Wednesday, July 10, 2013

African Safari Recap

It has been a couple of weeks since my flying safari finished.  As expected, I took a LOT of pictures (over 1300 when the dust settled in my iPhoto library).

Here is a short video recap that includes a few of my favorites from the trip:

Aside from the photos, the animals, and the wonders of Africa, it was also a great way to experience a totally different flying environment.  Since I have been back, many people have asked me about the aviation differences.  So I thought I would share a few of my observations:

1. The flying: This was the easy part for most of our group.  In truth, "flying is flying", no matter where you do it. However, for me it was a bit of an adjustment to fly a steam gauge 182 with no autopilot vs my usual Cirrus cockpit.  But it was great practice and truly the most authentic way to fly on a safari adventure.
2. The airports: We experienced a huge variety of airports ranging from dirt strips in the middle of the Kalahari desert and Okavango Delta to normal big city type of airports in Johannesburg.  But all of the airports were in remarkably good condition and properly managed.
3. The radios: While the ICAO phraseology was quite similar to the US, many in our group had difficulty understanding the controllers due to the accent. In addition, the occasional mix of Afrikaans on the radio only added to the challenge.
4. Radar/GPS: Radar coverage was rather limited throughout our entire journey.  But thank goodness for GPS!! We all relied on a variety of yoke mounted portable GPS gadgets.
5. Altimeter: All settings are in millibars instead of inches, which was expected.  But unlike the US, the process in South Africa, Botswana and Zimbabwe is to switch to standard (1013Mb/29.92") upon reaching cruise altitude which may only be a couple thousand feet AGL.
6. Legal/Customs formalities: As you might imagine, this is something that absolutely demands proper planning.  Luckily, the Hanks had thoroughly prepped us.  So we all managed to stay out of jail ;-)  Between landing fees, airspace usage fees, tower fees, entry fees, departure taxes, etc  you definitely get fatigued at paying fees.  In addition, you truly appreciate the simple, relatively cheap flying environment in the US!
7. Fuel: Avgas was readily available.  The cost was a little more expensive than the the US... But still way less than Europe!
8. Survival gear/ prep: Since we were often flying over very inhospitable terrain, the Hanks made sure each plane was well equipped with ~ 50 lbs of survival gear!  Luckily, none us had to use it!!

Overall, this experience totally exceeded my expectations and I would encourage anyone who is thinking about doing something similar to give it a shot!

== T.J.==

Monday, June 10, 2013

Through the Delta and On to Victoria Falls

We have now left the Okavanga Delta.  But not before a rather incredible stay at the Shinde Lodge.  This lodge is run by the Ker & Downey Group, which is a very large safari tour operator in Botswana.  It is a an amazing five star lodge that is right in the middle of the delta.  We landed on their private dirt runway, which you can see below:
During our stay there, we saw every type of animal that I had hoped to see, including lions, leopards, giraffes, elephants and a whole bunch more!  I took over 300 pictures and couldn't stop shooting...  Here are a couple of my favorites:

After leaving Shinde, we made a quick stop @ Kasane, where we got fuel and cleared outbound customs for Botswana and then headed off for the Zimbabwe side of Victoria Falls.  

I had always wanted to do an overflight of Victoria Falls and on this leg I finally got my chance.  But our flight plan had us doing clockwise 360s around the falls.  So in order to get the best view, I decided (with Paul's encouragement) to fly as PIC from the right seat!  The view was absolutely breathtaking.  You can see for yourself below:
We are planning a day and half here at the falls and then will be off to the next lodge soon.  Who knows what kind of animals (or runways) will be there!

== T.J.==  

Saturday, June 8, 2013

Off to the Okavango Delta

We are about to leave the Haina Kalahari Lodge.  We have had a wonderful 2 days here with lots of animal sightings, such as impalas, kudus, warthogs, etc.  Tons of pictures as you can imagine, such as this one:
This lodge really surprised me.  Despite being in a very remote area, the lodge was "very comfortable", as you can see below:
Most of our game drives where in a Land Cruiser and like any civilized game drive, we took breaks along the way:
In addition to animal spotting, we also got a first hand tour from some local bushman, who showed us a little glimpse of their way of life:
Now it is time to jump into the planes and head further north to the Okavango Delta:

== T.J.==

Friday, June 7, 2013

Into The Kalahari Desert

The first leg of our journey was from Lanseria airport near Johannesburg, South Africa to Gabarone, Botswana.  As you can see, Paul and I were dressed for the occasion and ready to go:

