Wednesday, April 13, 2016

What happens if an aircraft develops a mechanical problem along the way?  

The plane you fly is Airworthy when you launch on your Self-Fly Safari. The fleet of available rental aircraft are older airframes – often 1970’s era C-182 P models. The planes fly regularly. They are well-maintained and all receive 50-hour, 100-hour, and annual inspections.  AD’s and SB’s are mandatory under South African CAA rules. The engines are all within TBO limits.In our 20 years staging Self-Fly Safaris we have never had a case where the client could not complete a trip due to mechanical or electrical issues with a plane.

However, glitches can occur – anywhere along the way. If a glitch occurs we jump in with a fix.  The cost of the fix is with the aircraft owner.  It’s important to remember that you are never alone. We can communicate with you wherever you are. If you need help we are there. That’s our job.

We deal with problems as they arise. What we do depends on many factors. What is the problem? Where did it occur? Are you able to fly to a field with an FBO?

During our “Route Briefing” we list the airfields along your route that have maintenance facilities.  If you have a problem and if you are able to fly, we’ll ask you to go the nearest one.  If you can’t, you should land at your destination lodge or the nearest suitable airfield. Once on the ground, call us. Give us as good a diagnosis as you can. What we do depends on the nature of the problem. Likely, we’ll have two or three days to effect a fix.  

Some examples:

  • ·     A starter motor failed at an intermediate stop during an escorted group safari.  People and luggage were divided among the other aircraft. They flew on to their lodge.  While the client enjoyed his safari, we flew a mechanic to the U/S aircraft with all possibly needed spares. The plane was fixed and ready to go before the next leg.
  • ·    A client reported an electrical problem after landing at her lodge. We notified the nearest FBO. The plane was flyable. The pilot flew to an airfield with an FBO.  The mechanic was waiting as the plane taxied in and had the plane fixed and back out the door within an hour.
  • ·    A dead battery at camp. The “Emergency Kit” that we supply each aircraft or group includes a jumper cable. The game lodge Land Rover supplied 12v power to start the plane. The pilot took off and flew to a field with an FBO where an alternator problem was fixed.
  • ·    A hyena chewed the plastic tail cone off the back of a plane while it was tied down. With duct tape from the “Emergency Kit” the pilot taped over the opening and flew for the rest of his trip without issue. The pilot’s “Excess policy”, included in every Self-Fly Safari package, paid for repairs after the pilot completed his safari.
  •       Pilot lost radio comms enroute. The pilot communicated with a hand-held radio and landed at an airfield where the radio problem was diagnosed and fixed.

Once, early in our operation, a cylinder failed in a C-172. In that case we flew a replacement aircraft for the pilot to complete his safari. He missed one day of his scheduled itinerary. 

These problems are rare.  Our point in highlighting them is to illustrate that they are manageable and that Hanks Aero Adventures actively deals with them.  We do our best to insure that a plane will fly the entire safari route and return to base without a mechanical issue.  It costs us money if a plane or a component fails. If a problem does arise we are there to deal with it with the least possible disruption to your safari.  It is a hallmark of our service and a matter of pride. 

Friday, April 1, 2016

Weather – what happens if weather interferes  with our safari?
Weather: Seasonal weather patterns in southern Africa are such that the region’s best flying weather – May through mid-October – coincides with the best game viewing. That’s when we operate, it’s winter in the southern hemisphere, and that’s when you should fly your Self-Fly Safari.

Daytime temperatures are pleasant (Low 60’s°F/16°C); there are no bugs, few clouds and, typically, VFR conditions. Nonetheless, weather can intervene.

“Season is what you expect,” the pilot said, “Weather is what you actually get!” By rule of the South African CAA, Self-Fly Safaris may only be flown during daylight hours in Visual conditions.  We watch the forecasts along your route. 

If we see something likely to affect your itinerary we’ll let you know and offer guidance on how to deal with it. 

