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