We had 4 planes in our convoy and we flew in a loose formation the whole way.  The lead plane did the radios and planes 2 - 4 followed along visually with a 5 second delay on takeoff and transponders off during the flight.  Paul and I were in the 4th plane.  Since he was flying the first leg, I had plenty of time to take pictures, like this one of the Hartebeespoort Dam:
While we had a flight plan and plenty of GPS equipment, navigation was as simple as "follow the green plane in front of us".  As you can see below, we did that pretty well:
We remained in formation all the way to Gabarone, Botswana, where we got a group clearance to land.  You can see in the picture below that the 2nd plane in our group was turning off the runway, while plane 3 was landing and were just behind them on short final!
After a quick stop for fuel and customs, we were off on the next leg directly into the Kalahari Desert.  I did the flying on this leg and it was the most remote environment I had ever seen!  No roads, no lakes, no towns... Basically NOTHING as far as you could see in any direction.  But I did get to do my first dirt strip landing!  It was the private landing strip of the Haina Kalahari Lodge!  Upon landing, we were were picked up by land cruiser at the side of the runway and taken to a "very comfortable" lodge right in the middle of a game reserve.  I knew we would be staying in a tent.  However, it was the most luxurious tent I had ever seen:
We were entirely out of cell phone range and 120 km from the nearest town.  But, we were not exactly roughing it ;-)

Oh and best of all, the lodge had a satellite dish that enabled internet connectivity, which is why I am able to make this post!

Next we have a day off from flying to go see some of the animals in the area.  Stay tuned for some hopefully wild animal pictures (whenever I can find connectivity again).


== T.J.==

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Final Departure Briefing

Today was our final briefing prior to departure for Botswana tomorrow morning.

First, we did a paperwork check including, waivers, agreements, insurance, etc. 

As you can see below, everyone was excited to finally have their South African Licenses physically in hand!
After the paperwork, we reviewed the entire proposed route, which as you can see below, took us from South Africa, to Botswana, Zimbabwe and back:
Nick and Christine did an amazing job in preparing a 2 inch prep binder that itemized every detail of the journey including charts, photos, radio freqs, etc.  Really, all we have to do is fly!  In addition, they also prepared rather thorough survival kits for each of the four airplanes. 
As you can see, Bruce was perhaps most impressed by how complete the survival kits were ;-)
So tomorrow morning, we will all be decked out in pilot shirts and epaulets for the first segment.  I am not sure if I will be able to post again until Monday June 17th.  But you may want to keep an eye on my twitter feed @TJFlying

== T.J.==

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Checkride Day...

Our entire group of pilots has now arrived and yesterday morning we all gathered for an ATC briefing.  Here is a pic of our group:

The briefing was conducted by Andre (standing in the picture), who is the head of the local ATC facility.  While everyone in the room was a seasoned pilot, most more experienced than me, we really needed this briefing to learn the nuances of the local airspace and the local radio protocol.

Later in the afternoon, several of us (myself included) had our validation checkrides and we all "passed"!

Luckily the winds were much more tame than my first flight! 

Today, I had another unusual experience.  I sat in the back seat as Paul took his validation checkride.  I think it was the first time I ever sat in the back seat, which gave me plenty of time to take pictures and sightsee.

I got lots of gr8 pix, like this one, which is a dam that the locals use as a landmark in the traffic pattern.

Part of Paul's checkride was a landing on a little dirt strip that wasn't even on the map!  You can see the strip below:

After he did a great landing, we took a coffee break before heading back.  Here we are in front of our plane on the dirt strip:

Pual made the dirt strip landing look easy (at least from the back seat).  So next time, I will try it from the left seat!

== T.J.==

Sunday, June 2, 2013

First Flight in South Africa

After all the studying and preparations that I have done over the past 6 months, today was the day for my first flight in South Africa!

This was a training/familiarization flight in my new chariot for the next 2 weeks, which you can see below:
This is a 1975 Cessna 182.  While it is very well maintained and perfectly "fit for purpose" for my mission, the cockpit was a bit frightening to me, which you can see below:
A little bit different than my familiar Cirrus glass cockpit... But I was eager to broaden my flying skills and Nick gave me a great briefing on the plane.

The flight itself had two objectives.  First, I wanted to get some practice with the local procedures, radios, etc. Second, and more importantly I wanted to practice flying ZS-IWP today before my validation checkride tomorrow.