  • Stormy weather threatened to scuttle the client’s initial launch from base. We saw this coming two days in advance.  We changed the initial leg to another lodge where weather along the route was VMC. They visited the lodge they had missed at the tail end of their safari. On another similar situation we launched the party one day early, before the adverse weather set in.
  • Low clouds on a flying day prevented the client from taking off as scheduled. The forecast predicted that the clouds would be lifting later in the day. We advised the client to wait a few hours for clearing.  The client waited and took off later.  We updated the lodge with the clients’ new ETA.
  • Low clouds along South Africa’s escarpment prevented the client from returning to base on the last day of his safari. He flew to an intermediate airstrip and we sent a taxi to drive him back to Johannesburg. 

METARs and TAFs may be difficult to get at a lodge deep in the bush due to poor cellphone signal coverage. No formal PIREP system exists in southern Africa. Your first clue of the day’s weather at camp is to look to the sky when you wake up.  Chances are it’ll be clear, blue sky!

Beyond that …
1)    Hanks Aero can send you a TAF for the day’s flight on your cell phone or via satellite on your Delorme tracking device.
2)    Ask enroute ATC for weather at your destination.
3)    Speak to pilots aloft coming from the opposite direction.
4)    Get a forecast at major airports along your route.

In any case, if you can’t fly there are worse places to be stuck than at a private game lodge in southern Africa! If that happens we’ll be working at Base to make any needed adjustments to your itinerary – while you’re lounging comfortably at an amazing lodge.

Hanks Aero Adventures Inc: Full Service!


Friday, March 25, 2016

Navigation – Finding your way on a Self-Fly Safari®

Getting where you want to go is key to being a happy pilot and reliable navigation equipment is vital in your aircraft. Use your GPS.

A section of a the Livingstone WAC chart
A GPS is the standard tool for most pilots – South African and foreign – in southern Africa. Jeppesen’s “African International” database is the download needed for navigation. While it includes all major airfields, small bush lodge airstrips may not be shown. They are easily programmed into your own GPS. We’ll give you these coordinates for your destinations in your pre-departure briefings. 

It’s a good idea to bring your own portable GPS with the Atlantic International database. You know how it works and what buttons to push. There is a learning curve for working any “black box” GPS you’re not familiar with. Bringing your own reduces your cockpit workload. Nonetheless, when you arrive in South Africa we’ll loan you one of our portable GPS's with your route pre-programmed. We use several older hand-held models including Garmin 295, 495 and an Aera 500. Some brokered planes have panel-mounted GPS’s such as a Garmin 430 or 530. There is good signal coverage throughout southern Africa. Turn it on, do what it says, and fly to your next stop.

Tablets: We supply pilots with Easy Cockpit® - an electronic VFR moving map program for southern Africa designed for Android and iPad tablets. It was developed by the same company that produces the Airfields Directory for Southern Africa the only such publication that exists.  Both are included in the Self-Fly 
Safari® package. You can familiarize yourself with their materials on their web site:  Easy Cockpit® screen presentation is similar to ForeFlight but not identical and it works a little differently. ForeFlight is not suitable for our purposes as it doesn’t have a database for southern Africa. Bring your own tablet. It needs to have GPS capability.

While you’ll use a GPS, you’ll always want other options.

VOR’s exist and work at many major airfields in southern Africa. Within 50 - 70nm of aeronautical hubs in South Africa, Botswana, Zimbabwe and elsewhere, signal strength is good. However, VOR’s are often 100nm or more apart. You cannot fly seamlessly from one VOR to the next. All planes we use have two Navcoms, such as KX-125, KX-155, MX 300, or other.

There are also NDB’s (and local radio stations you can tune in). However, aeronautical NDB’s are being phased out and removed when they fail. Fewer and fewer aircraft have an Automatic Direction Finder (ADF) on board.  

ONC charts are the only paper charts
available for some areas of southern Africa.
Charts: You’ll also have paper charts with you – required by the CAA – as a backup. South Africa prints VFR WAC charts (1:1,000,000) covering much of southern Africa. The geography is good but the government has not updated aeronautical data on most charts for decades.  VFR charts for Zimbabwe, Zambia and points north are long out of print. For these areas we supply Defense Mapping Agency ONC charts (also now out of print). The geography and terrain features are accurate but they are unreliable for current airspace.

