Saturday, August 25, 2012

August wind

We encountered wind in Namibia during August. Local pilots confirm that the season – late winter with moderate temperatures – are prone to windy conditions. The same “August winds” are a factor in South Africa, too. They were not a constant factor during our 11-day flight around Namibia but the likelihood of encountering strong breezes has to be considered in this period. Good crosswind- landing techniques can be useful as most bush lodges have only one runway.

The wind made for slow ground speeds on some of our westerly and northerly legs but we made up the time on easterly and southerly legs. The C-182’s were able to make 100 – 110 knots ground speed going west and north but 130 – 150 knots returning to South Africa. Our progress in a C-172 dropped to 80 knots sometimes though we raced along at 130 going back. On long legs, Johannesburg to Upington (385nm), this meant spending a long time in a cramped cockpit.

Luderitz (FYLZ), right on the coast, is particularly vulnerable to wind. Its crossing runways (04-22 and 12-30) can be a great help when westerly’s are forceful. But make the time to tie down the airplane if you’re there overnight. The wind can also cause sand storms to reduce visibility to IMC conditions. The same applies to Swakopmund (FYSM). Its crossing runways (17-35 and 06-24) are really welcome in windy conditions. Both places have avgas and may be necessary refueling stops when flying through Namibia.

Where we really had to pay attention was at Eros (FYWE) – the general aviation field set at the southern end of the Namibian capital. Windhoek sits in a bowl of hills and wind from nearly any direction will cause turbulence of varying degrees. Runways are 1-19 and 09-27. ATC advised us of “winds 270° at 18, gusting to 30”. Runway 27 was perfect but we laid in a serious crab on base leg and used power on final.

Getting out of Eros was more of a challenge. Field elevation is about 5600’. A ridge to the south rises to 6500’ within less than five miles. The hills to the west climb more gently to 6,000’ within 10 nm. However, the westerly wind blowing over the hills creates burble and strong down drafts. The power difference between a C-172 and a C-182 is significant in these conditions. Take off was quick but rough air was a factor immediately after rotation and my groundspeed in the 172 was 43 knots. At about 500’ I turned out left. Our rate of climb showed, variously, 0 fpm, 100 fpm descent and 100 fpm climb. A mountain wave was holding us down. Not uncommon at Eros.  The terrain ahead already looked too close.  I told Tower we would “orbit” to the left to climb before leaving the area. After a 360° turn we had gained no altitude at all. I returned to a heading of 270° with the vertical speed indicator barely showing any upward progress. A wing would abruptly drop. The stall warning horn would sound momentarily. We were getting rocked around pretty good but were able to climb slowly.

The southern ridge still loomed ahead as we turned on course and the air was still very rough. I’d planned to level off at 7,500’ but told Windhoek Area Control that I wanted 8,000’ until I’d crossed the ridge. They allowed. Once beyond it the air smoothed and the rest of the flight was unremarkable.
On the ground at the Sossusvlei dunes, the wind provided a graphic illustration of how dunes are formed and shaped. Climbing “Dune 45” we braced ourselves against the wind. Sand blew from the ridge line like snow blowing off Everest. The blow often subsided in the evening when we could sit comfortably on the lodge verandah watching the sunset.

Friday, March 2, 2012

Not a Pilot?

Lost your medical? We can send you out with an instructor who’ll sit “right seat”. You can use a C-182, a C-210, a PC-12 – whatever suits the size of your party. You’ll have the plane at your disposal. You can go to any of the same places. You’ll have the same comfortable lodges and the same encounter in the African wilds. The instructor won’t carry your bags but there are plenty of staff around to do that.
Piloting a plane over the wilds of Africa is a great experience! Christina and I flew from the USA to Europe and south through Africa 15 years ago. Along the way it became clear that pilots of all nationalities would love this sort of flying. Getting dust on your wheels and landing on bush airstrips was rewarding enough. But the icing on the cake were the lodges we found! These places can be hundreds of miles from the nearest town. Yet when you land you are escorted into stunningly attractive African-style camps. There are dozens of staff to pour you drinks and cook up meals that you’d expect only from the fine restaurants. The accommodations are roomy and comfortable with hot running water, flush toilets fresh linen and comfortable beds. The game rangers know the area and track even the most elusive of Africa’s great game. If you tire of the game drives, just stay at the lodge for a morning. At some places you can get a massage! Most lodges have swimming pools and a few have private plunge pools at each chalet.

Last year’s Botswana tour was documented by German TV (ARD). Watch it online at On the right is a small box labeled “Mediathek”. Click on that to play the video. Another box, just below, will take you to the websites of the lodges where the group stayed. The sound track is in German with voiceovers of the American pilots. If you don't speak German the visuals tell you all you need to know. The photography is beautiful and the production gives a flavor of the animals, the flying, the comfort and luxury of the lodges - and the fun! The crew put cameras on the wings, under the belly, in the cockpit and at the lodges. One of the ladies was in tears over the sight of Victoria Falls. “It was on my bucket list”, she said. Other great moments captured on this self-fly safari are close encounters with elephants and lions. They can’t be planned, but they happen!

