HANKS AERO NEWS
Clicking on the buttons above will take you to articles published in our newsletter, AFRICAN FLYER . They contain highlights of some of our client's Self-Fly Safari® adventures. The periodical was discontinued after 2002.
TAKE-OFF TO ADVENTURE!
Self-Fly Safari’s®: Individuals and Escorted Groups
Lifting off into the vast African sky on a Self-Fly Safari® is a takeoff to adventure! When a fleet of light airplanes get airborne one after another on a group safari the options and the stories know no bounds! Hanks Aero Adventures launched two groups into Africa in 2003. Nick and Christina led the first – a flight of seven aircraft from Johannesburg South Africa north into Zambia and back. Later in the season three couples took off in a loose gaggle of aircraft on their own without the Hanks’ in the lead.
TALES FROM THE BUSH…
We were on an afternoon game drive out of Mashatu Lodge in Botswana’s Tuli block getting our fill of eland and impala sightings as sunset approached. Bashi, our native-born ranger, drove around a corner and pulled to a halt just a few yards from a pride of lions just waking up from their customary afternoon nap. It would be a while before the lions actually set out on their evening hunt so Bashi drove us to the top of a koppie (hill), stopped, pulled out the Landrover’s portable bar, and began serving drinks. We’d follow the pride later. Two other game-viewing vehicles with the rest of the “Malibu Flyers” party lumbered in for the “sundowner” break. The drinks and canapés went down easily and conversations recapped the lions and other sightings from the afternoon drive. With the sun below the horizon Bashi packed up the bar, the game spotters unfurled their spotlights. A few of disappeared into the darkening bush for a last minute “pit stop” while others settled into the landrovers.
A spotlight flickered to life and swept the terrain surrounding the party. One of the group, relieving himself in the privacy afforded by the fading light, caught a glimmer of light just a few yards away from where he stood. The spotter saw it, too, and immediately raised an alarm. Lights from the other vehicles swept the darkness revealing, one-by-one, eight lions crouching behind rocks and shrubbery and taking positions in a simple stalk and ambush formation around our party!
Within seconds our bush guides Bashi, One-Eyed John, and Dan ordered everyone into the vehicles. “The lions are here and they’re surrounding us! Get in the landrover NOW!”
It’s a testament to the discipline and dexterity of the group that no one needed to be asked twice and not a drop of drink was spilled in the ensuing scramble into the safety of the vehicles!
The full group was 15 people in three C-182’s, a Cherokee Six and a C-172 flying 12 days around South Africa, Botswana, Namibia and Zambia. Christina and Nick escorted the group in their Helio Courier H295 with South African Johann Prinsloo along as flight engineer flying his Cherokee Six.
Dick Perschau, an MD in Austin, Texas, first expressed interest to us in forming a group for an escorted group flight in southern Africa in 2003. Because Dick owns a Piper Malibu the group became known as the “Malibu Flyers.” Accompanying Dick was his friend Carol Denton.
Gary Proctor, a California attorney and his wife, Sandy, signed on early for the trip. At it’s conclusion they extended their flight two extra days at Phinda Forest Lodge.
Bill Gamble, an attorney from San Louis Obispo, California, friends of the Proctors, and companion Kim Nguyen were also along. Perschau, Proctor, and Gamble each flew the trip in a C-182.
Since Bill was usually the first pilot to launch on flying days he was often the first to talk with ATC facilities along the way. His friendly, self-assured transmissions sometimes contained hilarious malapropisms (‘we’re estimating arrival at ‘Pittsburgh’ at 1300 ‘Greenwich Village Time’”). That stopped puzzled controllers dead in their vocal tracks. ATC quickly realized that an unusual group was on the fly and their requests to the rest of the flight were pared down and simple. Kim, a flyer but not a pilot, would pass the hours comfortably in the right seat listening to CD’s on her headphones, or sleeping all the way to the next luxury lodge!
Penny Montgomery and Jan and Greg Goodall, longtime friends from Moran and Breckinridge, Texas, flew the Safari in the Cherokee Six with Johann Prinsloo. Penny, now into her 70’s earned her Private Pilot license just a few years ago and then added an instrument rating with Field Morey on an IFR West Coast Adventure. Greg runs an independent oil company and Jan is a Certified Flight Instructor. Both are talented photographers and their documentation of the safari is available on DVD.
Dr. Gordon Levin and his wife Judy joined the group and invited their friends Brad and Diane Shore of Mill Valley, California to come along. Gordon, a former Navy Flight Surgeon with an ATP rating, practices orthopedic surgery in Los Gatos, California. They flew the trip in a C-210.
On the ground, while the pilots oversaw the refueling of their aircraft, Judy Levin often led the ladies (and any men who were interested) on brisk walks around the airport ramp. Given a tour in which the normal routine is to eat, game drive, eat, sleep, eat, fly – repeated daily for two weeks – the refueling stops provided a rare opportunity for a little exercise.
Helmut Summer, a retired California developer and wife, Jean Ralston, flew a C-172. Helmut was closest to that marauding pride of lions we encountered just after sunset.
But Helmut’s warning of a lion ambush was not his only adventure. Just after getting airborne from the dirt airstrip at Kayila, Zambia, he scanned his airspeed indicator and noticed it read zero. He quickly assured himself that the airplane was still flying and continued on to that night’s destination, Impalila Island Lodge in Namibia’s eastern Caprivi Strip. Johann Prinsloo checked the Pitot tube and discovered that Helmut had skewered a bug. Johann took the tube apart and cleared the blockage. Good aim Helmut!