Shortly after I got airborne, I quickly realized that this was an extremely easy airplane to fly.  The controls and responses were all very predictable.  In addition, the local procedures were not that daunting.  After doing a bunch of basic air work, stalls, steep turns and various things to prove to the instructor that I knew what I was doing, it was time to do a few landings.

However, the part that was not predictable was the weather.  The skies were clear.  But the winds were a direct 15 Knot crosswind to the only available runway @ Lanseria!

As a result, my first couple of landings were "less than graceful".  Luckily I had a patient instructor and 10,000 FT of runway to play with.

After the 4th "touch and go", I felt comfortable After the 5th, my instructor was satisfied that I was ready.

Hopefully, I got some video along the way and it will make for some new Youtube videos soon.

Tomorrow is the checkride and if all goes well, I hope to walk away with a "South African validation/endorsement" on my license.

Stay tuned for the next leg of this journey...

== T.J.==

Saturday, June 1, 2013

14 Hour Layover in Mumbai

Today I began my journey towards Africa for the Hanks Aero Adventures, "Self Fly Safari".  As I was preparing for departure from Singapore, I reviewed my itinerary and realized that I had a 14+ hour layover in Mumbai on the way to Johannesburg :-(

I decided to make the most of it.  So I booked a hotel because I knew I had to escape the airport.

When I actually arrived, I landed more than 30 minutes early and so I had even more time to explore.

First I took a prepaid taxi and even splurged by paying the extra 30 Rupees (75 US cents) for an air conditioned car.  After dropping off my luggage at the hotel and getting some great advice from a friendly concierge, I was off.

I took an autorickshaw, which is shown below, to Juhu Beach.

These autorickshaws are all over town, cheap and readily available.  The wildest part is having the "up close and personal" view of the mayhem that is Bombay traffic!

When I got to the beach, I marveled at some of the sand sculptures, such as the one below:

Then for lunch, I had to sample one of my favorite street foods in Bombay, which is Pav Bhaji and fresh coconut juice.  The serving of fresh coconut juice is quite an experience to see.  They literally open the coconut by hand with a machete and then you drink (and/or eat) directly from the coconut shell!

After that I took a regular taxi to the Gateway of India and Taj hotel.  It was a beautiful day for pix at this famous tourist spot, as you can see below: 

At this point, I still had plenty of time to rest a bit at the hotel, have a nice meal at one of the countless nice restaurants in town, and still make it back to the airport in plenty of time for the final 8 hour  flight segment!

Stay tuned for how the actual safari goes.... (I am not sure what sort of connectivity I will find along the way... But I will post when I can...

== T.J.==

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Formation Training (Part 2)

I finally found time to finish the part 2 video on the Formation Flight Training.

Actually, I was on a Newark to Hong Kong flight that was 15.5 hours and I had already finished my email + dinner + a movie and still wasn't sleepy... So I finished this video ...

Hope you enjoy it as much as I enjoyed taking the actual flight training:

== T.J.==

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Formation Flight Training (Part 1)

With only a week before my Singapore adventures begin, I had to squeeze in one last US flight adventure. So this weekend, a fellow Cirrus pilot (David) and I did Cirrus formation flight training @ McCollum field with a couple of former US Air Force pilots(Rich & Stan), who are pictured below during our pre-flight briefing:

During the briefing, David and I learned about formation protocols, hand signals, and the various maneuvers we were about to do.
After a minor maintenance delay, it was time to depart. But the weather was not ideal.
It was dreary and windy with an overcast layer @ ~ 3000 FT and too much crosswind for a true formation takeoff . Instead, we did an interval takeoff with 10 second spacing.

By staying below the clouds at least we didn't have the sun in our eyes! (How's that 4 looking on the bright side of things) ;-)

Rich sat right seat in my plane, while Stan sat right seat in David's plane. We took turns in the lead position and proceeded to do all of the maneuvers we learned on the ground, such as root, fingertip, and echelon turns.
Here is a picture of David & Stan just approaching on my left wing:

You can see some of the flight in the clip below:

After the basic maneuvers, then the real fun began! We did high speed formation approaches back at McCollum field, followed by very steep (greater than 60 degree bank) power off touch and goes!
Clearly the R9 was not accustomed to such aggressive flight attitudes and we even heard the avionics warnings, such as "excessive sink" and "excessive bank"! 

I am still working on part 2 of the video, which shows the approach and landings.

Check back on my Youtube channel in a couple of days to see it.

Overall, it was an incredible experience that I highly recommend to any pilot! 

This type of training does wonders for improving the precision of your stick and rudder skills!

Despite the dreary weather, you can see everyone had huge smiles after the flight: