17 December 2011

Working on Fire Day, Fisantekraal

Thursday, 15 December

For the first time in 3 years, I remembered the Working on Fire ‘display’ held at Fisantekraal Airfield at the start of every fire season in the Cape. This is when all the aircraft and pilots come together to put on a little show (normally for VIP’s) demonstrating their fire fighting capabilities.

When I arrived at Fisantekraal all I could see were pilots in their yellow and blue flight suits. I wandered around a bit, chatted to some of the pilots, and then made my way to a gleaming Ayres Turbo Thrush. This was the first time I’d ever seen one ‘in the flesh’ (I was going to say metal, but, it’s made of both metal and fabric...). Beautiful.

While everyone was milling around waiting for the demonstration, I made my way up the tower. It was erected a while ago for a film shoot, and never taken down. Many months have passed and the paint has faded, and the wood is starting to look a little tired. Needless to say I didn’t feel too comfortable standing on the thing.

However, the view was awesome; to the West, Table Mountain. And to the East were 8 proud Huey’s, 3 majestic Turbo Thrush’s, 2 monster Dromader’s, and 4 faithful Spotters. Heaven.

The ‘event’ started with a few speeches, and the ground crew based at Fisantekraal strutting their stuff. They marched around (it looked better than the marching I’ve seen some people in the military do), and then sang the national anthem. People always have something good or bad to say about Working on Fire, but that day, I saw a dedicated group of people that seemed to be proud of their job.

The flying side of things kicked off with Spotter 3 spluttering to life. That was followed by three Turbo Thrush’s turbine’s slowly spooling up (they were so quiet that I only heard them for the first time when they applied power to taxi). And then one Huey. And another. And yet another. And last but not least, the little whine and growl of a Dromader.

The yellow machines looked good, and they sounded even better. The thump of the Huey blades shaking the ground, the drone of the Dromader rattling your bones.

One of the Huey’s got airborne and circled just to the north of the field, a Working on Fire crew on board. The Spotter then took off and circled the field, as if he were spotting for a real fire. The other two Huey’s set off towards a dam to fill their 1000l bambi buckets. And then, one by one, the bomber’s took off.

Once all the aircraft taking part were airborne, the first Huey dropped off the crew and they began beating the ‘fire’. The bomber’s then came in one by one, and dropped their load of water. As soon as they release the water, they pretty much shoot up into the air, it’s a sight that won’t get old. The pilots of the more manoeuvrable Turbo Thrush’s seemed to be having a lot of fun.

After the bomber’s, the Huey’s came in and emptied their bambi buckets. By this stage the crew on the ground were suitably soaked.
To end off, the bomber’s did a low-level fly-past each, the main gear mere metres from the ground (I pictured a lush green field below them, instead of the nasty concrete runway), and the Huey’s thundered past before landing.

It was great chatting to some of the pilots. Looking into the cockpit of the Turbo Thrush’s was even better. And hearing all those aircraft was the icing on the cake. May you all have a safe fire season!

12 December 2011

Ysterplaat Wings and Wheels 2011

This year, those of us in the Cape had a rather dull airshow season. In fact, the only two were the one at Swellendam, and the one at Stellenbosch, and they could hardly be called airshows (more like fly-ins).

So when the time for Wings and Wheels rolled around, I was quite excited.

The show was on 9 and 10 December (Friday and Saturday), which is unusual; it's normally on Saturday and Sunday. I opted to go on the Friday, because I figured there would be less traffic and less people.

Despite leaving at 0600, I still ended up sitting in traffic for over an hour. But I still arrived before 0800, and I was greeted with loads of parking space, and not a single queue for tickets.

In fact, the place was empty. And it remained that way for pretty much the whole day.

Because it was a Wings and Wheels show, there were aircraft and cars. Unfortunately, there were more cars than aircraft, and the line-up of aircraft wasn't that great;
Dakota, 110 Squadron (Premier 1 and Baron), Lynx, Super Cub towing a banner, Silver Falcons, Working on Fire demo (x2 Huey's, a Spotter and Dromader) Oryx, RV Team, Solo RV, Yak, SAA 737 did a high fly-past, T28 Trojan, Pitts Special, Christen Eagle, Diamond, Provost, Hawk, L39 (x3) and the Gripen.