Jean Ralston, who always travels prepared for anything, had with her a pharmacopoeia of salves and remedies that she gladly made available to anyone in need. Three of the group suffered bouts of traveler’s diarrhea but with two MD’s along (Dick and Gordon) the group was able to keep moving.
Victoria Falls is a “must see” destination on any Self-Fly Safari®. We recommend visiting the Falls at Livingstone, Zambia. For many years we chose the Zimbabwean side but political unhappiness has left the supply of avgas scarce and very expensive. Not so in Livingstone – situated just across the river!
Pilots can overfly the famous Falls on arrival and, on the ground, peer over precipitous ledges that drop 300-feet into the Zambezi gorge below. The hardier members of any safari can work up an appetite plunging over rapids and swirling past whirlpools on inflatable rafts. Others may prefer to sip gin ‘n’ tonics on a leisurely riverboat sunset cruise on slow flowing sections of the river.
Most visitors stay one or two nights at Livingstone as a refreshing changeup from a series of stops at wilderness camps in the remote African bush. But a contingent of the Malibu Flyers group opted for an extended visit.
In this instance we’d planned a one-night stop at the Falls’ 5-star Royal Livingstone Hotel. This newly constructed hotel exudes elegant, colonial-era charm and offers more pampering than a guest could possibly take advantage of in the course of a single night stop. The itinerary called for flying to Mvuu Lodge in Zambia’s pristine Lower Zambezi Valley – a decidedly rustic camp. What would it be? Colonial luxury or rustic Africa?
Since everyone had their own aircraft there was no problem. With the understanding that they would forfeit the cost of the Mvuu accommodations and pay extra for the additional nights in Livingstone, the group split up. Three days later we rejoined forces at Livingstone airport as we refueled and cleared Customs and Immigration enroute to Namibia’s Caprivi Strip. Who got what?
Those who opted for extra nights in Livingstone enjoyed 1) several hours of massage in a private tent on the Hotel lawn beside the Zambezi; 2) full makeover and hairdo in the Hotel’s beauty salon; 3) leisurely walk to the Victoria Falls; 4) a serene sunset cruise on the Zambezi’s quiet waters; 5) overflying the Falls in an ultralight; 6) whitewater rafting; 7) bungee jumping from the Victoria Falls’ Bridge; 8) relaxing in their splendid air-conditioned hotel room; 9) bargaining and buying things at the craft market next to the Falls; 10) many wonderful meals in the dining rooms (but service was slow)…
The contingent that flew on to Mvuu Lodge came back with a different story. After refueling their aircraft at Lusaka International Airport they flew on to Kayila – a grass and dirt airstrip with parking under a large mabula tree. Elephant’s, hippos, baboons, antelope and other animals are more likely to be on the airstrip than an aircraft. We glided down the Zambian Escarpment towards Kayila airstrip, flew the downwind leg over Zimbabwe, and short final approach over the crocodile-infested Zambezi River.
Staff greeted us at the airstrip with refreshing, cool drinks and ferried us to the lodge in motorboats. Guests stay in large, walk-in size tents. Mvuu accommodations are set up within earshot of each other and they lack the decorative frills common in many higher-costing camps. Nonetheless, each tent has beds, linen, hot showers or tubs, and flush toilets. The focus of activity at Mvuu is the river with sorties from camp in canoes and motor boats for fishing and game viewing along the banks. Formal game drives at Mvuu are often less productive than at other camps but game wanders freely through the camp itself!
During our two-night stay we had to keep an eye on a large, solitary bull elephant who wandered in uninvited. What does a bull elephant do in a rustic bush camp? Anything he wants!
This elephant spent a good part of one morning moseying from tent to tent uprooting shrubs and snapping off tree branches. His presence gets the attention of camp staff as well as the guests. As cameras clicked we were told to retreat every time the huge animal moved towards us.
Johann and Carol had to take refuge in one of the tents when the elephant blocked the path to the main lodge. The elephant backed into the side of the tent as it maneuvered to reach a branch. At a moment like this – close enough to count the hairs on the elephant’s tail – conversation stops! Even breathing gets quiet. You do your best to avoid sneezing or doing anything else that might startle the huge tusker.
Later we paddled canoes for game viewing along the river banks. We watched as a skittish herd of buffalo drank from the river. We stopped on an island midstream for morning tea and kept an eye open for crocodiles and hippos. The Zambezi is not a place to go swimming.
Fishing is a different story. Bream and tigerfish are plentiful and the camp supplied rods, reels, tackle and a guide who knows the river. Nearly everyone tried their hand. The men got skunked. Jan and Penny got bites. Jean Ralston actually caught one of the fanged fish. She presented it to the staff who cooked it over the campfire and we all had a taste. The kitchen at Mvuu provided some of the tastiest meals we had anywhere on the trip.
At the end of our stay we flew low-level upstream along the Zambezi River and Lake Kariba before going direct to Livingstone to refuel and for Customs and Immigration formalities leaving Zambia.
There we re-joined forces with the six who had remained at Livingstone. They looked fresh, relaxed and happy while the others were glib with the new layer of dust they’d picked up at Mvuu Lodge!
CLOSE ENCOUNTER OF THE INTIMATE SORT…
A frequently asked question to people who’ve been on safari is ‘Did you see a kill?’. Some people are fortunate to witness a lion taking down an impala or a buffalo but most people never do. But, even rarer than a kill is to witness a moment of conception.
Our vehicle emerged from the woodland onto an open plain with a large herd of elephants visible. Suddenly we noticed a half dozen of them running and kicking up a trail of dust. Bashi, our ranger, took up the chase – “bundu bashing” (off road game driving) – over rocks and gullies. He quickly reached where the running elephants had stopped and switched off the engine just 10 yards away.
