Bush Pilot on Self-Fly Safari in Botswana
by Thomas Fabian
Eagle Flight Academy offers professional pilot training. Second to Private Pilot License (PPL), Commercial Pilot License (CPL, ME) the ambitious pilot is looking out for more : real bush flying in Africa !
Foreign license holders, especially FAA or JAR-rated pilots, have a keen interest in flying over the African continent. Africa offers the ultimate resort for the real aviatior : Being free like an Eagle !
Take off is at Eagle Flight Academys, a private owned runway 35, at 06:45 Zulu time. The pilot in command and the owner of the flying school, CFI D.J. Lubbe serving as safety pilot, are ready for new adventures on board a Piper Aztec, Model C, PA-23/250, six-seater aircraft; Registration ZS-ZGO.
The flight plan is an initial climb to FL075, routing north-easterly to Pilanesberg. Pilanesburg (FAPN) is a manned airport and can be used for international exit and entry formalities. We landed on runway 05 at 08:25hrs. The very pleasant customs personnel handled the whole procedure in an excellent and serious manner. Within thirty minutes, the luggage of the pilots and co-pilots, and the compartments of the aircraft had been checked.
After start-up and taxi clearance, we exercised the power checks and the pre-takeoff briefings. Thereafter clearance for departure, ZGO took off from runway 05, routing now directly to the north. Next destination - Gaborone, Botswana.
After 40 minutes flight time, and changing the frequency from Johannesburg North to Gaborone Approach, we had the field in sight and were cleared for landing on runway 08.
The radio communication in Botswana is a bit more tricky as the accent of the ATC is more difficult to understand. Nevertheless, a bush pilot must be able to handle such challenges!
After landing, the next intersection was cleared for leaving the runway. Next stop fuel pumps, refuelling the aircraft, thereafter customs entry formalities into Botswana. The service was similar and as reliable as that of the South African customs. After 45 minutes, our passports had been stamped and the eagle, the Piper Aztec, was in flight via Francistown to our second destination in Botswana , Kasane. This little town is located on the periphery of Botswana, at a point where the borders of Botswana,Zambia and Zimbabwe meet. The Chobe river and the Okavango delta are located in area. After a six hours flight, the pilots were worn out. The stay at the luxurious Chobe Lodge made our flight over the region all the more memorable. After sunset the rhinos were shouting, as the different birds sang and monkeys chattered away competing in this song contest of the wild.
The second day of our bush flying experience was more relaxed than the first day. Routing from Kasane twenty minutes westwards over the Chobe River at a level of 200ft above ground, then left turn heading to Nata in the southerly direction. A total of two and a half hours of flying over a fantastic bush ground, where a few gravel roads for emergency landings were easily determined. Here lies FBNT, a desolate airstrip with a 1100m long runway. Approaching the field at a height 2000ft, we made the windsock check and also a low level inspection of the runway. After this „clearance“ we landed slightly beyond the „threshold“ of runway 09.
Nata Lodge with its fantastic challets with beautiful interior, excellent food and service, is a unique haven in this savanna area. In the late afternoon we joined a safari organized by the lodge. The Makgadikgadi salt pans with an expanse of 12.000 square kilometers are the largest in the world. The drive was impressive as we experienced the silence and peacefulness, watching the pelikans flying and wading in the Boteti river, the wildebeest, several spring boks and last but not the least a wonderful sunset behind the Ntwetwe Pan.
The third day of our self-fly safari was planned from Nata back to Gaborone. The same procedure, but now the opposite way: customs and immigration exit formalities out of Botswana. Refuelling the Aztec at the fuel pumps and cleared for take-off to Pilanesberg (FAPN). Fifty minutes later, we landed in Pilanesberg and proceeded with customs and immigration entry formalities into the Rainbow nation, the Republic of South Africa.
At the end of the bush fly safari we had done a total of over 14hrs. Bush flying overhead the airfield of Eagle Flight Academy, halfway Christiana and Hartswater, in the Northern Province. This was a indeed a fantastic experience ! For FAA and JAR-rated pilots looking for new flying adventures, it go for a self-fly safari, it will certainly be worthwhile.
My best wishes and regards to the people of Eagle Flight Academy who offer such trips to all interested pilots from overseas. The validation process of foreign licenses takes not more than 3 days. Once cleared, the pilots are ready to go for that once in a lifetime African experience, the Self-fly Safari across the African skies!
Pilot in Command: Thomas Fabian (TH-Aviation-ConneXions.com)
Owner of Aircraft: D.J. Lubbe (Eagle Flight Academy, Hartswater, North Province, South Africa).