No parachutists, no Hercules, no foreign visitors.

The flying and car displays weren't very well-planned; they had cars racing up and down the taxi-way during an RV display. Do I watch the cars, or the RV? Hmmm... And the revving cars masked the sound of the aircraft.

The time between some of the displays was upward of 10minutes. At one stage, there was at least a 20min gap with absolutely nothing happening. That's when the cars should've done their thing.

So while it was great not having to wrestle with hundreds of other spectators, the overall feel of the 'show' was rather pathetic.

However... the Silver Falcons had two great performances. Their routine has a few extras (they modified it slightly in September, I think), which made it interesting. So a very big congratulations to Team 72.

The Hawk displays, flown by "Shark", were stunning. He flies a fast-paced, low display, that has you thinking "Please pull out of that loop/dive... come on, you're getting low. Don't hit the ground... Phew!". And the sound alone is enough to get people grinning.

And then there was the Gripen...
Flown by "Cobra", it was the best jet display I've seen in my 4 years of attending air shows. He kicked things off by taking off with a fairly strong tailwind, the aircraft handling it as if it was nothing.

His display consisted of many high-speed fly-pasts, tight turns (showing off the diamond paint scheme and underside well), loops, and rolls. The slow fly-past ('High Alpha') not only looked good, but sounded wonderful (especially as the engine spooled up as he prepared to climb away).

And then, saving the best for last... He did a high-speed fly-past, pulled up, vapour clinging to the wings (not something you see often in the Cape), afterburner glowing, and shot off some flares (which I missed... oops).

That display made the day worth it!

So all wasn't lost. But I hope that they plan things better next time.

17 November 2011

NSRI/SAAF Exercise: Simon’s Town

Saturday, 12 November

The morning dawned cold and bright... no wait, it was 4am when I got up; it wasn’t bright. As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, there’s pretty much only one thing that will get me to wake up that early; aeroplanes.

And in this case, it was the Oryx!

A friend of mine who volunteers for the NSRI told me that they (the NSRI) would be conducting an exercise with the SAAF, and asked me if I wanted to go with to take photos. While the thought of having to wake up at 4am did put me off a little bit, the opportunity to see the Oryx in action motivated me.

The exercise took place in the Simon’s Town Harbour (military section), and an Oryx and 4 NSRI boats were involved. Crews from various NSRI stations took part.

Things kicked off with the Oryx arriving in style, sending sand everywhere (I think I still have some in my hair). A safety briefing was held, outlining everything from approaching the helicopter, climbing in and out, and how the strop for lifting people worked.

The first exercise was ‘dry-lifts’. The Oryx hovered above the dock, and the NSRI swimmers were hoisted up to the helicopter, and then back down. This was to allow those that had never done it before, to become familiar with the sensation, sights and sounds.

After that, the groups of swimmers were chucked in the icy waters of the harbour. The Oryx would then pick them up one by one, fly to the dock once about 6 were in the chopper, chuck them out, and repeat. Every time she came back to drop the swimmers off, I braved about 5 tonnes of downwash, while sand was blasted into my eyes and mouth, and down my shirt, just to take a few photos.

I regretted not buying a filter for my camera lens; I don’t think it enjoyed the sandblasting (at least it wasn’t as bad as when I went out on the boat when they had an exercise with AMS; the sea spray wasn’t fun).

Unfortunately I had to leave before they completed the exercise; I was hoping to be able to climb into the Oryx and have a look around. Oh well, maybe next time.

Thanks D, for inviting me. And thank you to the NSRI for allowing me to hang around and take some photos!

13 November 2011

Flying the R22

In October I stumbled across a competition on Facebook to win an introductory flight in an R22 with Base4 in Cape Town. All one had to do was write no more than 1000 words about why they wanted to fly helicopters. In the mood to write and with nothing better to do, I decided to write about my few helicopters flights, and why I enjoyed them.

