it did not happen on my JNB flight last year, but then this did not seem specifically orientated to the South Africa flights.
Finally arriving at the gate area at around 6:35pm (with no view of the aircraft whatsoever due to the lack of windows and the unusual parking angle of 134) a gate agent ushered us to the front where families with small children were being boarded first - one of the advantages of having very young siblings . Boarding had not yet commenced and my first thoughts were about the seating positions. We had a whole row on the upper deck for ourselves (we are a family of six) so I could choose which window seat to have. Departing on 27L, I should sit on the right to get the best view, but I needed to know the forecast winds at JNB to determine which runway we would be landing on. I pulled out my mobile and phoned a.net user BA777, who within 20 seconds had downloaded and decoded the TAF (airport weather forecast) for FAJS (JNB ICAO code). It looked like the 21s would be in use from the wind forecast, although there were crosswinds so it might swap to the 03s. Cheers Hennerz!
Almost as soon as I turned off the phone, the doors opened and boarding commenced. With great anticipation I walked down the airbridge, into the aircraft via the middle doorway to be met by friendly SAA FAs. For the first time I climbed up the steep stairs and found myself at the back of the upper deck . We were the first passengers on the top deck. There were two FAs for the sixty odd seats in this "Premium economy at the same price as normal Y class only for those who know about it" zone . I took seat 87K to get the best view on departure from 27L. The increase in seat pitch was very striking, a lot more legroom with 34" as opposed to 31" pitch. There was also a handy compartment to stow bags, etc, for those who had window seats, comme moi. As usual in the new Millenium Configuration, there were seatback TVs for all. There are also TV monitors at the front of the cabin and hanging from the middle which are used for the safety video and the Airshow displays. ZS-SAZ is one of only two SAA 744s equipped with satellite telephone capabilities, these were on the back of the PTV control units, although at $9 a minute not be an option I would be exploring. I was more interested in the flight deck door, which was wide open , with all the instrumentation lit up, and several people visible inside who I took to be the pilots. I decided to seize my opportunity before the cabin became too crowded, and I climbed out of my seat and walked into the galley armed with my forms.
I handed my forms to a Flight Attendant who then passed them to a senior-looking colleague who I took to be the Inflight Services Manager. He read them through thoroughly, then said he would take them through to the flight deck and see if I could "come up and have a look" . He asked where I was seated and I explained. I returned to my seat and began setting up equipment for the flight. I set up my airband radio, tuning Heathrow Clearance on 121.975 which provided an interesting background commentary while I prepared the camera and the digital camcorder for departure photos/film. One problem with the upper deck is that there are two sheets of glass between you and the outside that are angled steeper than usual due to the curvature of the fuselage. Also, the window was covered in raindrops from the shower earlier which rather spoilt the view. At this point I looked up to find the Inflight Services Manager hovering by our row. "You can go into the cockpit," he said, "the door's open". Brilliant! With camera in hand I strode down the aisle and entered the cockpit.
The first thing that struck me was the size. There were four people in there, the captain and first officer, seated at their controls, and two people with fluorescent jackets on who looked like dispatchers although one had the BA logo on the back of his jacket. The flight deck felt cramped, even with the two jumpseats behind the captain and F/O. It seemed particularly small in the main cockpit area, the captain and F/O surrounded by the instruments. For the world's largest commercial airliner (for only a few months more ) it had a remarkably small flight deck environment.
