Saturday, August 19, 2006
My lifelong dream has been to fly from London to Cape Town in a single-engine aeroplane, symbolically joining the country I now call home to the country of my birth. I felt that such a venture could combine my ambition with a charitable cause.
Aids is thought to have killed 25million people since it was discovered and last year claimed the lives of 3.2million people, half a million of those being children. On the bright side however there is treatment for those with Aids. Whilst there is no cure or vaccine at the moment, anti retro-virile treatment allows people to carry on living a fairly normal life.
The planning stage was tedious and occupied a lot of our time over the year before anticipated ‘Blast Off’. Africa is vast, with hazardous terrain, thunderstorms and political problems, never mind the availability of our ‘Go Juice’. Fuel is very difficult to obtain especially in North Africa, and if it is available supplies are unreliable. Each African country requires an Over Flight Clearance. Some are virtually impossible to obtain and are very expensive. Once obtained these clearances will have a window of between 48 and 72 hours, so if you arrive late you have a problem.
Our anticipated departure was 2nd February 2006, but due to the errors of a reputable Maintenance Organization we were delayed by a week. We set off on Thursday 9th of February, a sunny but very cold Thursday morning. Our planned route was to take us via Sardinia, Crete, Luxor, Djibouti, Nairobi, Llilongwe, Johannesburg and then Cape Town, stopping at each of these destinations over night after approximately six to seven hours of flying each day. Remember, we did not have the luxury of cabin service and toilets! The aeroplane was loaded with every conceivable piece of equipment that we thought we would need, including marine, desert and jungle survival equipment. We had two large boxes of charts and maps, enough food and water to last seven days, tools and spares, and even a stepladder. Where did we put it all? I really don’t know, but due to the expertise packing abilities of my co pilot, Rodney, we crammed it all in. My son Jonathan wrote an article about our Epic Journey for AJ6 which reads as follows:
Dad’s Epic Aids Flight
As many of you might know, my dad flies planes. He teaches people to fly and loves to fly all over the world. His problem, however, is that he mostly flies planes which only have one engine and that makes the journey much longer, and is obviously not as safe as your old British Airways flight to the other side of the world. Two years ago he flew to Israel with a number of other planes. After the success of that rally he decided to do the same sort of thing again to raise money for another good cause, which has inflicted his home continent of Africa. Aids (Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome) is defined as “a collection of symptoms and infections in humans with the human immunodeficiency virus”, however I describe it as an epidemic wiping out millions of humans each year.
Aids causes the failure of the human immune system eventually allowing the bacteria and viruses we face in everyday life to kill. HIV is transferred through bodily fluids including saliva, blood, semen and vaginal fluid. This is why HIV has spread across the globe as increasing numbers of people swap their body fluids. Aids has taken a vice hold grip over Africa, affecting between 15 and 50 percent of the populations of many of the countries on the continent.
The ‘One2One Children’s Fund’ is a worldwide children’s charity. In Africa one of its main aims is to support Orphaned AIDS Children. Using funds and government initiatives, they aid the distribution and administration of treatment to children across the continent. In February I visited one of the units in The Groote Schuur (Cape Town's) Hospital. I was amazed at the work they have done and continue to do. One child in particular comes to memory. Not only did he have AIDS but also suffered from cerebral palsy and yet he was smiling whilst he sat waiting for his drugs. I wondered how you could smile if you were in such a situation. But then the Doctor, Professor Paul Roux, who was showing us around smiled at the child and spoke to him with such love and care that even though the child didn't understand he laughed. Then to my amazement he stood up and ran over and gave the doctor a hug. Not only was the unit providing the child with antiretroviral treatment, it was also providing the child with a physiotherapist, child psychologist, nutritionist together with doctors and nurses. We then saw some of the mothers making beadwork. The charity provides the mothers with raw materials. All profits are passed on to the women and this helps them provide for the children at home, which the hospital cannot do.