It turned into a lot (997 words to be precise) of waffling, and I never submitted it. A couple of weeks later I saw that the competition would close soon, and I decided “What the heck, I’ve got nothing to lose, I’ll submit my story.”

Not long after that, I received a phone call to say that I had won. I haven’t won many competitions in my short life, and all I could say was a rather unenthusiastic “Okay, cool, that’s great.” It took a couple of hours for it to sink in.

On Monday 7 November, I made my way to Cape Town International for my flight. The staff at Base4 were friendly and welcoming, and I met my instructor, signed my life away (indemnity form), and then my instructor and I sat down and talked aerodynamics.

Helicopters are like fixed wings, they just have more parts that can break. After much nodding and me thinking “Yup, that term sounds familiar... I know how that works... Okay, I didn’t know that applied to helicopters”, we made our way to the chopper.

My instructor explained every aspect of the pre-flight to me, and we probably spent over 20 minutes on that alone. And during all that time I kept thinking “I can’t believe I’m going to willingly strap myself into an R22!”

Eventually the time did come to climb into the chopper. I was told to sit in the right seat (opposite to fixed wing) and make myself comfortable. The R22 is about as cramped at the Cubby, and the anti-torque pedals aren’t in line with the seat, so your legs and feet are at a funny angle, which was mildly annoying.

Start-up is much like that of a fixed wing. I’ve never liked the sound of the R22, and always thought of it as a lawnmower. Ironically, it’s equipped with the Lycoming O-320 engine, which is what the Super Cub I flew the other day has. Hmmm... It sounds better on a Super Cub.

By the time we were ready to go, we were both melting; it was a hot day and the large perspex windows didn’t help reduce the heat. So it was a welcome relief when we took power and some cool air flowed in through the vents in the doors.

I followed on the controls throughout the take-off, and once we were safely routing to Muizenberg, I was allowed full control of the cyclic. Which was a weird and new sensation! The 22 is equipped with a ‘Teetering T-bar’, and the best way to describe that is: it’s a central control column, with another bar attached perpendicularly at the top, forming a ‘T’. That other bar can be moved up or down without having an effect on the rotor blades; it’s purely for pilot comfort (if you tilt it down, you can rest your hand on your leg).

In order to manipulate the blades, you need to move that bar left and right, or back and forth. But I kept accidentally moving it up and down instead of left and right. The trick, I discovered after a few minutes, was to just move your fingers, not your whole hand.

I managed to keep us straight and (almost) level, and attempted a few turns. They say that if you can fly an R22, you can fly anything. I found it much easier to fly than the Huey. But maybe that’s because I was shaking with excitement when I flew the Huey, and it possess a lot more inertia than the little R22.

Then I was given control of the collective, which was also a bit of a weird sensation, but easy enough to get used to. After playing around a bit, my instructor demonstrated an autorotation. It’s one thing experiencing weightlessness in a fixed wing, but it’s unpleasant in a helicopter...

However, being able to land on a patch of grass in the middle of nowhere was really cool! Well okay, we didn’t touch down; he flared just before the ground, brought us into the hover, and then climbed towards the sea and gave me control once again.

We routed along the coast for a couple of minutes and then returned to Cape Town. One thing I’ve always struggled with when flying helicopters in flightsim, is the approach and landing. Real life was no exception, and I wasn’t entirely sure of what to do. But that’s why I had an instructor!

We reached the ground without bumping into it, and proceeded to hover a bit. My instructor showed me what to do in order to hover, doing 360’s a couple of times to make sure no one was behind us (I think he was bored and wanted to have some fun and show off), and then ATC (air traffic control) got a bit annoyed because we didn’t state our intentions.

So we hover-taxi’d to the Base4 hangar and I was given the opportunity to try my hand at hovering. First I had to crab along to the little circle where we were to land, then pick a reference point, and make sure we didn’t drift left, right, backwards, forwards, up or down. And I managed to kind of keep us above the circle. My reference point was the corner of a bus, and the thoughts going through my head were “Small movements. Don’t over-correct. Don’t let the tail hit the ground. Don’t let the tail hit the ground!”