The dispatchers headed off, and I took the right hand jumpseat behind the F/O. I noticed my forms fastened to a clipboard. The captain laughed: "It's going to take half the night to fill that lot in." The instruments were all set up for departure, FMCs programmed and the SID (Standard Instrument Departure), Midhurst 3 Golf off 27L, brightly displayed on the navigation display: the F/O adjusted the range of his ND so I could see it all and showed me the charts fastened to the yokes. We talked a bit about the SID and speed restrictions, and how these days pilots are encouraged to turn the autopilot on as soon as possible after take off whereas in the past they would have hand flown the aircraft with LNAV and VNAV engaged following commands from the Flight Director. "There's a lot of small Airbuses around this place," said the captain, with a hint of condescension about "Airbus", "so when we get onto this radial" - indicating the Burnham QDR 165 degree radial, "ATC usually remove the speed restrictions and route us directly out to the Channel, they like to get us up and away quickly". We talked some more about the APU and the ACARS system, and the flight plan which routed us down the West coast of Africa for much of the flight. The westerly routings are new for SAA, slightly shorter and the airways are less busy. LH are also using them. When I thought it was time to head back to my seat, I said: "It's such a shame after 9/11 enthusiasts can't watch from the jumpseat during the flight" But the answer was inevitable. "I'm sorry, we can't let you in during flight. Some of our guys tried bending the rules a little and got into trouble," the F/O explained. I said I quite understood, and wished them a pleasant flight. "See you in the morning," said the captain. Then he leaned to the left of his seat so I could photograph the flight deck, which I did. Unfortunately the photos came out blurred, and I decided to have another go in the morning.
There’s sharper photos of the flight deck to come...
Back in my seat there were about 15 minutes to go till scheduled departure time. I pulled out my phone and was amazed to see a full signal, so I rang BA777 again to ask for tips about photographing cockpits. Then I prepared the Heathrow charts for taxi and departure.
Some minutes later the captain welcomed everyone aboard over the PA system, explaining the westerly routing over Africa but assuring us that he expected an on time arrival in JNB or even before schedule depending on ATC and the weather. He informed us that the seat belt signs would remain on slightly longer than usual after take off due to bad weather over the south of Britain. He also warned people to keep their seat belts loosely fastened when they went to sleep: there were usually some unpleasant weather patterns around the Equator which cause turbulence, and he wouldn't want the cabin crew to have to wake anyone up to put their seat belts on.
Everyone was now seated in the upper deck (totally full, as it mostly is on this very lucrative route) and the Airshow map displays located were lit up to show our position on a map, distance to destination, ETA, OAT, altitude, speed etc. At 19:25, 5 minutes before scheduled departure, the radio crackled into life as "Springbok 235" on 134 requested clearance to Johannesburg with information Hotel - this being the version of ATIS, the LHR automated weather/runways in use and advisory frequency. The ATIS is regularly updated in line with changing weather and each new update is given a new letter - Hotel for H. It is important for Clearance to know what version of ATIS the pilots have to make sure they are up to date.
This evening we were informed of a delayed slot due to weather at LHR, all aircraft were being held up by about 15 minutes due to "weather conditions". This information the captain repeated over the PA. "All systems are ready, the aircraft is fully set up, the only thing holding us back is the weather". He assured everyone that this would not affect our arrival in Johannesburg because we would simply fly faster to compensate. I'd had a similar delay with FI two years ago so it didn't bother me. At least we were not being delayed by a technical problem as had happened with SA229 to JNB last year, when we finally left LHR at 11pm, 1 1/2 hours' late.
Pushback clearance was given at 19:43 to push onto Bravo, the inner taxiway around the CTA. Soon the inflight safety video began to play. A minute later the cabin lights were dimmed and we began moving backwards; the journey to JNB had begun . Having pushed back onto Bravo, engines #3 and #4 were started up (the F/O explained on my forms that they start two at a time at sea level airfields). Then engines #1 and #2 were also started.
With all four RB211s on idle we remained stationary for five minutes before Ground issued the taxi clearance to 27L, which involved following Bravo around the Europier before picking up Uniform, crossing runway 23 to hold at ETTIV (one of the new holding point designators). No time to lose, the engines spooled up and we taxied as requested to the ETTIV holding point. 19:30 is a bit early for the evening "heavy" departure rush at LHR when most of the aircraft bound for Asia tend to leave and the only other widebodies departing were a BA 744 and 772. Instead for company we had European departures in the form of IB, LH and AF as well BD and - how did I guess? - some BA Airbuses. There were 3 aircraft ahead of us and reaching ETTIV we were handed over to the Tower on 118.50. "Springbok 235, after the Lufthansa three twenty-one departs, line up two seven left" was the instruction given.