Dad and his friend Rodney Dennis sat down in December 2004 and began planning the flight route. Due to the arduous and dangerous nature of this journey it was not to be a rally, but just Dad and Rodney, his co-pilot in just one plane. Dodging military air space and bird sanctuaries was quite a task in planning the flight, almost as hard as dodging the objects hurled at me when I accidental deleted a flight plan (whoops). Once this process was finished, my dad realised that he didn't have a plane. Well he did have a very nice plane but it would have had to land in the middle of the desert to refuel and obviously there are not many petrol stations for planes in a desert. So my dad, instead of extending the house (and me getting a bigger room) went out and bought a super pimped Cessna. It was pressurised, had plenty of space for fuel, a karaoke thingy and it even flew! G-PIIX was the new love of my dad's life (although my mum came a very close second).
The next problem came in the week prior to lift off. ‘But Houston we have a problem’. After buying a completely unnecessary engine monitoring gizmo, the aeroplane mechanics fitted the thing incorrectly, resulting in the temperature probes breaking off and flying through the turbocharger, which promptly exploded. Now I'm no aeroplane mechanic but that is not good news! Finally the mechanics fitted a not so new turbocharger allowing the two pilots to zoom off 7 days late.
So now the two intrepid explorers were finally on their way with their survival suits on and their dingy packed and the plane filled with water, food, drips, first aid stuff and a satellite phone. Was the trip an uneventful one? Well if it had been I would have finished my article by now, however that was not the case. On the first leg to Sardinia the plane behaved (not counting all the navigational equipment and the radios going dead for a while). During the second leg, whilst crossing the foot of Italy, 3 ‘bumps’ were felt and heard, but all Dad and Rodney could do was carry on to Crete. On arrival they could find nothing wrong with the engine so they went out for dinner trying to put the bumps to the back of their mind. The next day they suffered no problems and enjoyed the snow-capped mountains of Crete followed by a three hundred mile long sea crossing and the welcoming sight of the African coastline and continent.
After flying over 350 miles of desert (where they held their breathe because if they went down here they were “dead meat” in the words of my dad) they thankfully reached the Nile and the town of Luxor in Egypt. Few pictures were taken in Luxor because there they try and fleece you for all you are worth, so Dad and Rodney had to act like poor men. Two poor men with a plane? Well it seemed to work or maybe it was the packet of cigarettes they slipped the locals. They set off on the longest leg of the journey. Luxor to Djibouti involved flying over some of the most hostile terrain in Africa via Sudan and Eritrea, overcoming rugged mountains, deserts and at times no radio contact. If they were to crash land they would have had to somehow land the plane on a mountain and then probably make their own way to the closest form of civilisation, which was days away, provided they avoided the local bandits. To their dismay the aeroplane’s turbo charger started to malfunction, resulting in a 25% loss of power. The aircraft was not able to climb to minimum safe altitude, making the flight over the mountains even more treacherous, but it was scenery which dad described as awe inspiring and fascinating. Thanks to the pilots’ skilful flying, dodging high ground and powerful up and down drafts and with some help from above, they managed to reach Djibouti. Here they stayed in probably the only safe hotel in the country, a Sheraton, which had no bath plugs or hot water, decorated with tatty carpets and doors which did not fit the doorways. This is yet another indication of the poverty and problems that Africa faces. After refuelling the next morning (where the re-fueler was chewing his local weed whilst hand pumping the aviation fuel out of 200 litre drums) the team set off to Nairobi. Their pilots uniforms helped beat the local bureaucracy.
The trip to Nairobi again involved dodging high ground over the Ethiopian Mountains near Dire Dawa. Again the scenery was beautiful. The approach to Nairobi’s Wilson Airport was hectically busy. Some form of civilisation had been reached again and help was at hand in the form of temporary repairs to the engine. Here they also met the chairman of the charity, David Altschuler, who gave the two pilots a tour around the AIDS centre at Kenyata Hospital, which is partially funded by the charity. It was very impressive with psychiatrists, nutritionists, pharmacists working alongside paediatricians and nurses helping the sufferers of aids in the area.