The spectacle was transfixing. As we watched, awestruck, the male mounted one of the females in the procreative act. When it was done, we suppose, one baby elephant was launched and on its way to planet earth due to arrive 22 months hence!
GREAT PICTURES: WHAT YOU SEE IS WHAT YOU GET…
As a courtesy at the beginning of a game drive many rangers ask their guests “What would you like to see this time?” You say what you say but it’s the luck of the draw and ‘what you see is what you get!’ When Ranger John asked the question one afternoon Greg Goodall, jokingly answered: ‘I’d like National Geographic quality tape of a leopard.’ There was laughter but no dissenting voice. And, before the sun had set, Greg had nearly run out of tape shooting one of the most extraordinary leopard sightings any of us have ever seen.
Leopards are often the most elusive of the Big Five animals. They are shy and like to hide in thickets and emerge only under cover of darkness to hunt. But this guy, that day, was different.
Ranger John got a radio call from another vehicle saying they’d spotted a leopard but lost him in dense bush. John knew the leopard in that area – a juvenile male, about 18-months old, and recently parted from his mother. This particular one was too big to qualify as a ‘kitten’ (cub is the appropriate word) but he had not yet outgrown the playful kittenish qualities common to all felines.
Enroute to the sighting we crossed a wide dry riverbed and there, in plain view, was the leopard. Far from being elusive and shy, this little leopard was playing with balls of elephant dung like a cat with a catnip toy. He’d roll around, bat the ball, jump off the ground, pounce, run in a circle, and startle himself with his own shadow!
After a few minutes of that he sprinted across the riverbed kicking up sand and launched himself into a tree. He ran up one branch, jumped to another, ran down and back up again, over and over! When he tired of that he sat down for a short rest (a pose), panting, in full view of the vehicles. Suddenly he gave a low guttural bark, got up, and disappeared into the bush.
After a brief stunned silence one voice piped up: “THAT was the cat’s meow!’” Ranger John grinned “Any other requests?” Another voice had the good sense to call for drinks.
David Brown, his wife Amy, and her sister, Susan Williams flew together as a threesome in a C-182. The Browns live in Virginia Beach, Virginia where David is an engineer for Plasser Rail, an Austrian company producing railway maintenance machines. David paid a visit to Plasser’s South African subsidiary during his visit and was treated with extraordinary South African hospitality.
The Browns’ safari stopped at Deception Valley, a lodge in the Kalahari Desert about 60nm south of Maun. Though lions sometimes walk through camp at night, Deception Valley is best known as a place for an encounter with Bushmen. The terrain is flat and scrubby.
Visitors spend a morning in the bush with two San (one of the bushman tribes) who talk about the medicinal uses of indigenous plants and demonstrate techniques of tracking and hunting and predicting weather! Equally entertaining is hearing their chatter – the famous ‘click’ sounds that are part and parcel of the bushman native language. A ranger translates into English.
“I took a picture of the Bushmen around the fire when they were having their “puppet” perform a dance to predict the weather (he forecast an approaching cold front).
“This was as close as we could get to a bonafide weather briefing. Could this be the future of “Automated Flight Service Stations in the USA!?’
They also had two nights at the luxury Tongabezi Lodge at Victoria Falls – a stop that disappointed them. The lodge, 15 miles upstream from Livingstone is, by any account, a charming and unique place. However, given its hype and high price, the Browns found it “overrated” and came back saying the “service was not up to snuff”.
Kanana Camp in the Okavango Delta was their favorite. It was really nice having a three-night stay, too.” A bushbaby (a raccoon-size tree-climbing nocturnal animal that can be tamed) made regular appearances at the camp’s bar.” In the evening the frogs piped up filling the night with sounds like wooden wind chimes.
The airstrip was unique, too. We noticed when they returned that the aircraft was covered in a fine light, white powder. It wasn’t quite “mudding” but it looked as if they’d flown through a dust cloud. David reported that the Kanana airstrip was very dusty and had “fairly deep sand” mid-way down the 1000-meter runway. “You need power to taxi through this part”.
A departing C-206 kicked up a huge cloud of dust that took several minutes to settle and coated everything in the area including their plane.
“If you’re taking off here plan a short/soft field departure and get airborne before you reach the sandy part.” It proved not to be a problem for a C-182 with three occupants and baggage.
The best game viewing on any Self-Fly Safari® tends to be on the ground, in a landrover, with a guide, but the Browns reported seeing giraffe and a group of 10 elephants at a waterhole from the air in the Okavango delta.
Porcupines were another unusual sighting – Mom and Dad and a couple of babies. Elsewhere, they saw a 10-feet long African Rock Python. Python’s are not poisonous but they are one of the biggest species found in southern Africa. They are strong enough to crush and eat an impala.
At Mashatu Lodge in Botswana’s Tuli Block they were treated to close-in elephant viewing (breeding herds with young babies) and excellent leopard viewing.
The Browns began their trip with a few days in Cape Town and then took the five-star Blue Train overnight ride from Cape Town to Pretoria. If you have the time it’s a very nice experience as only South Africa can provide.
David summed up the trip saying simply “We had a spectacular time” on what was a comparatively short (10 nights enroute) Self Fly Safari®.
Steve Tarrant called us from England, back in 2002 and scheduled a license validation exercise with us in April 2003 and a Self-Fly Safari® in September. He and his wife, Teresa, being sociable people, told us they’d like to fly the route as a group with any others interested in the same thing. They liked flying with others but did not want an “escorted” trip.
This was the beginning of a simple, good idea that we dubbed “A flight among friends”.
“I was prepared to do this trip on my own,” Steve Tarrant summarized. “But because of some of the ‘aggro’ it was nice to have other people there with you wearing epaulettes”.