We gradually moved forward in line until the A321 sped past us with a roar and I started the digital camcorder for the takeoff movie. The captain told the cabin crew to take up their positions for take off, and just turning onto 27L the clearance was given, with the wind 250 degrees at 9 knots. The engines powered up to the "Engines stabilised" point, then all the way forward to TO1 takeoff power and we began to roll down 27L. The acceleration was nothing like the bat out of hell 757 but to be expected for a highly loaded 747 with a large amount of fuel onboard. What struck me was the noise, or lack of it - from the upper deck the takeoff seemed incredibly quiet. We sped past T3 where the Asian heavies were just getting loaded up and began the rotation opposite Echo at 175 knots (wow, a fast VR speed!), fully airborne at 8:06pm beside the Delta taxiway which will form the east side of the second satellite of T5. We climbed out over the M25 and towards Windsor before a shallow left turn and then a steeper one to intercept the Burnham radial which the captain had shown me. Sure enough we were soon turning off the SID and the engines increasing in power. Within ten minutes, passing through various cloud layers, we had crossed the south coast, the seatbelt signs went out and the cabin lights came on. Half way across the Channel the Airshow displays indicated an altitude of 15 000 feet and as the IFE was switched on the cabin crew came around offering drinks. I had lemonade with ice .
By this time I had turned off my radio, the "Centre" frequencies not being particularly interesting and just eating up the batteries (although it is fun to know when your aircraft is going to change direction, etc). Instead I consulted the IFE guide which listed about 30 films, including Troy, Shrek 2 and The Day After Tomorrow. The PTVs use the Sony P@ssport system which allows you to stop and start the film you are watching at leisure. I went to the films menu on the PTV - there were six listed , the only well known one being the excellent Spider Man 2. But I was keen for something new so I chose "The Clearing" and began to watch. About an hour after takeoff and over central France the FAs came around with supper, a chicken main course with some sort of ice cream desert, a salad side tray, bread, mineral water and a chocolate. It was tasty without being stunningly impressive for Y class, but generally a good meal. By the time I was through it we were crossing into the Mediterranean over the VOR at BCN.
"The Clearing" was over in an hour and a half. I decided it was time to catch some sleep, being nearly 11pm UK time and knowing breakfast would be served at around 4:30am UK time next morning. But before doing so, browsing through the menus on the PTV I noticed a flight position program, which is a kind of mini Airshow, still depicting the aircraft's position on a map. Here's a shot just before I settled down:
Now it was time to sleep, and I pulled out the blanket and pillow provided, took off my shoes and pulled on the special socks also supplied. Then I reclined the seat back as far as it would go, not worrying about the person behind because we were on the last row, and was asleep 15 minutes later. My night was rather disjointed since I was woken at 2am by my brother playing Space Invaders on the PTV, hmm. Also during the night I recall the seatbelt signs being turned on and some considerable turbulence. But I was pleased to get a fair amount of sleep, and the extra 3 inches of legroom and the quieter atmosphere on the upper deck made sleeping considerably easier than last year's JNB trip right behind the 742's engines on the main deck.
When I woke up everyone else was having breakfast and had several drinks on their trays and it was quite light outside, as you can see from this shot.
Beautiful sunrise, just love the glow in #3 engine.
I saw on the Airshow that we were about 1 and a half hours out of JNB. An arrival was predicted of 7:08 am South Africa time, which would mean a flight duration of just over 10 hours instead of the scheduled 11, impressive work by the FMC... At this point an FA came along with the breakfast tray - "Ah, I see you're awake now," she smiled and handed me my tray. It contained a hot English breakfast with sausage, egg and potatoes, a carton of orange juice, a bread roll with jam and butter, and a tray of fruit, really enjoyable after a 5 hour rest.