Taking off in the heat of the middle of the day from high altitude Nairobi, the next leg took the pilots to Lilongwe in Malawi. The aeroplane initially performed like a gem, but as they trundled along, all of the sudden they again suffered a power loss. However, by tweaking the controls they managed to continue to Lilongwe over the much greener scenery of Tanzania, bypassing Mount Kilimanjaro and associated high ground. After flying over barren desert and mountains they had reached “the garden of Eden”, Malawi. The huge Lake Malawi, described as an ‘inland blue sea’ contrasted incredibly with the greenery around it. Malawi, an incredibly poor country rife with AIDS, marked the last point in the trip before reaching South Africa. The pilots phoned the engineers in Cape Town to try and resolve their engine problem, bur were told they would have to try and make it to Johannesburg.
The penultimate leg involved flying over Mozambique, Zimbabwe and then over the Limpopo River into South Africa. The trip was a sad one as Rodney and Dad witnessed the difference between South Africa's irrigated farmland and the barren farms of Zimbabwe, failing to produce the food so desperately needed there. Then disaster! Just 80 miles from Lanseria Airport, just north of Johannesburg, where they had planned to land, Dad noticed that the oil pressure appeared to be dropping significantly, indicating a major problem with the engine. This combined with severe African thunderstorms created a dilemma. Should an immediate forced landing be attempted or should they push on? With engine temperatures remaining normal they pushed on to land safely at their destination airport with emergency services in attendance. However the new turbocharger had blown a seal with the result that all the engine oil, bar one quart out of ten, had been lost to the atmosphere. I am sure there were some very angry people below! The plane was grounded for repairs and so the two pilots could not use it to make their final trip to Cape Town the next day. In order not to miss the party arranged for them, they traded G-PIIX in for a flight with the South African airline ‘One Time’, so named because you will only fly with them one time! Unfortunately, because of the problems with G-PIIX, the media coverage for their arrival was cancelled, which did annoy me as I missed my opportunity to become a TV star. Oh well, at least Dad and Rodney were safe.
Six days later, with the plane repaired, the two flew back up to Johannesburg and completed the flight to the southern tip of Africa via the eastern coast. They routed via Durban, Port Elizabeth and Cape Agulhas (the most southern tip of Africa). The plane performed superbly and the two pilots enjoyed the breathtaking scenery of the South African coastline from a height of 500 feet above the water. Along the way they were filled with nostalgia as they rediscovered places they used to frequent as kids. At Cape Town Airport they were welcomed by African Drummers, a fitting conclusion to their epic journey. They decided to dismantle G-PIIX and send it back by ship in a container as they had run out of time and, well what if that engine played up again? Dad and Rodney had achieved what they had set out to do, linking South Africa with the United Kingdom. So far over £15,000 has been raised for the charity and they are still counting. All expenses of the flight were fully borne by Dad and Rodney, which means my Ferrari has been put on hold. Nevertheless, the cause is a most worthy one and I am most proud of Dad and Rodney for helping kids less fortunate than myself.
Wednesday, April 05, 2006
Sunday, March 05, 2006
Tuesday 28th February 2006.
Back to a much calmer Andrew’s Field and the final leg in the journey from London to Cape Town. We prepared the plane with mixed emotions. Excitement about the completion of the trip tinged with sadness that the adventure was coming to an end.
We took off and flew around down to Cape Agulhas and then around the coast towards Hermanus via Gansbaai. The cloud base was about 1000 foot and the mountains of the Western Cape were obscured throughout our flight into Cape Town. We were given a visual join to runway 19 at Cape Town International and landed at 15:15 and were met at the airport by Rodney’s nephew and niece, Michael and Ruth, and a drum duo welcoming us to Cape Town. This was the end of a wonderful and eventful trip.
We took off from Port Elizabeth on a cloudy day for another VFR flight to a small airport at Agulhas, the southern tip of Africa. The flight takes you past the Wilderness, Knysna, George and Cape Infanta, where Rodney has spent many a happy week fishing and enjoying the company of his friends from university. We arrived at a very windy Andrew’s Field (the most southern airstrip in Africa) in the early afternoon and were taken down to the tip of Africa by the hotel manager and then enjoyed a wonderful evening at the lodge.
