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?