Tuesday, April 24, 2012
From Soccer To Cessna
A four-country flying adventure in Africa
We're football junkies (soccer for my American fellows), so when the games were to be held for the first time in Africa, we simply had to go. Being equally fanatic about flying, I found a treasure trove of exotic destinations that we could fly to in between games.
We arrived in Johannesburg, and started our trip with a terrific game between the U.S. and Ghana. Early next morning, we embarked on our first sortie—a trip through the eastern mountainous regions of South Africa to a private game reserve area of the Kruger National Park called Mala Mala. Departing just after dawn from the Grand Central Airport (FAGC) on a VFR day, we navigated our way through the mountains across this beautiful land. South Africa is a heavily mountainous country, and many of its airports are situated in high elevation. A solid dose of density-altitude knowledge, mountain-flying skills and back-to-basics navigation is a must. I knew that we would be faced with many hours of stick-and-rudder flying and manual operation, but I was enjoying every moment of it. After two hours of flying through this terrain, the little strip of Mala Mala (FAMD) appeared in the distance. Landing in any field outside of the major cities in Africa requires that you execute a full precautionary approach procedure. All types of animals often roam the field, and one or more close passes are required to inspect the field and scatter the animals. We landed and secured the aircraft and surrounded it with low-voltage electrical wires to ensure no animals would damage the aircraft or chew the tires. After an unforgettable visit to this magnificent park, we set out the next day to go back to FAGC. I experienced my first full-IFR departure and flight in the bushlands of Africa.
We enjoyed two more games before embarking on our second sortie, which would take us to Botswana, Zambia, with overflying adventures across Namibia and Zimbabwe. Our first destination was the Okavango Delta deep inside the marshlands of Botswana. Most of the flying was IFR. There are distinct differences between flying IFR in this part of the world and in the U.S. or Europe. Clearances are vague, ATC handoffs somewhat shaky and with little or no radar coverage, significant extra attention is demanded of the pilot. In many instances, the new ATC didn't know our altitude or even route of flight. In one instance, we had to remind them that we would be on a conflicting altitude with another aircraft, which I had figured would be coming in the opposite direction.
After a long stretch across the Kalahari Desert, we approached the delta, cleared customs at Maun (FBMN) and continued on to the incredible resort of Shindi in the heart of the delta. This lush area is the world's largest inland delta, and home to some of the most spectacular wildlife. We spent the next day enjoying the scenery, and then headed out on our next leg—the long and winding flight over the Chobe River toward Victoria Falls in Zambia.
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