But there I was keeping a little helicopter almost-steady, for the very first time in my life. I was chuffed, and even my instructor said that that was good for someone that had never hovered before.

After we landed he showed me the toys in the Base4 hangar, and I met some other helicopter pilots and engaged in the usual fixed-wing/fling-wing banter. Needless to say they all felt sorry for the ‘poor fixed wing pilot’, and asked when I was going to start my helicopter training. I just laughed and asked them if they would sponsor me.

A very big thank you to Base4 for the opportunity! I never thought I’d climb into an R22 (I’m not fond of them), but it just goes to show that there’s a first time for everything.

08 November 2011

Flying the Super Cub

Ever heard of Kyle Franklin, aka Ben Whabnoski? C’mon, the dude with the drunk pilot routine... Go and paste the following link, or Google "Kyle Franklin, drunk pilot" http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QESHF6bBk6E

After watching that video, I thought “Is it really possible for a Super Cub to do that?”
On the weekend, I got my answer.

I’ve had the opportunity to fly the Piper Super Cub twice, I’ve also flown the Piper Cub, and Tiger Moth, and out of those three, I liked the Tiger Moth the best. I think the Super Cub was my least favourite, and I never really appreciated it. Until last weekend when I did a conversion on to it.

It’s quite a big machine, roomy interior, 150hp engine up front, beautiful metal propeller, long sturdy legs (undercarriage), and big wings with big flaps. It’s a workhorse, and oh so lovely.

The first part of my conversion consisted of a history of the Piper Cub’s. Then identifying the differences between the Cub and Super Cub. And then a quick breakdown of the different models of Super Cubs. I was then given the Super Cub’s poh (pilot’s operating handbook), and told to study it.

Study what? It consisted of about 40 pages. Performance graphs? Who cares about take-off and landing distances? Weight and balance envelopes, what are those?! Google is normally my friend, but I still struggled to find more material on the aircraft. So I read what I had, and prayed I would remember all of it.

Not much later, the day came to fly it. The aircraft’s owner was my instructor, and he did what he does almost every time I fly with him; he said “I’m not here. Do what you think you’re supposed to do.” Now, I can’t describe how nervous I was about potentially breaking this man’s pride and joy.

Everything went fine until the run-ups. The mag-selector is old, and it’s difficult to feel the indents as you change mags. And sparky over here turned the handle just a bit too far, so instead of switching from the right mag to the left mag, I skipped left and went straight to OFF. While the engine was running at 1800rpm. The backfire scared the pants off of me, and I wished the earth would open up and swallow me.

That mistake meant I was kicking myself for the rest of the flight (circuits), which meant that I flew like an idiot. I was upset, I was angry, I was scared of the aircraft; I like to think that I’m relatively good at flying, but that day, I really screwed up.

But things changed with my second flight...

Before starting, I fiddled with the mag-selector and got a feel for it; I wasn’t going to make the same mistake twice!

The plan: short-field take-offs, stop-and-go’s, upper air work, and circuits.

Now, when they say short-field take-off, they really do mean short. Full flap, full power, release brakes. All you have to do is keep it on the black; the plane will fly when it wants to fly (it normally leaves the ground 150-200ft or 45-60m from the starting point). And when it does fly, it climbs like a homesick angel.

The circuits were a mix of one notch of flaps, full flaps, wheelers and three-point landings. I found wheelers to be the easiest, whereas with the Cubby, it’s easier to do a three-pointer.

For the upper air work, we started with slow flight. Which progressed to slow flight with full flaps. Then stalls. Then steep turns with and without flaps. And we also did an incipient spin.

Because I was scared of the plane, my instructor showed me exactly what it could do... It’s more than happy to bumble along with full flaps, throttle about 1/4 open, and the speed below 40mph (the markings on the airspeed indicator stop at 40mph). It was so incredibly stable, even though there was a fair amount of turbulence; just try and maintain altitude, as soon as it nears the stall, lower the nose a bit. Rinse and repeat.

And stalling was a dream; not violent, little to no wing drop, and very easy and fast recovery with minimum height loss.