When I had finished the sun was fully risen and I pulled out my clipboard where I had scribbled down the frequencies supplied by a.net user SA006. The first on my list was Gaborone Center for the cruise over Botswana, but this just hissed. Instead I tuned the Johannesburg Area North frequency on 126.7 and turned on the squelch to mask background noise. Meanwhile I checked the camera and set it up for the approach shots along with the camcorder. Ten minutes later the captain was on the PA system informing us that we would be arriving in JNB ahead of schedule, the temperature 15 degrees, clear skies and no wind (I bet ). We would be starting our descent shortly.
It was very obvious when descent began, the engine noise lowered and the wings visibly pitched down. Some minutes later I was delighted to hear the radio crackle into life as Springbok 235 made her first contact with Johannesburg. Further descent clearance was given down to eventually FL170 when we switched frequencies to one not on SA006's list. Quickly I typed in the new frequency, just in time to hear the captain acknowledging: "One five zero for zero three right". Problem - 03R and I was sitting on the right hand side which would give me no view of the airport. Luckily I was able to swap with my brother at the other window seat, 87A before the seatbelt signs came on. The descent seemed quicker, which it is bearing in mind that Johannesburg has an elevation of about 5,500 feet AMSL.
Downwind for 03R.
Soon the dry plains and rivers gave way to busy roads and housing areas as we routed from the Hartbees VOR downwind of JNB on the STAR. The visibility, typical for Johannesburg, was hazy and I could not see the airport although it lay not far to the east. As the leading edge flaps were lowered the captain informed us that we were beginning the approach and the seatbelt signs came on. Radar routed us very low as we came downwind and over the house of SA006, who was just about to leave to photograph me landing on 03R. However, because we were early, there would be no time, so Zak photographed SAZ from his house instead. So here’s the photo on a.net with the caption to prove, I’m really chuffed. Thanks Zak!
Photo © Zak Economides
Johannesburg Radar vectored us some miles south of JNB before we turned east onto the "base leg" and then north to intercept the localiser for 03R. I love the approach onto the 03s at JNB, the scenery is so different to the UK with much dryer landscapes, huge factories and suburbs and the Johannesburg haze. As we made the final turn for the localiser I looked north and could just make out 03L, looking like a black slab of asphalt amongst the urban areas and the yellowed landscape around JNB.
Perhaps some Jo’burg locals could identify this area?
Turning onto finals over an industrial area
Look at the top right of this photo, 03L is just visible through the haze as a grey line.
Now I turned on the camcorder as the undercarriage was lowered and we established on final approach, the shadow of ZS-SAZ visible below and getting larger as we lost altitude. I quickly adjusted frequencies to the tower where our landing clearance was issued, with, surprise surprise, some wind, 060 degrees at 5 knots. Now we flew low over housing areas, and then over the final busy freeways and factories. At an altitude of surely not more than 500 feet the throttles spooled up slightly and I wondered if we were a touch low on the glideslope. But soon we were over the runway, flaring in typical 747 style.
We touched down slightly late I thought and, applying bursts of autobrakes and reverse, slowed to a halt at the fascinating airport that is JNB, apparently the busiest in the southern hemisphere. I could see many Antonovs and other unusual types parked on the main taxiway crossing the field and in the distance the terminal buildings. A Comair 737-200 was rotating off 03L and turning off the runway I could already make out the silhouette of an SAA A340-600 following us in on approach operating SA 261 from FRA. We had used up a lot of tarmac and were now given a taxi clearance along Hotel which loops round the field past the control tower, over the control tower access road and comes out opposite the Delta apron by 03L. It was a long taxi but a great route to take, particularly crossing the road. I was delighted to see an SA A319 departing, SAA having received their first only recently.
BA 55 from LHR on finals for 03R behind the tower.