Featureless terrain is common
over much of southern Africa.
Situational awareness: It’s always important to know where you are. It’s a good idea to refresh your basic pilotage skills. Over reliance on a GPS can lull you into ignoring your progress along a leg of your trip. GPS is reliable in Africa. But if the screen suddenly goes blank – a dead battery or inadvertently pushing the wrong button – you still need to get where you’re going.

Lakes are useful visual checkpoints but
can dry up in the dry season.

Brushing up on map reading is also useful during your validation check flight. Your instructor may ask you to point out your current position on the aeronautical chart. Look out the window, notice a landmark, and point it out on the chart. He may simulate a problem ahead – say a thunderstorm – and ask you to divert to another airfield. In this scenario you need to know where you are more than where you were planning to go. Pilotage skills are useful.

Since my primary flight training I’ve drawn course lines on charts. I mark out 10nm segments and highlight visual reference points. Some pilots mark equal time 
segments. I keep a finger on the chart and note the time we arrive at each check point. Used in conjunction with the GPS there is very little guess work. If my GPS dies I’ll still have a good idea where I am and what I need to do to get where I’m going.


Friday, March 18, 2016

AIRCRAFT – Which plane should I use on my Self-Fly Safari?

The fleet of General Aviation aircraft available for rent in South Africa are older models with high air frame time. Their engines are all within TBO limits.  All are well maintained by the owners – who also fly them – and receive 50-hour, 100-hour and Annual inspections. All AD’s and SB’s are mandatory under South African CAA rules.

Planes are certified “airworthy” before leaving base. They all have two radios and long-range fuel tanks (79 gallons, 75 usable in 182's) for conservatively-estimated 5.5 hours endurance. With proper leaning they’ll go longer.  All have “steam gauges” (analog instrumentation). Privately-owned glass-cockpit aircraft exist in South Africa but have not yet been available for rent. Cirrus SR-20's and 22's are popular (there are more than 70 in the country) but are not let out privately. Single-engine Piper aircraft (Cherokee and Cherokee 6’s) are scarce on the rental market in South Africa. Low-wing aircraft are less suitable for aerial photography of scenes on the ground.

What plane is best for you?

To fly a South African-registered plane you need to have PIC time in the type of aircraft you will fly before arriving in South Africa. That’s the South African CAA rule. If you only have time in a C-182 you would not be allowed to fly a C-172 or any other type of plane - except a 182. Even one hour in the specific type (or an instructor’s sign-off in it) will make you legal. But, as well as being legal, you want to be current and comfortable flying it. If you haven’t flown it recently then log four or five hours in it before you come to Johannesburg. 

C-182: the standard bearer for bush flying
parties of 2 or 3.
Our experience is that a Cessna 182 is the best machine for a Self-Fly Safari. We own one and manage a second. When we need more – for group safaris – we go to other 182 owners. All the 182's – ours and outsourced ones – are older (P models, 1973 &1975).  

C-206 with cargo pod is
best for parties of 3 or 4.

A C-206 with a cargo pod is the ideal safari aircraft for parties of three or four. We have access to two such planes – both owner-flown and well maintained. The insurance companies insist on a minimum 50 hours in type and 500 hours total time to qualify to fly these C-206’s. With luggage in the cargo pod passenger seating is comfortable if not spacious.  
C-210: Often used when escorting groups and
for piloted Self-Fly Safaris.
A C-210 can also be used for a Self-Fly Safari with three or four people. We prefer the 206 in these situations for the simple reason that there are at least three fewer things to go wrong in a 206 (landing gear).The same experience requirements (50 hours type/500 hours total time) apply to qualify for insurance.

C-172: pilot and one passenger only.

A C-172 may be adequate for a Self-Fly Safari itinerary but comes with several shortcomings. Available 172’s in South Africa are mainly used as student trainers.  Compared with a C-182 the 172’s are slower, carry less fuel, are more cramped, have a lower load capability, often have just one radio and, cosmetically, look like well-used trainers.