By September 2003 two other pilots had joined up. Jack Broomall and Lisa Barrows from Detroit, Michigan, and Los Angeles, California. Jack, with an ATP rating, works for Daimler-Chrysler. Lisa produces automotive programming for television.
Reagan Stone and Sharon Mayhall, came in from Corpus Christie, Texas. Reagan, a retired attorney, has a commercial rating and 6000 hours in C-182’s alone. He and Sharon trade commodities.
The three couples met for the first time in Johannesburg and got along well from the start. Each couple had their own aircraft. They would fly as a “loose gaggle of aircraft” and assist each other as needs arose with flight planning, radio work, pushing airplanes, or just swapping stories at the end of the day.
A faulty radio in one aircraft highlighted the benefit of flying in a group. The radios in ZS-OCD, which we had only recently acquired, worked fine on the ground but would malfunction as the flight progressed. Jack could hear but he found his transmissions were not being received.
When this happened one of the other aircraft transmitted on Jack’s behalf. That’s one way to get out of doing the radio work!
Later, the avionics shop traced the fault to overheating. Scat tubing used to cool the avionics was not installed. When the radios overheated the transmitter function failed. The radio worked again normally the next morning after the radios cooled.
We have upgraded the radios in both of our C-182’s.
Flight plans are required in Zambia for every flight including flights originating at remote bush strips. Since it is impossible to file a flight plan at a strip with no telephone or other communication facility you file them in advance and note the “DOF” (date of flight) on the flight plan form. Hanks Aero filed ALL the Zambian flight plans for all three aircraft – something we don’t normally do.
Steve, Jack and Reagan cleared inbound Customs and Immigration at Lusaka Zambia, the capital city, and climbed into their aircraft to fly another 50 miles to Kayila airstrip on the bank of the Zambezi River.
As a courtesy, Steve radioed Tower for permission to start his engine. Tower replied “No” saying that he had no onward flight plan. Steve assured her that a flight plan was in the system and even quoted the “Reference Number” for it. Tower was courteous but insistent that no flight plan was in the system and that he could not fly.
All three pilots were in the same position and they quickly did the obvious thing: they went back to the Briefing Office and filed flight plans. The only reason they hadn’t done so to begin with was because we had already filed flight plans for them.
Each pilot filed two flight plans – one for the immediate leg and the second for the subsequent leg that they would fly three days later. They took off without further problems and flew on to Kayila.
“There can be problems with the flight plans – even if Hanks Aero has pre-filed them – it’s worth going to the briefing office just to make sure,” Steve advised.
FRAILTIES IN THE AFRICAN SYSTEM…
What happened? Hanks Aero put their flight plans into “the system” through the international teletype network linking air traffic facilities throughout the world. The first flight plan got into the system and was read by Zambian ATC. But, apparently, the second flight plan (Lusaka to Kayila) was never picked up by the Zambians. (We double checked South Africa’s records and confirmed that the flight plans had, indeed, been filed and a “Reference Number” was issued.
The speculation as to why the flight plan was never read in Zambia is that 1) the teletype machine had malfunctioned, run out of ink, or switched off at the time it was transmitted; 2) it had printed out successfully but was lost or thrown away by mistake at the Lusaka office.
There is always the potential for frustrating delays at any international border. Steve, Reagan and Jack had to put up with detailed scrutiny from Customs and Immigration officials on their re-entry into South Africa at Pietersburg International Airport. Our normal experience there is usually the opposite. What should have been an hour-and-a-half turn around time turned into a 2 1/2 hour stop.
They reported that the Immigration official acted as if he had never before seen either a European Community passport (Steve) or an Irish passport (Teresa). The Immigration officer was clearly new to the job and asked questions that a more experienced authority would not have asked. Customs officers searched every bag in two of the three aircraft. In others’ experience the Inspectors simply peered through the windows into the back of the aircraft. (Your experience will be unique).
“They didn’t give us a hard time, so much. It was just tedious,” Steve commented.
Steve had one experience unique (so far) to any Self-Fly Safari® pilot. He flew into military airspace without authorization and got a reception of a South African airforce jet!
It happened returning to South Africa from Botswana. He’d crossed the border and tried to establish contact with Lowveld Information – one of several advisory ATC facilities in the area. Lowveld was busy and told him to “Standby. We’ll call you back”.
The military area is marked on the WAC chart but it was not identified on our Schematic Diagram. Steve entered the military zone without talking to it’s controller.
“I got a “Griffon (Saab, all-weather interceptor) coming at me from the right side!” he recalled. “He flew past us and came back around for another look. “I went to a discrete frequency. He told me to contact Trichardt Approach in the future”.
There were no other repercussions.
Joyce Revelle, now in her 70’s, is comfortable in Africa and knows the continent pretty well. Joyce and her late husband, Jack, had been there 10 times over previous decades hunting or just visiting people they knew. The two were both pilots and a Self-Fly Safari® had been on the cards for several years. We’d met Jack and talked with him at our booth at an AOPA Expo. Business and other obligations seemed to get in the way and before it ever took place Jack passed away.
Jack’s passing was a difficult blow for Joyce but her love of Africa remained and she promised herself to return. She persuaded her daughter Barbara, and her husband, Ron Hoover, to accompany her on a piloted Self-Fly Safari®. It was their first time in Africa. Joyce arranged a lengthy itinerary – 19 days flying – in the Cherokee Six with Johann Prinsloo flying through Namibia and the Caprivi Strip, Botswana, Zambia, and South Africa.