Tower gave us permission to cross straight over 03L where a 1Time DC-9 was lining up at the end, as you can see here.
The SA A346 had landed and I now saw a BA 744 on short finals for 03R operating BA 055 from LHR. JNB has its morning heavy rush too!
Having crossed 03L we taxied back down Alpha to the main apron where there was an SAA 342 on the remote Bravo stands along with various short haul SAA, Comair, Nationwide and Kulula aircraft, typical JNB style. The most interesting long haul types were a CX 343 and an SQ 772.
9V-SVO is on A4.
We pulled up on Alpha 8, the engines were shut down and the airbridge docked. But I was not going anywhere for the moment .
Engines shut down, on A8 at JNB.
ZS-SJL, 737-800, beside us on A10.
While all the other passengers from the upper deck filed out, my family waited, packing up everything, sorting out young children, etc... After a few minutes the cockpit door opened and the captain emerged. By this time I was almost completed packing up. He stopped half way down the aisle, winked at me and pointed in the direction of the flight deck. I clambered out into the aisle with my camera and, this time, my father , a very experienced photographer. As we headed down the aisle the F/O came out of the door with my forms plus another sheet; he handed me all of them, explaining that the last sheet contained our flight plan, being too long to write out. It was infact very interesting, temperature summaries at different waypoints as well as the flight plan, and the list of ATC FIRs we should pass through which had been crossed off as they were contacted. I thanked then asked the captain if it was alright to try another photo of the flight deck. It was, he said, but "you'll need to be quick, as we're all going to Durban". So in we rushed, and my father took some excellent photos of the flight deck, and one with me in the captain’s seat .
After we had taken the photos we followed the F/O out of the cockpit, through the cabin and downstairs and I asked him a bit more about what actions to take towards a career as a pilot. We walked through the business cabin with the lie flat seats always on SA235/234 which have won SAA the best business class award from Skytrax. The airbridge was attached to the forward door this time. We met up with the rest of the family outside the airbridge and followed the signs for terminal A2 arrivals, which handles mostly the SAA flights. I noticed on the right a tiny window through which SAZ's nose was visible and I tried a photo, though really the window is to blame for the quality of this!
Arriving in the passport control area we met the worst queues I have ever known for immigration. The entire area was crammed full of international passengers, all queuing for entry into South Africa. They were from the three SAA flights that had arrived in quick succession from GRU, LHR and FRA, and there must have been around 600 people queuing. Worst of all, the processing by the customs officials was extremely slow, taking usually around five minutes per group, only a little less for a single person. Imagine how long it was taking when there were only around 10 customs desks! Even South African citizens were processed very slowly.
Fortunately for us, or else we would have been there for several hours, the benefits of younger siblings were made clear . When my youngest brother, aged 2 and a half, began to wail, we were quickly ushered out by an official and put in a queue marked "Passengers with special disabilities", hmm... There were only 2 groups ahead of us, although they took 10 minutes to be processed. To give an example, an American lady who had transited through ORD and FRA already to get to SA with several children aged about nine, asked the official if she could join our queue. She had been waiting in line for an hour and had barely moved. After very much enjoying the landing and view of JNB from airside, I was not impressed with this transit to landside. I had not noticed anything like this at JNB last year, but then we landed at 11am. Perhaps this time we were just caught in the early morning rush?
After passing through immigration it was no surprise to find our bags waiting on carousel number 2 along with most other people’s, who were still in the passport queue and would be for some hours at this rate. We followed the signs for “Nothing to declare” and emerged in the international arrivals area where an orange overalled porter was only too happy to take us to the car hire offices. An hour later we were heading south on the N3 towards Drakensberg. There were a few aircraft overhead lined up on the 03R approach as we had done in ZS-SAZ some hours previously.