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

November safari?

I plan to be in South Africa on business in November. Can I fly a short safari then?

Validation: We give pilots a chance to recover from jetlag, which accounts for a delay in getting started. We can compress the program to a certain degree, particularly if you are rested. For example, the handling and cross-country check can be combined into a single flight. Remember also, the license you receive from the CAA is good for five years. If you managed to return within the validity period you would only have to fly three “circuits” with an instructor to get the plane signed out again. The validation exercises are private pilot standards. There are no trick questions or anything like that. It’s all pretty straight forward.

Scheduling: If you spent some of the time while in Johannesburg focused on the validation exercises then, when your condo sharing period finishes, you could take off immediately for a brief Self-Fly Safari. In this four or five-day period you could, conceivably, fly to two separate lodges. We think it is a good idea to spend at least two nights at each destination. Three nights is preferable as you get a chance to relax and enjoy the lodge itself as well as getting out for several more game drives.

If you are planning a November safari you do need to be mindful of possible weather issues. In designing a route I would keep the legs short – no more than two hours – so that you could get in and out with a relatively small window of opportunity. For example a flight from Lanseria (Johannesburg) to Limpopo Valley in Botswana is 240nm or about two hours flying. As well as it being a fairly short flight, November is not a high-occupancy period at some lodges. Hence, you could call the night before or that morning to determine if the lodge had space for you. In this way you could avoid losing your money on lost bookings. Lodges typically have a “use it or lose it” policy.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Lanseria comes of age

The FIFA World Cup games have brought pressures on Lanseria Airport (FALA). From a free-wheeling scene of legitimate civil aviation, gray government and military operations to outright smuggling, Lanseria has turned into a full service, first-class international field used by African heads of state, celebrities like John Travolta flying a classic Boeing 707, to American Vice President Joe Biden in Air Force 2(now a Boeing 757).

Visits by foreign dignitaries are really demanding on any nation's resources and patience. Air Force 2 could have landed at Johannesburg’s O.R Tambo International airport (FAJS)or the South African military base at Waterkloof (FAWK), near Pretoria. But the route planners, whoever they are for the American Vice president, decided Biden would fly into to Lanseria. Lanseria management, which asserts the airfield is “secure”, got a taste of what US authorities regard as secure. Toes were stepped on.

In the weeks before Biden’s arrival at least three different US Air Force C-17’s flew in.’s green and white 737’s had been the biggest aircraft regularly seen on Lanseria's terminal apron. Now they were dwarfed by the gray Cargomasters. Tractors and other vehicles drove in and out of the plane’s belly unloading timber, generators, cargo and people. After one landing, the four-engine jet took off for a 54 mile flight to Pilanesburg (FAPN) – the airport for the Sun City resort with its gambling casino and entertainment complex. Vice President Biden was expected to attend the USA – England at soccer game and, presumably, the Cargomaster delivered logistic and support material for the Vice presidential visit at the stadium nearby at Rustenburg. It delivered its cargo and returned to Lanseria in a few hours. Two short hops for a monster four-engine jet aircraft.

When Biden himself arrived in country, Lanseria airspace was closed to all other traffic. Normally, closed airspace is reserved for heads-of-state only. Nonetheless, as a courtesy to the American’s, ATC closed Lanseria airspace for the arrival. Any other arriving aircraft were diverted or ordered to hold well away from the area. Lanseria's perimeter road was closed and patrolled specially for the arrival. The balcony at the airport’s restaurant, which overlooks the ramp and runway, was closed to diners. Uniformed and plain-clothes South African police and American Secret Service personnel occupied the balcony. The terminal lobby was crowded but many were wearing Lanseria ID badges and yellow reflective jackets. Others wore dark suits, dark glasses, with an earpiece snaking under their jackets – all the earmarks of Secret Service personnel. Embarking passengers were heavily outnumbered. Just as well, no other private or commercial planes were boarding or pushing back.

Looking west from the terminal to the Air traffic Control Tower, people stood on the Tower roof. This was a new twist. Tower personnel sometimes stand on the outside walkway when having a smoke break or taking a private phone call but not on the roof. Inside the tower were more of the dark-suited Secret Service personnel. That was a concession to the USA. The US insisted on snipers on top of the tower and marksmen were there. But they were South African special forces people, not Americans. That was a concession to the South Africans. Also present were a group of US Navy Seals in full combat regalia. ‘Trust but verify’ is the old Reagan phrase that comes to mind in this scene. Also in tower was an Austrian military guy. He was there on account of his prior experience policing the 2006 FIFA games in Germany. His job was to help distinguish the good guys from the bad if they threatened anything on and above the airfield. There were no incidents of any kind during Biden’s visit.