Pilatus PC-12: smooth, fast, luxurious ride.
Larger aircraft: With a party of six or more for a safari, a larger aircraft is necessary.  In these scenarios a chartered Cessna Caravan or a Pilatus PC-12 may be just the right solution. This is also one option if you have lost your medical or given up day-to-day flying.

Cessna 208 Caravan:
plane of choice for parties of 6 - 10. 
A South African validated license is not required as the charter companies supply their own professional pilots. You’ll have the aircraft at your disposal and more flying options as the planes are faster, and carry the bigger load. You may be able to sit “right seat” and assist the pilot. Although there are no instrument let-down procedures at most bush air strips, the pilots are able to fly in IFR conditions and may be able to fly when VFR-only flights are delayed.

Whichever plane you fly the experience of flying the African bush is what it’s all about. Speed isn’t necessary. The legs aren’t that long. You’re here to fly. Remember “Out of Africa”. You have honed the skills of a pilot and you’re heading into new territory, new horizons, and a new adventure. ATC has different accents but the plane sounds familiar and reassuring. The plains below are dry and sometimes burned but pocked with watering holes and dotted with elephant, buffalo and other thirsty animals. The GPS guides you to your destination and you land on a dirt strip. You shut down and tie down. The rangers carry your bags and take you to the lodge and the adventure continues at camp. 


  Next time: Navigation – Finding your way on a Self-Fly Safari

Saturday, March 5, 2016

The Lodges – What kind of places will I be staying at in the bush?

Belmond Eagle Island Camp

The terms “lodge” and “camp” are used interchangeably in southern Africa. They are privately-owned establishments and no two are alike.  Whichever ones you visit, two things are certain: 1) this not “rugged”; and 2) you won’t starve. Indeed, your accommodation will be first class and you’ll be offered good food and plenty of it! Kitchen and maintenance facilities and staff quarters are located away from the guest area. The entire camp may be surrounded by a fence or open to the surrounding bush.

The camp’s central lounge with couches and chairs is a great place to relax after lunch and after dinner. This is where guests gather for game drives, eating and drinking, and to relax. It usually overlooks a plain or watering hole where animals gather. You’ll find a small library of animal and bird books. Coffee, tea and soft drinks are always available.  The bar is open all day and, if it is not a self-service arrangement, someone from the staff is always available to give you a beer or pour you a drink. Offerings at afternoon tea, served just before the afternoon game drive, will include sweet and savory delicacies.
Discussions at dusk over drinks

Before embarking on a game drive, the ranger will take orders for “sundowners” – drinks that are served from the land rover at a scenic spot in the bush as the sun sets. For morning game drives you'll have a break for coffee, tea and snacks. 

Each lodge is comprised of eight or more individual chalets or tents within a larger compound. This is where you’ll park your luggage and sleep. Each has its own private bathroom with hot and cold running water and toilet. 

Tented accommodation
Tents are large, canvas walk-in, officer-style accommodations built on a cement slab or raised off the ground on a wooden platform. Windows and doors are covered with mosquito netting  and canvas flaps that can be opened or zipped-closed to block light or a breeze. Tents may be placed under a tree and have a shade canopy to keep them cooler during the heat of the day.
A desert chalet
Chalets are similar but built with brick and mortar and normal wooden doors and windows. Thatch roofs are common. Both styles often have a private deck or patio off your room where you can sit outdoors to read or watch activity in the surrounding bush. Some camps have private plunge pools at every chalet.

Interior chalet

Rooms are furnished in the camps’ own unique style with charm and guest comfort in mind. Each will have two twin-size beds, a small table, chairs, a closet and drawers for your clothing, light fixtures, a sink, private shower and toilet. You’ll have clean linens for the beds, pillows, blankets, towels and wash cloths.
Interior tent
Staff members make the beds and clean the rooms daily. Rooms are supplied with basic toiletries, mosquito repellant and bug spray. Each bed is likely to be draped with its own mosquito net. One or two-day laundry service is available, often free-of-charge.  