Then he had fun and did things like throwing it into a steep turn with the greatest of ease, forces sucking you into the (incredibly comfortable) seat. Climbing without a problem, letting it mush along with very little forward speed. And if he ever did something that the aircraft didn’t like; it would give him a warning before biting. Throughout all of this, I couldn’t stop laughing. I found the performance of this aircraft so amazing.

After that, we went back to Stellenbosch, and I was feeling good. I managed a simulated engine failure, and after landing my instructor told me to vacate the runway, which I found odd because he said we would do some more circuits. I thought it might be because my PTT (push to talk) had popped out and lodged itself between the floor and fuselage (so I couldn’t transmit on the radio). So imagine my surprise when I looked to my right and saw that my instructor had climbed out of the plane and was standing on the taxi-way.

‘You’ve got to be kidding me,’ I thought to myself. ‘This is the second time an instructor has jumped out like that. The first time was when I was sent on my very first solo. Could that mean...’ My thoughts were interrupted by a “So, would you like to do some solo circuits?”


So with the PTT replaced, instructor walking back to the hangar, and with no one sitting behind me, I taxi’d to the holding point of runway 01 while telling myself “Don’t break the plane, don’t break the plane, this is amazing, don’t break the plane!”

I kept things simple and did what I knew best; a standard flapless take-off (which was almost as short as the short-field take-off), a three-point landing with full flaps. A wheeler with one notch of flaps. And then another wheeler, also with one notch of flaps (I was going to do a flapless, but I forgot the approach speed...)

It’s true what they say; “The Piper Cub is the safest airplane in the world. It can just barely kill you.” - Max Stanley. It’s so stable, and so responsive, and if you fly the speeds and respect the plane and listen to it when it starts getting unhappy, you’ll be amazed at what you can do (I’d love to try the trick where they land on the left wheel, then change to the right, then left again :) )

There are very few things that are as satisfying as the bump and squeak of the main gear coming into contact with the runway, followed by the frantic pushing of rudder medals to keep the nose pointing in one direction, the speed decreasing, the tail slowly dropping, and the little bounce as the tail wheel settles on the ground.

04 November 2011

Western Cape Regional Aerobatic Competition

On 29 October 2011, Saldanha Airfield played host to the WC Regional Aerobatic Competition. Thanks to the hard work of Stuart Saward, the Sport Aerobatic Club of SA, Audi Centre Cape Town (who sponsored the event), the competitors, and the fans and wannabe competitiors, the event was a huge success!

Things kicked off around 10am, and only started to wind down as the sun began to sink below the horizon. The competitors put both themselves and their aircraft through their places in a bid to be the best.

A number of aircraft flew in on the day to support the event. Competitors included locals, amateurs, as well as some big names in aerobatics, and seeing each of them graciously take to the sky in their high-performance machines was amazing! A first in SA was a member of the military taking part in a civilian competition... and not only that, but he also competed in the turbine PC-7.

Because it wasn't an airshow, spectators were allowed the freedom to walk right up to the aircraft, and chat to the pilots. Two Silver Falcons aircraft were parked amongst all the GA aircraft. It was the first time I got to see the PC-7's up close, touch them, and be invited to stand on the wing and take a look at the cockpit.

I also got to meet 4 of the 5 Silver Falcons team members. The icing on the cake was Mark Hensman's display in the highly-manoeuvrable MX-2 once the competition had ended. Mark's routine had us jumping for joy, gasping in surprise, and diving for cover. I don't think I've ever seen an aircraft fly quite like that.

Long story short, it was a GREAT weekend!

26 October 2011

Life... is the Pitts

I know I’ve been quite quiet. Things have been busy, what with preparing briefings for my instructor’s rating and procrastinating.

Yesterday (Tuesday), I was at the airfield debating whether or not I should go fly, when I had the opportunity to see 3 professional aerobatic pilots run through their formation routine during a briefing, and I also got to see and chat to two pilots of the South African Air Force.

But the best was having the opportunity to take the following photos, and realising that its days like those that I live for.