Lanseria’s regular security management, which took back seat when the Americans came in, had their noses bent out of shape. Conceding authority and having their own rules ignored is not their cup of tea. Later, they called the Americans “rude”. Really, it was just a US demonstration of how command & control is done -- a simple show of raw power.

Lanseria had come from a freewheeling airfield to one able to assure the US government and FIFA that security would be at the highest level. General aviation pilots should feel comfortable at lanseria.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

The Hong Kong crew gets going

It was a long rainy day from 5:30 when I got up and heard the drops on the thatch roof. The bridge was flooded. We pulled in to the airport at 7:15. The HK crew had just arrived and we had breakfast together. Their scheduled circuits (at 8AM as a check out for the 172) couldn’t be flown. The restaurant was crowded because all the Kalula flights were delayed. Service was lousy with the crowd but the waitresses and the kitchen were working hard. One B-737 did a missed approach trying to get in but came back around and made it in the second time. Conditions were a constant drizzle that sometimes turned into a hard rain. As the morning progressed conditions moved between VMC and IMC but always a mist and low scud moving over the field.

The plane the HK crew will take is out on an IMC flight (!?) and returned during an improvement in weather. It was not supposed to be and the FBO screwed up by letting it go. It delayed the checkout and cost the crew a chance to get out during one of the breaks. By the time they got the plane fueled and loaded the weather had closed in again. We got them permission to go out “special VFR” but they were last in line behind any and all IF traffic coming or going from Lanseria. The weather was good west of Jo’burg. They waited at the holding point more than a half hour and things finally went below minimums again.

They taxied over to the terminal and shut down and went back to the restaurant. We met them there and spent the next three hours waiting for a break. Wings Restaurant is a poor place to spend three hours. After one order everything else seems less appetizing.

Tower had graciously extended their flight plan for the rest of the say. At 3PM the crew set out to go. We went to the tower to watch and wait. They waited at the holding point and finally got off at 3:40PM. They got to Vryburg by 5:30. I called fuel at Vryburg and the guy was there. Chancy though, as it was Good Friday and a public holiday in South Africa.

Not only that, but the lodge wouldn't get off their chairs to pick up the crew once they got there. They finally gave me a number to call for a pickup (R50) to bring therm to the lodge. No report yet on what they found when they got there.

Monday, February 15, 2010

We want to fly an autogiro through Africa

What a great expedition and adventure awaits you on your autogyro safari through Africa! I can't say I recommend it but whatever turns you on. Plan fully!

Christina and I flew a single-engine airplane (Helio Courier) from USA to Europe to South Africa about 14 years ago. Very little was written about trans-Africa flying. We spent a year preparing for the trip. We needed to determine where we needed visas, where we could find AVGAS, how it could be paid for (cards or cash), ports of entry and exit from various countries on the route, seasonal weather, flight clearances, inoculation requirements, and more.

We flew south through east Africa, not the west as you are planning. At the time Angola was in a civil war and a ”no go” zone. We circumvented Sudan as there was a civil war going ion there then, too.

Angola has opened up but still is a difficult area to traverse. You need over flight and landing clearances. Namibia, too, requires flight clearances for all flight. South Africa requires flight plans for some flights, but not clearances. Auto gas is widely available in Namibia and South Africa, but jet A-1 (diesel) is the most commonly available fuel in Angola.

1) You will find useful information about Angola, Namibia and South Africa in “Airfields Directory for Southern Africa” (ISBN 0-620-29258-x) published by Aviation Direct cc ( and their website Much of their information is available on line.

2) Jeppesen, the provider for instrument plates and charts, is the most comprehensive source of information for nearly every aspect of flying anywhere in Africa. They have the entry requirements for every African country and the numbers to contact for clearances, flight plans, etc. Their information is expensive but indispensible – particularly if you’re doing it in an unusual aircraft (autogyro).

3) Flight clearances are also from other private vendors. International Flight Clearances cc based at Lanseria Airport (Johannesburg, South Africa) is one such company with whom we have had good experience. Tel:- +27 11 701 2330 (24 Hours) Fax:- +27 11 701 2334 Email:

4) Charts: The best available charts for navigating anywhere in Africa are the ONC’s (Operational Navigational Charts 1:1,000,000) published by the US government NOAA and available from many map companies and pilot shops. is one of them. Google “ONC charts” for a larger list. They are also probably available in Spain. These charts are useful for planning but they are big and would be a handful in the open cockpit of an autogiro. They show the best geography, but cannot be relied on for current airspace restrictions.

5) GPS: The Atlantic International database by Garmin is the best available that we know of for all of Africa. It matters less what GPS you use as long as you have the database. The most essential feature is its moving map with all current airspace. It does not include all small airfields. You’ll have to locate these through other means.

6) No amount of pre-planning is too much. Find out as much as you can about everything. Expect the unexpected. Be courteous to everyone you encounter. Look and act like a professional pilot.

7) Check our website( a selection of nice stops in Namibia.

Keep us posted and good luck!