All camps have electrical power. Most run on
12-volt systems powered by solar panels or a generator that is run only during the day when guests are away from camp on game a drive. The camp will have a centrally located “charging station” where guests recharge cameras, GPS’s and other electronic devices. Room lighting allows guests to read at night.  A few camps have main-line electrical power (240 volts, 50 Hz). Here you can use hairdryers, curling irons and other high-draw appliances that cannot be used at other camps.

The lodges are magical!  Each is different from the last and each is charming in its own way. Service and attention to the guests is paramount. Rangers are enthusiastic and persevering in their efforts to locate elusive game. Cooks take pride in the meals they prepare.  Room maids are courteous and thorough in their work. At some camps the entire staff treats guests to traditional songs and dance performances and invites guests to join in the fun. Bush camps in southern Africa are a delightful experience to be long remembered.

Pamushana Lodge at night

Thursday, February 25, 2016

What kind of flying experience do I need for a Self-Fly Safari?

Flying in southern Africa is the same as flying anywhere else in the world – air, airplanes and airstrips. If you can handle a plane at home you can fly it in Africa. Practically speaking, the more flying experience you have the more comfortable you’ll be.

Legally speaking you need a current private pilot license (or higher) to get your license validated. A “validated” license means you are legal and insurable to fly a South African-registered plane. We’ve had pilots ranging from 148 hours total time to 30,000 hours. By rule of the South African Civil Aviation Authority (SACAA) flights on a validated license can only be done in daytime, VFR conditions.
Hazy day in Zambia
An instrument rating is not necessary. However, bush fires sometimes produce hazy conditions during the dry winter season. We’ve seen sun on our wings, good visibility of the ground but only a faint horizon. Though technically you are in VMC conditions and flying legally, an ability to fly by reference to instruments can be useful.

Okavango Delta Airstrip (Botswana)
It’s helpful if you have some experience landing and taking off from dirt airstrips as many of the destinations you fly to are not paved. Aircraft are not allowed to land "just anywhere". All landings on a Self-Fly Safari are made on a prepared airfield. Some are better than others but all are suitable for the machine you're flying.  

Most of the airstrips are at least 3,300’ long (1000 meters) – plenty long enough for a Cessna Caravan or a Beech KingAir as well as a C-182.  The surrounding bush and shrubbery is often cleared to a distance of 160’ (50 meters). Information such as “trees at the approach end of runway 09” is provided in our Cockpit Tripkit© and in the Airfields Directory of Southern Africa that we supply and you’ll have with you.  

You’ll also stop at controlled, paved airports along the way to refuel and clear Customs & Immigration formalities when entering or leaving a country. Their paved runways are well maintained and 5,000’ long or longer.   At these airports you are required to establish and maintain contact with ATC at the boundary of their Traffic Management Area (TMA), which is Class C airspace – usually inside a 50nm radius of the airport. A tower operator will give you instructions for letdown, approach, and any frequency changes for landing. 

Practice with cross-wind landings is important. Remote bush lodges will only have one runway that is aligned with the expected prevailing winds. But if the wind is at 90° to the runway on the day you fly in, you need to be able to handle it. You should also be experienced enough to know when a cross-wind is more than you can handle and that you should divert to an alternate. Judgment is important.
Much of your safari is in uncontrolled airspace. But you’ll start your Self-Fly Safari from Lanseria airport (FALA) in Johannesburg airspace, which is busy and controlled. Throughout your safari you are always able to reach a ground-based controller.  In South Africa, you’ll always have radar coverage. However, once you leave South African airspace there is no radar coverage.

Radio communications can be scratchy and indistinct. This can happen because of long-distances between you and the transmitter or poor quality radios in the plane or (more likely) from the ground-based controller. The accents of other pilots and radio controllers in southern Africa are different from the voices you hear at home.

