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?

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