A brief interlude… bush flying in SA
During my incredible two week holiday in the country we spent three nights at a bush lodge called Djuma on a game reserve bordering the Kruger National Park. The days I spent at Djuma were the most enjoyable I’ve ever known on a holiday for a variety of reasons. Many of the visitors to the bush lodges actually fly in to the small airstrips in the bush. They tend to be ferried in by charter companies from the nearby brand new Kruger Mpumalanga International Airport, MQP, (called KMIA by the South Africans for short, which might cause some confusion with the ICAO code of a certain busier airport in Florida ). So many visitors fly LHR-JNB-MQP and then onwards to a bush lodge. Unfortunately we were not amongst these .
One night at our lodge some guests arrived who had flown in, along with their pilot who would be spending the night at the lodge before taking some other visitors back to KRU the following morning. The pilot was a remarkable person named Louw. So at supper we became engaged in conversation about bush flying and general flying in SA. For example, he encouraged me to come and train in SA: it’s much cheaper to train for a PPL in SA than in the UK. He had some strong views on SAA’s choice of switching to Airbus for their fleet , in fact strong views on Airbuses in general. He also said that SAA are not happy with the performance of the A340-600, as has been mentioned on here in the past.
Next morning I hitched a ride from the lodge with him and his passengers to the airstrip they use, which is called Chitwa Chitwa Safari. The runway is sloped upwards for the first 250 metres before it levels out. At the end of the runway was parked his Cherokee 6, which had just been left there overnight. I took some photos of the aircraft as they put all the luggage in and took their seats.
The Cherokee 6, ZS-MSO. Louw is in the back checking the seating arrangements. Temperature was 34 degrees Celsius .
There was a pre-flight briefing for the passengers with a difference: “if I tell you to open the left door in the middle of the flight, open it!” and “if we’re not airborne halfway down the runway, we start throwing out the bags”. Then I drove back up with the lodge vehicle to the point where the aircraft usually rotates and stood outside with the camera. Here they are, off to Kruger:
After he had taken off, Louw turned the Cherokee through 270 degrees and made a low level pass over the strip, waggling the wings before turning towards MQP . I was amazed at how relaxed the attitude to flying is in the bush. Long may it last, Louw!
SA 234: JNB-LHR
General flight information
Captain: Robert Knowles, based @ JNB First Officer: K. du Plessis, based @ JNB
Registration: ZS-SAZ (engines RB211), selcal ID: LS-QR
Passengers: 334 JNB stand: A2 LHR stand: 125
Nautical mileage: 4984nm Trip wind component: +16 kts
Cruise FLs: FL310/350/360 Cruise Mach/TAS: M0.85/503 kts
Estimated flight time: 10 hours 4 minutes Actual flight time: 10 hours 45 minutes
Estimated LHR arrival: 0600Z
JNB blocks off: 1944Z JNB engine start: 1944Z
JNB taxi: 1951Z JNB airborne: 2001Z
LHRB actual arrival: 0646Z LHR blocks on: 0651Z
Runway: 03L Departure taxiways: Echo, Alpha Holding point: 03L west hold
Forecast wind: 130 degrees/16 kts Takeoff flaps: 20
Takeoff OAT: 13 degrees Celsius Takeoff EPR: 1.77 QNH: 1028 mb
V1: 149 kts VR: 169 kts V2: 178 kts
SID: ELAND 7A Engine start order: 4,3,2,1
Runway: 09L Forecast wind: 040 degrees/5 kts Landing flaps: 30
Autobrakes: 2 Clean speed: 226 kts
MDA: 51 ft RA
Flap 30 VREF: 146 kts
STAB TRIM: 6.6 degrees UP Approach: ILS CAT 3B Landing: Autoland QNH: 1010 mb
Arrival taxiways: Alpha 5, Alpha, Kilo, Bravo, Juliet STAR: BIG 3B
Takeoff weight: 369 105 kgs ZFW: 241 105 kgs Landing weight: 255 205 kgs
Max landing weight: 285 763 kgs
Trip fuel: 108 840 kgs Diversion fuel (to furthest alternate EHAM): 7 480 kgs
Reserve fuel: 4 350 kgs Taxi fuel: 1 000 kgs Fuel on takeoff: 128 100 kgs Actual fuel burn: 115 700 kgs
N0505F310 DCT ELAND DCT HBV UG853 MNV UB733D BUGRO UB733F ANUBI UM998 KSA DCT BZ UG727 MIKMA/N0500F350 UG727 MIU UA605 INISA UA605G KIRMI UA605 CSO UR978 KAMER/N0480F360 UR978 BALEN UN854 MTL UM976 BRY UM733 KOPOR UT426 DIMAL UT420 ALESO DCT
Alternates: EHAM (Amsterdam), EGCC (Manchester), EGBB (Birmingham)
Flight plan again. The downwind/base/finals at LHR is a bit of guesswork since the STAR terminates at Biggin. Aircraft are taken under radar vectors for the approach.