For Joyce the trip was a chance to see, once again, the Africa she had come to know and love. She covered new territory continuing the thrill of exploration and discovery that characterized her previous encounters with Africa where she looked up friends from visits past including the son (Terry & wife, Lily) of a safari operator (the late Lionel Palmer) who’d organized their safaris in years past.
“The amazing thing to me was how the accommodations fit the trip so perfectly,” said Ron Hoover. “You’d go from luxurious camp to a rustic tented camp. Every lodge was different and each had it’s own magic!”
“Chitwa Chitwa was just… words fail me! If I went on another honeymoon with Barbara, I’d take her there. The staff is wonderful; they’ve got a beautiful swimming pool; they’ve got a suite for a bedroom. It’s just gorgeous!” Ron told us. It was not only luxurious but responsive to our requests like none other”.
Barbara’s aim was to see Africans as they live today. At Chitwa Chitwa she visited the village where many of the camp staff members live.
“We walked around and went inside houses. We even had a session with the village sangoma (witch doctor)”, Barbara said. “We were there for 40 minutes”.
The sangoma gave Ron herbs to make him “more powerful with my wife!” he said. “She gave Barbara a remedy.”
“Camp Omarunga at Epupa Falls was my second favorite – and the most rustic” Ron said. It was great for Barbara, too: “There we met the Himba!”
Epupa Falls is in the far northwestern area of Namibia right along the border with Angola. It’s an area traditionally inhabited by people of the Himba Tribe who have had limited contact with western civilization. Some camps in the region, Epupa Falls and Skeleton Coast among them, organize visits to Himba villages.
“It was like a backpackers camp”, Ron pointed out. “There is nobody with a flashlight to walk you to your tent. You can just go for a walk without having a ranger escort you. You have to think for yourself: ‘Don’t get too close to the water because there might be crocodiles! You have a little freedom!”
Many camps in South Africa and Botswana have a firm rule that between sunset and sunrise guests are not allowed to leave their tent without an escort by camp personnel. Most bush camps are not fenced. Lions, elephants and other animals can, and often do, walk freely through camp and there have been incidents. Such instances are extremely rare but the rules are designed to prevent them.
“We went to their village to see how they really live. There are Himba that work in western clothes during the day. At night they go back to their village where they live as traditional Himba. They CHOOSE that. They see it as a simpler and a better way to live. It’s fascinating”, Ron and Barbara told us.
Joyce reported that the game viewing at Kanana was great. During a walk (‘it was a good, three-mile walk’) they “startled” a giraffe that gracefully galloped away as only a giraffe can do.
“It was the same day that our landrover got charged by seven elephants”, Ron added. “That night was a beautiful full moon night. At three o’clock in the morning I heard this ‘bumping’ sound like an earthquake! I looked out and right in front of the window an elephant was walking by lit up like daylight in the full moon.” Ron said. He woke up Barbara.
“It was the most wonderful thing that could happen,” she said. “Elephant’s walk through the camp at night. If you don’t want that, then go to another place!”
Dean Graham, now living part time in Hawaii and Pacific Palisades, California, was raised in Mondeor, South Africa, a suburb of Johannesburg. Dean is a professional helicopter pilot who flies airborne film crews in the production of commercials and movies. Several years ago Dean rented a helicopter in Durban and flew to various destinations. In 2003 he approached us and flew a C-182 for a Self-Fly Safari® with his son Evan, and his father James Camron-Dow, now living in Australia. It was a reunion of three generations. Their safari remained in South Africa except for one stop at the Tuli Safari Lodge in eastern Botswana.
Dean shaped the itinerary favoring places that catered for children. He included visits to South African friends. They stopped at Jaci’s Safari Lodge (Madikwe Game Reserve); Lapalala Lodge, a self-catering camp in the Waterburg Mountains region north of Johannesburg; and Penwarn Country Lodge, an open country setting with broad vistas at the foot of the Drakensburg near Underburg. Last was Chitwa Chitwa Game Lodge adjacent to the Kruger National Park.
Jaci’s Camp he said rated “an A+. There were a couple of other kids there for Evan to play with. Everybody there is nice”.
Tuli Safari Lodge: They spent a night in the animal hide. The staff set up dinner at the hide, gave them a radio (for emergency communications) , a spot light, clean bedding and left them there for the night. “We could hear animals all around us.”
During the day Dean and Evan watched a baboon, who kept a close watch on them. Playfully, Evan jumped up on a rock. The baboon mimicked him, and jumped up on a rock, too. Dean hoisted Evan on his shoulders. The baboon, trying to match Evan’s high stature, looked around in vain for someone to pick him up and, finding no one, disappeared into the branches of a tree to end the encounter with the human.
Monkey’s are notoriously mischievous and the Graham party had a close encounter with one. While they were out on a landrover at Lapalala a monkey got into their room.
“He had quite a party in there,” Dean recalled. “The whole room was torn apart. They got into the cabinets and the refrigerator. Clothes and food were strewn around all over the place!
They salvaged most of their clothes but anything edible was gone. This presented a problem. Lapalala is a self-catering camp (bring your own food). Unlike many American National Park facilities that have a grocery store in camp, there is none at Lapalala.
A recurring reality of southern Africa is that when a problem occurs someone appears to help solve the problem. In this case other guests in camp invited the three that night to share their meal – a barbecue dinner. (This kind of hospitality is typical of South Africa and one of the reasons visitors find the country to be such a wonderful place!)
“The best flying was low level along the coast going south from Lake Sabaya on the way to the Drakensburg,” Dean said. “We could see mantarays and sharks in the water as we went along”.
Said Evan, with characteristic enthusiasm: “Each place was the best!” Granddad was along for the ride and happy just to be with his son and grandson! The three had a great trip together!