Radio procedures in controlled airspace throughout southern Africa require that you read back all ATC instructions. If a transmission is unclear you can reply “Say again please” or “Speak slowly”. They’ll know you are a foreigner. Other private pilots in the area will sometimes intercede in muddled conversations and explain to you what ATC is requesting. “…he wants you to report ready for base turn” or “…he wants you to report reaching 20 miles to go” etc.

You can also appeal to other aircraft to clarify what ATC is asking. The aviation community in southern Africa is small and pilots enjoy meeting new people. You may meet the pilot you were talking to while airborne on the ground at the briefing office or fuel bay. They are always happy to answer questions and share stories. Hangar flying and mutual assistance among pilots is universal. 
50-foot obstacle crossing the runway
Bush airstrips are usually not fenced. This means that wild animals (and sometimes pedestrians and automobiles) can wander onto the airstrip.  The big ones, such as elephants and giraffe, are easy enough to spot. But antelope or wart hogs are small, naturally camouflaged and represent a potential hazard to a landing airplane. The sound of an approaching plane can spook a grazing herd of impala that could suddenly dart out onto the runway as you cross the threshold. 

Before landing a low pass over the airstrip to look for animals on the periphery and survey the landing surface is a good practice. Be prepared always to abort your landing and go around until you are absolutely committed to land.


Next time: The Lodges – What kind of places will I be staying at in the bush?

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Over the next several months we’ll discuss what a Self-Fly Safari is like. Among the topics: What are the lodges like? Is this a rugged camping experience? (No). What plane should I use? What happens if I have a problem with my plane? What happens if weather interferes with my safari? What is a day like at a safari lodge?

We want to show what you’re dealing with when flying in southern Africa.  Have a specific question? Let us know and we’ll answer it. Once you've flown in southern Africa your only regret will be that you didn't do it earlier!

We'll start with a look at destination airstrips...

Airstrips – What are the airstrips like in southern Africa?

Approach over a river
The landing strips vary from paved tarmac and concrete to earth and gravel. All are suitable for use with a C-182. Many are long enough to accommodate landings by Cessna Caravan, King Air, Pilatus PC12 and comparable aircraft.

Most bush airstrips are privately owned by the lodges they serve. Typically they are 3,300’ long (1000 meters) long and 50’ wide. The airstrips are well maintained by the lodges and used by private pilots and air charter companies that bring the majority of guests to the lodges.

An Okavango Delta airstrip
In Botswana’s Okavango Delta lodge airstrips are established with a grader or bulldozer. A locally abundant mineral called “calcrete” (calcium carbonate and sand), is mined and crushed to a powder and then spread over the surface of the graded strip. The material is moistened and then rolled smooth. When it dries the surface is hard and provides an excellent landing surface. The Botswana Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) requires that the airstrips be cleared to a distance of 100 meters (330 feet) either side of the landing strip. 

Intu Africa (FYIA) , eastern Namibia
In Namibia, where the geology is different, lodge airstrips are often made up from  loose or packed gravel. Pilots are cautioned to do their run-ups on specially-provided cement run-up pads to mitigate damage to the propeller and tail plane.

A main airport with fuel, Customs & Immigration

Self-Fly Safari pilots will also make intermediate stops at larger, controlled airfields along the way to their bush destinations. Runways at these airports are paved and vary from 5,000’ to 16,000 feet in length. Facilities at these airports include an air traffic control tower, a briefing office, firefighting equipment, fuel, a snack bar and Immigration and Customs facilities for entering and exiting the country.Only a few of these airports have maintenance facilities. The fire brigade at a towered airport may be able to assist with inflating a tire, providing a jump start for a dead battery or other minor services.

The airspace surrounding towered airports are Class C airspace. Pilots approaching them are required to establish and maintain radio communications with tower when entering the airspace through landing and taxi to parking.
In Zambia's Kafue National park
Private bush airstrips in Zambia, Mozambique, Malawi and Zimbabwe vary in their surfaces within these parameters and are suitable for the same range of aircraft. This one is dirt and gravel. 

Next time: What kind of flying experience do I need for a Self-Fly Safari?