From the Cherokee 6 to the 747-400… after undoubtedly the greatest holiday I have ever known, it was time to head back to JNB and return home. The afternoon of 30th October saw us driving west on the N12 towards Johannesburg and the airport. I had been busy texting SA006 to arrange a meet up at check in, but unfortunately this was not possible, till next time Zak! We drove in to the south of JNB and tuning the tower I heard that, as usual, the 03s were in use. This was late Saturday afternoon when there are less movements than normal so 03R was not in operation. All arrivals were using 03L, which consisted of an SA Express CRJ and an SAA 737-800 as we drove under the approach path.
Having returned the car we followed the signs to the international departures area. Without fail the airports I have used in South Africa have been spacious, modern and stylish and this was no exception, the check in area well signposted and lit up. Compared to LHR T2 check in… Most international departures at this time were the evening rush to Europe, five flights to LHR from BA, SAA and VS, others to FRA, CDG, MAD etc and also CAI with MS.
The system in use for check in was also very efficient. Before going to any check in desk passengers move into pens where at a desk all passports and tickets are checked and entered into the computer. Then you are moved over a ramp which is actually a weighing scales where the luggage weight is checked against what is allowed. This avoids any luggage weight disputes at check in. After this we proceeded to the check in desks where queues are very short, and the check in process is now a lot quicker. Finally, the baggage is moved along a conveyor belt behind the desk into a lift which takes it up out of sight, meaning we were able to walk through behind the desks to the corridor leading to passport control.
Boarding pass again.
Passport control was of course quicker than arriving but there could have been more desks open. The security process was relatively fast and we were soon in the departures lounge, which runs right along gates 3 to 7, packed with shops, high ceilings, clearly signposted and with an abundance of windows . However, the windows are not ideally positioned. If you look at the photos of the international terminal you’ll see the triangular areas jutting out of the terminal overlooking the apron. Unfortunately they are not gate areas but mostly full of shops or worse, restaurants. So, spotting was not as easy as I’d hoped. I saw an MS A342 further along the apron which I’m told by Horus was lucky, since MS have from November begun to operate the A332s on that route. As for getting close up, clambering behind some clothes hangars I was able to take this photo of G-BNLA operating BA 56 to LHR. Behind, on A4, is the VS A340-300 operating VS602 to LHR, a flight I’m very familiar with on flight simulator (see my website).
After doing some shopping it was time to head to the gate which was marked on the boards and the boarding passes as gate 2, corresponding to stand A2. I was hoping for a nice glass view of our aircraft like at CPT last year, but it was not to be. Gate 2 was in the middle of the corridor leading to gate 1 and there were not even any chairs to sit on. We were at the northern end of the terminal where the stands are orientated southerly instead of westerly, and they are not accessed from the main departure lounge, so no windows.