Yup, life really is the Pitts... x3! ;)

14 October 2011

The Art of Teaching

After passing the instructor's ratings exams, I hit the briefings. On average, someone wanting to be an instructor will complete about 40hrs of briefings before qualifying. Doesn't seem like too much, right?

But what people don't realise is the amount of time and effort that goes into those briefings. One briefing can take between 5 and 15hrs to prepare. And then it still has to be presented, refined, and sometimes, completely reworked.

But that's still not bad. No, the really tricky bit is making the transition to 'teacher mode'. What's also difficult is trying to pretend that your instructor (the person you're presenting the briefing to) is someone that know's nothing about flying.

It's all good and well throwing a briefing together and going over it a few times in front of your mirror or dog, but standing in front of a room with a whiteboard marker in your hand while trying to explain the Principles of Flight in the most simple manner while still trying to convey all the important info is no easy task.

It doesn't help that one of the important things is to be able to take a flying scenario, and compare it to some normal, everyday scenario, otherwise your student will sit there with his/her eyes glazed over and mouth hanging open. Unfortunately I lack both life experience and imagination, so sometimes I really struggle to come up with examples.

If I'm honest, I'm enjoying myself. I've only presented two topics (Aircraft Systems and Principles of Flight. Presented both of them twice), one of which I decided to completely redo (Principles of Flight has always managed to catch me out, and it looks like it will continue to do so). It's tough, but I enjoy the challenge.

25 September 2011

Sling Around The World

The South African designed and built 4-seater Sling aircraft, manufactured by ‘The Airplane Factory’, caused a stir when the manufacturers decided to fly it around the world. Pilots Mike and Jean departed Johannesburg on 7 August 2011, and so began their epic journey.

They completed 20 legs, some exceeding 18hrs of flying, and they had the opportunity to travel to 14 different countries. Some 47 days after leaving South Africa and travelling in an easterly direction around the earth, they returned home after a gruelling 27 hour leg from Rio de Janeiro (Brazil), to Cape Town (South Africa) on 23 September 2011.

After clearing customs at Cape Town International, they made the short flight to Stellenbosch Airfield where friends and aviation enthusiasts gathered to welcome them home.

For the first time in a while, the Stellenbosch Flying Club was buzzing with people. It was cool seeing a few aircraft fly in, as well as seeing random members of the public pitching up to see the Sling arrive.


10 September 2011

Instructor's Rating Exam 2 of 2

Another one down, another one done, another one bites the dust!

Friday was the day... Applied Navigation and Meteorology was waiting for me, and after taking in the wonderful smell of fresh coffee coming from the kitchen in the Heli building, I walked into that exam room thinking "If I don't pass this, it's my own fault; I should've put more effort in."

Well, I passed it. There were 50 questions, most of which were on Meteorology. There were also a couple of Flight Planning ones (take-off distances etc). The Met questions were the usual tricky ones that are so vague the answer could be anything. Eish.

During my PPL, Principles of Flight and Air Law were my worst exams. During my CPL Nav, Met and Air Law were my worst exams. And now I've gone and written combinations of those exams and passed first time. It feels good!

Hey-yo, it's off to prepare briefings I go!

05 September 2011

Maun, Botswana

Thursday 1 September – Friday 2 September

I’ve wanted to go to Maun for months having never been there before, but getting there would be a problem; flights are in excess of R3500, and driving wouldn’t be much cheaper. I tried to save as much money as possible, but I was struggling. But then things changed.

A charter came up, and there was an open seat. When I first heard about it, I refused to get my hopes up; we first had to make sure that I would be able to go with, and flights like these often get cancelled at the last minute. A few days before the flight we (my dad, who would be flying, and I) received confirmation that the flight was still on, and that I was going with, but it was only the day before the flight that I started getting excited.

Waiting for a 737 to take off at Cape Town

We would only be in Maun for one night, so all that was required was a change of clothes. Which is probably a good thing; we wanted to keep the weight down so that we could carry enough fuel to make the trip in one (3 hour) leg.