GREAT GAME VIEWING
David Lampert and Dina Eppley came in early June for a Self-Fly Safari® that took them as far north as Victoria Falls They flew 18 days and visited some of the best destinations in southern Africa: Mashatu Lodge in the Tuli Block; Duba Plains and Sandibe in the Okavango Delta; Susuwe Lodge in Namibia’s Caprivi Strip; the River Club at Livingstone, Zambia; and the Tuli Safari Lodge and Chitwa Chitwa on the swing back south to Johannesburg.
From our perspective during safari preparations Dina did all the organizing. All David had to do was fly the airplane. A good team!
When it was all over the recurring theme of their trip was: endlessly good animal sightings. An elephant charged their landrover at Mashatu and backed off only at the very last instant before colliding.
There were other lasting images from their flight in Africa: A heart-warming scene of mewing lion cubs – kittens – sucking contentedly on their mother’s breasts. A heart wrenching scene of a mother leopard lingering next to her baby’s lifeless body that had been killed by a jealous male leopard.
At Susuwe they watched a large herd of buffalo moving in from the bush, kicking up a dust cloud, drinking from the lagoon. There was a particularly rewarding night game drive when they saw the “Little Nocturnal Five” animals: bushbaby, African wildcat, civet, genet, and the small, ferocious honey badger.
They came across a den of adult wild dogs, once endangered but now making a tentative comeback, guarding their lively litter of curious yelping tail wagging pups. They witnessed the harsh law of the jungle as a male adult zebra kicked a young foal to death in a bloody encounter rarely seen by visitors. At Chitwa Chitwa a charging elephant stopped only six inches away from the tracker who was perched in his chair on the hood!
The most memorable experience of the safari, however, is likely to linger longest in the minds of the artists and crafts vendors at the open market at Victoria Falls, Livingstone.
Visitors to the craft market are often besieged by vendors desperate to make a sale. The supply of curios and artifacts is huge and the number of customers is far too small to support them.
In walk David and Dina hoping to find a souvenir of their African safari. As the crowd of vendors began to press around them Dina, wisely, retreated to the comfort of the River Club van that had brought them to the market. David picked up a carved wooden mask from one vendor’s collection, looked it over, and asked the price. A short bargaining session followed, a price was agreed, and David bought the piece. He went to the next vendor and went through the same process again. He did it a third time with another seller. And yet again! And again.
A ripple of excitement flowed through the market. Sellers pressed around thrusting objects into his hands or just at him if they couldn’t reach him. Carved plaques depicting the Big 5, jewelry boxes, little drums, big drums, scrolls, masks of all sizes, teak statues, carvings, stone work, spears and shields, baskets, and bowls of every shape. David kept bargaining and buying. The vendors swarmed around him like ants to honey.
One vendor couldn’t penetrate the pressing crowd. He spotted Dina in the van and approached her with an object in hand: “I can’t get to The Big Man. Please buy this!” he pleaded. She did. In the end David and Dina bought more than 50 items from the Livingstone Craft Market. The vendors haven’t had such a day in years!
If you’ve got business in Africa you can plan a few extra days and get a taste of what a Self-Fly Safari® is about. It’s a perfect opportunity.
George and Carol Little, both MD’s teaching at Dartmouth Medical School, have an ongoing project with a medical school in Malawi. At the conclusion of a three-week working trip they scheduled three days game viewing in southern Botswana for themselves with Dr. Kerri Roberts and her husband, Bill, a chemist.
George flies a C-182 at home but had no time to do a license validation. Instead he took his group in the Cherokee Six with Johann Prinsloo serving as PIC. At the end of their two-night stay at Mashatu Lodge the party returned to Johannesburg and transferred that very night to a longhaul jet back to the USA.
Tim LaPage, a Colorado-based travel agent, with friend Alison Jones, a photographer from New York City visited several hotels and game lodges throughout southern Africa in April. Tim grew up in Kenya and flew small planes there in the years before going to the United States.
We set up Tim’s license validation exercises and brokered an aircraft for his travels in Mozambique and South Africa.
Bush fires burn unchecked over broad reaches of southern Africa during the dry season (April and October). Even the Okavango Delta, a perennial wetland, is not immune. It is not uncommon to see a line of flames and columns of smoke as you fly. Inversions and still air sometimes produce thick haze and reduce visibility to near-IMC levels. The fires are driven by the wind and can burn unchecked for days in wilderness areas. Efforts to extinguish the fires are taken only if lives and property are threatened.
In 2003 we’d booked several safaris into Xudum Camp, northwest of Maun. Early in the season Xudum was caught in the path of a bush fire and burned to the ground despite efforts to save it.
We keep abreast of developments affecting safaris throughout southern Africa. When fire destroyed Xudum we reserved space for clients nearby at a camp called Camp Kanana.
We don’t switch client destinations very often but when we do it is for a good reason. Another case occurred several years ago when we learned that the runway at the planned destination was muddy and unserviceable.
When you are out on a game drive or up in the aircraft shoot pictures to your heart’s content! At airports and in towns and villages in Africa taking photographs can cause problems. When you are trying to photograph people common courtesy dictates that you ask and obtain their permission before snapping a photograph.
African police and military get suspicious of anyone they see taking photographs at major airports. At bush strips no one cares. But at Lusaka, Maun, Windhoek, Francistown, Livingstone, Pietersburg and other major airfields do not openly take photos. For example, if you want a picture showing the Lusaka terminal building and the ramp, take it from inside the cockpit before you shut down and before you get out of the airplane.
