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!