We took off from Cape Town on (a somewhat chilly and cloudy) Thursday morning. It wasn’t long before the lush green mountains of the Western Cape gave way to harsher, drier terrain. The landscape became flatter and flatter, and every time I looked out the window, it had changed.

Sand as far as the eye can see

Rocky. Dunes. Almost completely flat with salt pans. The Orange River. Sand with some bushes. Sand with some grass. A bit of water here and there. And then... Maun. After over 2 hours of looking at sand, I saw the Thamalakane River, and after searching a bit, I realised that the dry, barren area I was looking at is Maun.

Welcome to Maun

I knew it would be dry, but I didn’t realise how much of a desert it is; one only really sees the photos of the lush green Delta. We were instructed to join on right base for runway 08. We found the ATC’s (air traffic controllers) in Botswana to be very good, once you figure out what they’re saying; they talk really fast.

Maun International is expanding, and they’re in the process of building a new runway. The ramp was packed with C206’s, C208’s, C207’s, Airvans, ATR’s, and even a DC-3. Here’s this little airport buzzing with arrivals and departures (it’s much busier than Cape Town), and it’s in the middle of nowhere. Weird.

Apart from the sand, the other thing I noticed once we landed was how hot it is (the heat hit us as soon as we descended to join for landing). It was probably around 30degC, and that’s quite normal for winter! From chilly 18deg weather in beautiful green Cape Town, to this... that’s not what I saw in the photos!

But I soon forgot about the heat and instead focused on the arrivals and departures. At least 5 Caravans departed in the space of 5 minutes. I’ve never seen so many Caravans in one place before!

After tucking the plane in for the night we cleared customs and immigration (which was a lot less painful than in Cape Town). There were several reasons why I went on this trip, 1.) To gain experience on the Cessna Mustang, 2.) To complete my first international flight, 3.) To see what Maun is like, 4.) Do look (beg) for work.

So after finding out where the offices of the various charter companies are, I set out with a stack of CV’s, a smile on my face, and what was once a very nice, crisp, clean shirt, which after a 3hr flight and about 45minutes on the ground in Maun, was now crinkled and sweaty.

There are 7 charter companies in Maun; Wilderness Air, Safari Air, Mack Air, Kavango Air, Moremi Air, Delta Air, and Major Blue Air (the new kids on the block). Their offices are located within 400m of each other, which is rather convenient when you’re running up and down between them (most of the chief pilot’s were out to lunch, so I had to keep going back and forth between the companies in the hopes that I might catch them before they go fly).

These guys are used to low-time pilots asking for work, so I’m sure they weren’t surprised to see me (but I think I stood out in my white shirt and black pants with smart shoes; everyone wears shorts and plakkies around there).

For those of you that are hoping to find work there, here’s what I was told:
Botswana isn’t issuing work permits. There are a number of locals that are looking for flying jobs, so the rest of us must wait. Hopefully things will come right in the next few months.

Working conditions can be tough. Most companies require a minimum of 250hrs, but 500hrs is preferable (obviously), and they also don’t want people that are too young or too old.

An Instructor’s Rating and experience as an Instructor might give you an advantage.

“We aren’t hiring now, try in December.”

So it’s looking quite bleak, but at least I’ve met the chief pilots (all of which are very friendly and helpful) and they’ve seen me. Now it’s a case of bugging them with updated CV’s. Bring it on!

It was after 5pm when we left the airport and made our way to where we would be staying. Maun is very much like Oranjemund, only bigger and they have a Nando's and Wimpy. The streets are lined with sand, the buildings are small and weathered, and the people are friendly. I imagine that life in Maun is very simple.

There are more donkeys roaming the streets than there are dogs. Grass is almost non-existent, and when you do find some, it’s yellow and straw-like. But the river banks are flooded; fences and signs are almost completely underwater. It’s quite a stark contrast.

Another thing I’m not used to are the driver’s; while there are plenty of taxi’s just like in Cape Town, everyone drives at about 60km/h, and the taxi drivers drive the slowest. At first I thought it might be due to the lack of streetlights, but they drive like that during the day too. Go figure. Botswana has very little tolerance for crime, and there are posters everywhere that remind you of that little fact.