This sensitivity to photographing government buildings – anything from fuel pumps to Post Offices to Terminal Buildings to other aircraft on the ramp – is not universal in southern Africa. But where there is sensitivity and officials see you taking pictures you can get into trouble. You may lose your film, your camera, and you may have to explain your decision to unhappy authorities. Ask first!
On the subject of pictures, digital photography has changed what is possible in wilderness photography. With film people say they’ve taken “dozens of rolls” and “hundreds” of photos. That’s a meager showing indeed compared to what we’re hearing now! Midway through the Malibu Flyers trip, Bill Gamble estimated he’d so far taken “2,500 pictures”. Other’s sheepishly said they’d “only taken a thousand or 1500”!
Bill brought along a fair amount of hardware – what you might call a digital darkroom. He could take pictures, download them, burn them onto a CD, process and massage them, blow them up and then print them in 8X12-inch color glossy format! Often, by the time afternoon tea came around, Bill would circulate printed copies of pictures from the morning game drive. Charitably, he would also download others’ pictures onto a CD to free up their own limited digital memory space. Since most lodges can easily recharge batteries it’s possible never to run out of “film”. This hi tech worked well in the bush.
Christina and I rarely see animals from the air. At a thousand feet altitude or higher any animals, even elephants in the open, appear as little more than specks on the ground. Christina often sees more while we’re landing but my attention is focused on the runway ahead and the periphery.
Any big animals such as giraffe and elephant that are actually on the runway are easy to see and avoid (“Go around!”). But the pilot also needs to scan the areas on each side of the runway for impala, warthog and other small animals. These animals can dart across the runway with little warning – and potentially disastrous consequences.
If you see one antelope, often a larger herd is present. If one of them gets spooked by the sound of an approaching aircraft and decides to bolt, a whole string of them can follow.
Before takeoff from a bush strip ask your ranger to drive the landrover the length of the strip to clear it of animals. Accompany him on this drive to get a good idea of strip conditions, soft spots, rough areas, slope, humps, and other features. You may also see animals hidden behind bushes and in tall grass.
OUR REKKIE IN ZAMBIA…
Flying in Zambia, the northernmost country in which Self-Fly Safaris® currently operate, is a little different than flying in other parts of southern Africa. While the lodges and hotel facilities are on a par with those elsewhere, civil aviation is tightly controlled compared with other southern African countries.
In Zambia, pilots need to obtain a “Flight Clearance” before entering Zambian airspace and file a regular “flight plan” for every takeoff.
A cardinal rule: have a hard copy of the flight clearance issued by the Zambian airforce with you in the airplane. Without it pilots risk arrest and having their aircraft impounded. One day Christina and I took off for Zambia without a hard copy of our clearance…
We’d applied for our flight clearance a week in advance. It’s a cumbersome process that requires faxing two pages from South Africa to two separate offices in the Zambian capital, Lusaka. One application goes to the Civil Aviation Authority, the other to the Zambian airforce.
Phone links to Zambia are poor. Sometimes the lines are down. Often the numbers are busy. Sometimes the receiving fax machines are out of order or just out of paper. Once you’ve actually sent the fax you need to call the offices’ voice line and confirm the fax is legible. It’s worth keeping a record of the numbers called, time of the call, the name of the person you spoke with, and the result of the call. Often the person you speak with declines to identify himself beyond saying “I am airforce.” Too often the application gets lost even after you confirm it has been received.
The date of our departure from Johannesburg was drawing near and we’d received no clearance. I telephoned the CAA and explained we had a reservation at a lodge and needed the flight clearance. The Clearance Officer shuffled through papers for a few minutes and finally said that our clearance request was denied!
The reason: the aircraft designator for the type of aircraft (Helio Courier) could not be found in the International Civil Aviation Organization directory. Unlikely, but that was what I had to work with. I told him the designator (COUR) and faxed a copy of the book’s relevant page to them.
On my next call, a couple of hours later, I was told that our clearance was now approved but the clearance number was not yet issued. I would have to call a cell number after 6PM to get the clearance number. I did and I got a clearance number but, I was told, there would be no “hard copy” of it. We decided to fly anyway.
The flight from Johannesburg to Livingstone, Zambia, is 550nm and we planned a five-hour, non-stop flight. (The Helio Courier has an eight-hour endurance). Twenty minutes before arrival we called Livingstone Tower and began our descent. Tower acknowledged our all and asked for our Flight Clearance number, which I read to him.
When the controller came back to us, after a short pause, he asked if we had a copy of the clearance on board? I replied “no” and said that the CAA clearance office had given us the number by telephone but was not able to fax it to us.
Tower continued: “N222LT, are you a twin Caravan from Beira (Mozambique) to Lubumbashi (Congo)?” “No”, I replied, “we are a Helio Courier out of Johannesburg enroute to Livingstone.” He came back quickly to say we had no clearance to enter Zambian airspace and that “permission to land is denied”.
Now what!? The idea of a clearance delivered by cell phone, after office hours, with no hard copy available left us uneasy to begin with. Our “Plan B” was to land at Kasane, Botswana, the point where we began our descent just 40nm back. Botswana does not require flight clearance for private, general aviation traffic.
The only other concern was that the lodge where we planned to stay had dispatched a driver to meet us at Livingstone. We didn’t want him waiting for a flight that would never land. Livingston Tower agreed to advise anyone asking that we had diverted to Kasane.
I contacted Kasane Tower, explained the problem, and requested permission to land. We were on the ground shortly without further delay. But now the challenge was to get to our lodge in Zambia without the airplane.
Our destination was actually closer to Kasane than to Livingstone. But the Zambezi River runs between the two and there is no bridge from Kasane to Zambia. We considered abandoning the visit to Zambia and spend the night at Kasane where there are lots of good places to stay. But the Zambian lodge expected us and would worry if a planned flight did not arrive. It was imperative to let them know what had happened.