WE SPENT A WONDERFUL WEEKEND IN PE WITH DAVID'S BROTHER AND SISTER-IN-LAW IAN AND ANNE AND DAUGHTER CLARE WHO ONLY HAD SIX TEENAGE HOURS LEFT
Saturday 25th February.
We hired a taxi to take us up the North Coast to Tongaat Beach for Rodney to revisit the holiday home which he and his family had enjoyed every year throughout his childhood.
After a thorough briefing at Virginia airport, we decided on a VFR flight down the coast to Port Elizabeth where we would visit David’s sister-in-law and family. We flew at 500 feet down the Wild Coast which was a stunning experience.
Friday 24th February 2006.
We set off for Durban having obtained a forecast of isolated thunderstorms en route, only to be confronted with a continuous barrage of lightening and turbulence for half the journey. The radio frequency was congested with the commercial jet traffic looking for weather diversions.
We arrived at Virginia airport in Durban in the early afternoon and checked in to the Blue Waters hotel on the North Beach, where David had spent his honeymoon. We had a great nostalgic swim in the sea with wonderful bodysurfing.
Thursday 23rd February 2006.
We arrived early and prepared the plane for a preliminary hours’ test flight only to be told by ATC after start-up that the weather was below Visual limits for this flight so we filed an IFR flight plan for a longer trip to Durban and back.
We took off and forty minutes into the flight, we noticed an oil slick on the windshield and on the engine cowling. The engine temperatures started to soar and we declared an urgency situation and air-traffic routed us back to Lanseria.
The Fire Department was waiting for us and escorted us back to maintenance. The aircraft was covered in oil which had escaped from the engine. The oil filler cap had come adrift!
Once the plane had been cleaned up we decided to make a more modest proving flight and flew VFR to Pielandsberg over the Magaliesberg mountains and then back to Lanseria. The flight was without incident.
The delays in leaving London and the delays in Johannesburg which we had suffered with the maintenance meant that the time available for our return flight to the UK had become very tight. We discussed our options and made the difficult decision not to fly back to the UK but rather to make our way to Cape Town which would complete our original mission and then ship the plane back to the UK from there.
This would also give us time to enjoy a few days seeing some of the wonderful South African scenery and revisit our childhood haunts.
22nd February 2006.
After spending a pleasant few days in Cape Town, and having to pack in the dark (courtesy of ongoing problems at Cape Town’s Koeberg nuclear power station!) we flew to Johannesberg. We hired a car at JHB airport, (it would have been easier and quicker to steal one!) and made our way to Lanseria airport.
The plane had been ground run by the engineers and all seemed well. We arranged for two test flights for the next day.
Tuesday, February 21, 2006
After enjoying the hospitality of Cyril and Monique, David’s brother and sister-in-law, we made an early start for the airport to try and asses the extent of the engine problem. The news was not good as our brand new turbo-charger had malfunctioned and spewed our oil out the exhaust. We had to leave G-PIIX and take a scheduled flight for the short trip to Cape Town. We enjoyed a lovely party of family and friends given by Rodney’s wife Pammie which did lots to lift our downhearted spirits.
We hope to have the aircraft ready for our return flight on schedule.
Wednesday 15th February
Our journey yesterday from Nairobi to Lilongwe was marred by another attack of the power loss that had afflicted us earlier in the trip. We both thought that the remedial action in Nairobi had cured the problem but alas not.
We spent a very pleasant evening at the Capital Hotel in Lilongwe and enjoyed our first swim of the trip. Next morning after a hearty breakfast we were driven to the airport past the Shanghai Gardens, a many acre garden donated by the Chinese Government to the people of Malawi! We were both taken by the verdant nature of the country and after a thorough African weather briefing, we departed for Lanseria in Johannesburg.
The flight over Zimbabwe was very nostalgic for Rodney as he had lived there for some years in his youth. We both felt an immense sense of achievement as we crossed the Limpopo into South African airspace. In addition we were “rewarded” by the complete restoration of power. Some 80 miles North of Lanseria we suddenly noticed the oil pressure starting to drop. Our approach to Lanseria was made very difficult by unhelpful air-traffic, thunderstorms and the knowledge that something was amiss with the aircrafts engine. We landed safely in a torrential thunderstorm and taxied to our stand. A quick inspection of the engine oil revealed that we had lost a considerable amount of our oil. We both realised that our plan of flying to Cape Town the next day would have to be put on hold until the problem had been resolved.