We were staying at the hotel section of the Maun Lodge, which is right next to the Thamalakane River. It’s a 3-star hotel, and while my room had a boring view of the road, all I had to do was walk down the hall to get a view of the river.

Maun Lodge

After a quick look around and a change of clothes, we drove to the Island Safari Lodge, which is a couple of kilometres from the centre of Maun. On the way there the sun started to set, and it was amazing; as it gets lower on the horizon the layer of sand and dust give it a brilliant red/orange glow.

What all the roads used to be like

The Island Safari Lodge has been around for over twenty years, and it’s gorgeous. The river is calm and the only sounds are those of the birds and monkeys (I think. They looked monkey-ish) and the bugs. I could’ve sat by the river bank all night, but when the mozzies came out and my stomach started to grumble, we decided to head back to the hotel.

There are two restaurants at the Maun Lodge, but it seemed that the one was more suited to conferences, and as it was completely empty, we opted to go to The Boma instead.

“Boma” means enclosure, and this is exactly what this was. Surrounded by a wall of thin pieces of wood, tables were located around the edges under a large thatched roof, with a large open sand area with some trees and a roaring fire in the middle.

Dinner was a buffet with all the usual stuff (salads, potatoes, veggies, rice), but it also had some other things like Mexican salad (I still don’t know what meat was in there. I hope it wasn’t something really exotic like donkey...) pap and goat stew. There was also stir-fry, and what was really cool about that was that you could decide what you wanted, and then the chef would cook it for you right then and there. As for dessert; there was chocolate cake, cheese cake, and fruit salad. I helped myself to both the chocolate and cheese cake. Everything was delicious and the staff were very friendly and helpful.

By about 8pm the temperature had cooled to somewhere in the low 20ies, and the live music that ranged from Afrikaans songs to African songs to some other stuff I couldn’t identify, and the roaring fire made for a very relaxed atmosphere.

On Friday morning I woke up at 0545, and when I looked out the window the sky was light. It was chilly, but thankfully it was nothing like the icy chill we get in the Cape. We were at the airport by 7am, and we set about getting the plane ready for the flight back to Cape Town.


There would be 3 other people on the return flight, so the weight had to be calculated carefully. We wouldn’t be able to take enough fuel to get us to Cape Town, so we would stop in Upington to refuel.

To give you an idea of how busy it is in Maun; we had to wait about 15minutes for the arrivals and departures before we were cleared to take-off. And this was at 8am. With three aircraft on Final, one vacating the runway and one lining up for take-off, it seemed a little bit like Heathrow.

Unfortunately we didn’t have time to fly over the Delta, so after taking off from runway 08, we turned right over the town and routed directly to Upington. Farewell Maun.

The flight was rather boring, and I alternated between looking out of the window, trying to understand the Garmin 1000 system, and trying to understand the Controller’s (I think the Garmin was easier to understand).

After almost an hour and a half we crossed the border and were back in South Africa. I’d never been to Upington before, but it’s much like Maun and Oranjemund; located near a river, dry, and desolate. The airport was quite nice; there were a few aircraft that were in storage, one or two light aircraft, and two scheduled flights (Air Link) arrived shortly after we did.

South Africa/Botswana border

The terminal is very smart and modern. Clearing customs was a breeze (we were the only ones there), and we had a bite to eat while waiting for the fuel guys to finish with the scheduled flights. For those of you that don’t know; Upington has one of the longest runways in the world.


Fed and watered, it was back into the Mustang for the last leg; another 1.5hrs of almost-complete boredom. But at least the view from FL320 is quite good.

Once again, the scenery changed every time I looked out of the window, but this time it went from flat, to hills, to mountains, to green, to green mountains. We passed overhead the Tankwa River, near Clanwilliam. The last time I was here it was in the Cubby, and I was bumbling along at FL065.

Tankwa River

Cape Town was cloudy and rainy, with strong winds. As soon as I got out of the aircraft I wished I was back in Maun with the sound of Caravans buzzing around, the friendly people, the warm weather, and the simplicity of the place.

Island Safari Lodge