In the Kasane terminal we used a pay telephone to call Treetops Lodge reservation office in Johannesburg to explain our situation. (The lodge had no listed telephone number). The reservation office, in turn, called the lodge manager on his personal cell phone. He called “Gabi” a friend in Kasane, who manages her own lodge, and explained the situation. She dropped whatever she was doing and drove to Kasane airport (just a couple of miles away). She was in the airport terminal looking for us within minutes.
Gabi brought us to her lodge, gave us a drink, and then drove us to the Kazangula Ferry – a pontoon ferry boat makes two crossings an hour between Botswana and Zambia. She shepherded us through Customs and Immigration (this time leaving the country) before saying goodbye.
Meanwhile, Treetops had dispatched another driver to meet the Kazangula ferry on the Zambian side. He was waiting for us when the boat landed. He ushered us through Zambian Immigration and Customs, and then drove us to the Lodge where we spent the night as originally planned. We paid for the Ferry crossing (just a few dollars) but there was no extra charge from the lodge or the woman who met us at the Kasane airport.
It couldn’t have worked out better if we’d planned it that way. These are the some of the problems we encounter, but also the kind of extraordinary service we’ve found in Africa when things go wrong.
Our flight and Self-Fly Safari® flights qualify as private, general aviation flights. They are entirely legal under Zambia’s Civil Aviation Rules. Our flight clearance should have been granted but because of other murkier issues the issuing authority, the Zambian airforce, had denied it.
We had reached our intended destination that day but the notion that a flight clearance might be improperly withheld was unsettling. Through alternate means we made it to our destination that night but we had to cancel planned visits to other lodges on the same trip.
For our clients this is an unacceptable situation. Self-Fly Safari® pilots spend thousands of dollars to fly a predetermined route to safari camps around southern Africa. Lodges operate on a “use it or lose it” basis and once the booking is made and paid for there is no refund. It’s not acceptable that necessary flight clearances be issued or denied on a whim.
It was immediately clear to us that unless flight clearances were routinely issued we would make no further bookings there and drop Zambia as a destination.
The Lodges were as unhappy about the problem we encountered as we were. They understood perfectly the risk of lost bookings and they suggested that we take up the issue with Zambian authorities.
A few weeks later we attended a travel industry conference in Durban, South Africa. Zambia sponsored an event attended by the Zambian Minister for Tourism. After a lengthy speech detailing the country’s new policy to encourage tourism, the Minister took questions. We told our story. The Minister, who had only recently been appointed to the post, was unaware of the problem and taken aback by our contention. However, he asserted that clearances for Self-Fly Safaris® would be issued. “Any time you apply for a clearance”, he declared, “fax a copy to my office. You’ll get your clearance!”
Subsequently the Minister arranged a meeting between Hanks Aero, the Civil aviation Authority, and the Zambian Airforce. Clearances since then have become much easier to come by!
Namibia also requires a flight clearance but the system is simpler and run efficiently. Requests are processed and issued within 24 hours. The clearance allows unlimited flying for the duration of the request and automatically allows extra days in country in the event of delays due to adverse weather or other causes.
A GROWING FLEET…
Finding airplanes for Self-Fly Safari® clients is one of our biggest challenges. A privately-owned airplane that is available today may be sold tomorrow, in the shop for maintenance, scheduled elsewhere, or simply no longer rented. Each year one or two new airplanes come available and each year a few disappear.
Control of the maintenance, scheduling and insurance of multiple aircraft helps give us a reliable source of dependable aircraft.
We began the year operating a single C-182, ZS-IWP, which we bought several years ago. We ended the year owning two C-182’s and managing two other aircraft.
The second C-182 came in June. Many clients have used it but we have always rented it from a third party. In the middle of 2003 it was up for sale and the owner could not guarantee it would be available. Our choice was to buy the aircraft or make another arrangement for the client. We upped the bid and acquired the plane. It came with 100 hours on a newly overhauled engine and a United Nations paint scheme (all white with black letters).
In mid-2003 the telephone rang and a man asked if we were the Hanks’ of Hanks Aero that he had read about in Pilot Journal. We were. He introduced himself (Mike Wright) and said he owned a 1973 C-182, ZS-WAT.
The call sign we knew. We had sourced it from a Johannesburg flight school for a client two years earlier. Since then the engine had run to TBO, was withdrawn from service, had been sold, and we lost track of it.
When Mike showed us his 1973 C-182 it looked like a new airplane. More than just an engine overhaul, ZS-WAT had a new interior, new windows, new instruments, new radios, and new exterior paint!
Mike explained he liked our operation and wanted fewer pilots to use the plane on longer flights. Use of the aircraft for Self-Fly Safaris® , he said, was just the right mix.
Johann Prinsloo, the independent South African aircraft engineer and pilot, who maintains Hanks Aero aircraft, made us a similar offer. More than a year ago Johann found a forlorn, long-neglected Piper Cherokee Six parked on an airport ramp. He tracked down it’s airframe and engine history, bought the aircraft, and rebuilt it. Once it was flying he offered it to Hanks Aero to manage.
The Cherokee Six (PA-32-300) is a true four-place aircraft. Its addition to the fleet allows us to book parties of four in which, for example, only one of the four people is a pilot. The equivalent Cessna aircraft – C-206 and C-210 – are virtually unavailable in the South African rental market due to prohibitively high insurance rates.
Operating with four aircraft gives us new flexibility in scheduling Self-Fly Safaris®. Of course, aircraft components can fail, but controlling the maintenance gives us added confidence in the quality of aircraft available to our clients.