Boarding time was scheduled for 20:10 (departure being at 21:05), but this time came and went. The area was soon packed with people waiting to board (334 passengers) and wondering what the delay was. The gate agents were not helping the situation by sitting around laughing to each other and they did not offer any explanation of what was going on. Finally, at 20:40, they stood up and we began to board. There was no priority for families with young children but it didn’t matter since we were quite near the front.
After a long walk down another curving corridor and then onto the airbridge, past an AF 744 boarding for CDG, I found myself on board the 747-400 – but which one? The Inflight Services Manager greeted us pleasantly and indicated in the direction of the top deck. As usual, we were boarding through door number 2, behind the business and first class cabins. We climbed the stairs and entered the upper deck. This time I took 87A to get the best view of JNB on departure from 03L.
Again, it was time to present my forms to the cabin crew and see about visiting the flight deck, this time the door was shut. I approached the two FAs at the back of the cabin who were very friendly. They had a look through the forms and covering notes, and one said “Is this for your logbook?”. I explained my ambition to pursue a career as a pilot and she asked how many hours I had towards my PPL, etc. They said they would hand the forms in as soon as possible, but visiting the flight deck was up to the captain, some were nicer than others. I said there had been no problem on the way, and she said yes, but not to get your hopes up! I wondered if this was a hint that the captain was not as friendly as some.
A few minutes later and back in my seat, I saw one of the FAs going into the flight deck with my forms. The door was opened and closed behind her! Meanwhile I had a look out of the window. The AF 744 was beside us on A3, then the VS 343, then G-BNLA. After a few minutes I noticed the FA leaving the flight deck and heading back to my row. “He says you can go in,” she said, “Quickly”. It seemed like my forms had done the trick.
On the flight deck this time were all three pilots: captain, F/O and relief pilot. The captain looked older and slightly flustered, the two others were younger. The F/O was sitting on the right jumpseat going through the flight plan with a highlighter pen, the relief pilot was looking at my forms in the F/O’s seat. I noticed from the manuals on the wall that this was ZS-SAZ – again!
The captain shook hands and introduced himself as Robert Knowles. He first explained about the delay in boarding. The new westerly routing combined with a tail wind meant a 10 hour 5 minute flight against the scheduled 11 hours. To further knock down the time the UK was switching to GMT at midnight, which meant another hour gained. There’s a curfew at LHR for most airlines which means they aren’t allowed in before 6am. Furthermore, if they do turn up before 6, not only is it into the hold but also a hefty fine for the airline. So, to arrive after 6am GMT because of the change in time zones, we couldn’t leave JNB any earlier than 10pm local time. Thus the delay in boarding, and also there’d be a delay in leaving.
Next we ran through the FMC, where he showed me that each flight plan has its own code. By putting the code into the FMC the route is automatically loaded into the FMC from the SAA database. The legs page shows each leg, which is basically an airway, the route page shows all the waypoints. We scrolled through to the last page where just ALESO and then EGLL were shown. They don’t fill in the STAR or landing runway until ATC supply it. I saw ELAND 7A on the flight plan, “Ah yes,” I said “That’s the SID?”. “No, no,” said the captain, “It’s the departure.” Right …
I asked which runway they were expecting to land on. The captain said it would probably be a 27 looking at the TAF for Heathrow which was giving a northerly wind. Whether it was 27L or 27R he could not tell. He said that usually, arriving just after 6am ATC can slot the flight directly onto final approach without any holding, and if possible will give them 27R because it is nearer the stand at terminal 1. However for that Sunday morning the main landing runway would be 27L due to the way they swap round from week to week. There was fog forecast tomorrow morning which he said would probably mean an autoland, ILS CAT3B, which can cope with an RVR (runway visual range) of 75 feet. So, he said, whatever runway we use, the likelihood was I would not see much anyway!
I then asked if I could take some photos of the flight deck which they were more than happy to allow. Just as I pulled the camera out the door opened and the Inflight Services Manager came in. “Good evening guys,” he said, not the slightest bit surprised at my presence. He looked anxious and explained that the IFE was not working and probably would not fu