Wednesday, February 15, 2006
14th February 2006.
It was great to meet David Altschuler last night for dinner and we arranged to join him in a tour of the AIDS centre at Keyata Hospital. After 5 hours sleep we went to the airport to complete all our pre-flight paperwork and pay the fees. David came to pick us up and saw the plane. We enjoyed our tour of the hospital although it had to be brief as we needed to take off before temperatures got too high at this high altitude airport (5,500 feet above sea level). The take off got the adrenaline flowing as our heavily laden bird crept into the air.
The climb to 12,000 feet was rather slow as it was hot by then, but was necessary to avoid a particularly high mountain just South of Nairobi. We both remarked on how different the terrain was compared to yesterday and the day before. Suddenly we were in the Garden of Eden. Lake Malawi was a spectacular sight with views that were interrupted by one or two thunderstorms.
Tomorrow we look forward to reaching South Africa.
Monday, February 13, 2006
We left our very tatty but very expensive Sheraton accommodation an hour earlier than expected because we had been unaware that Djibouti was 3 hours ahead of GMT not 2 as is the rest of this longitude. Our pilot uniforms were a great passport for getting through the official bureaucracy. We needed to do a little maintenance on the aircraft but left on time for an enjoyable flight over Ethiopia and into Kenya. The arrival to Nairobi was interesting as neither of us realised how mountainous the terrain is to the North of Nairobi. We landed at Nairobi Wilson airport which a hectically busy GA airport nestled between Jomo Kenyata (3 miles away) and Eastleigh airport.
The people at the airport were extremely helpful giving us a briefing on how to depart tomorrow.
Well we left Luxor with our shirt – note only one shirt after our combined negotiating skills led to an exorbitant handling charge. It was difficult to take photos on the ground because the gang of handlers surrounded us and were extremely inquisitive about what we had. We were even asked about the value of our plane to which we replied “two cars”.
The journey from Luxor to Djibouti is the longest of the trip and over the most hostile terrain as you will see from the photo’s. We flew over Egypt, Sudan and Eritrea spending hours without seeing any form of civilisation and out of radio range. When we talked about the journey at end of the day we realised that we had both spent much of the time wondering where or how we would land if we had a problem. The pictures give you some idea of why.
We arrived in Djibouti and were most relieved to find that they had AVGAS which was sold to us by the man with green teeth and a green tongue – compliments from chewing the local Djibouti weed!
Saturday, February 11, 2006
DAVID AND RODNEY WOULD LIKE TO CONGRATULATE CHRIS AND ROWENA ON THEIR MARRAGE TODAY AND WISH THEM EVERY HAPPINESS IN THEIR FUTURE TOGETHER!!!
SORRY WE COULD NOT BE THERE
SATURDAY 11TH February.
THE NORTH AFRICAN COAST
Today has been the most enjoyable day of the flight so far. Great views of the snow capped mountains of Crete and then a long sea crossing to be rewarded by the extraordinary sight of the North African coast and the knowledge that we could dump our survival suits and life jackets until the return home. The temperatures are now warming and it was unbearably hot with the suits on.
The vastness of the desert is remarkable, a moonscape completely devoid of people. Over the 300 miles we saw only one oasis until greated by the spectacular green ribbon of the Nile. We landed in Luxor and enjoyed the two hour wait for the fuel.
Tomorrow it is an early start for the longest leg of our journey down to Djibouti.
FRIDAY 10TH FEBRUARY
TO THE RIGHT THE ALPS
This morning we arrived at the airport to file our flight plan for Crete which was promptly rejected by Italian air traffic services (ATC) for no apparent reason. A different route was required and after we had planned it, it turned out that ATC cleared us on our original route! What a waste of 1.5 hours of our time.
Then into the air climbing to13,000 feet for our journey to Crete. The Med was unfortunately hidden by a blanket of cloud so no great views. On the positive side we enjoyed great tail winds giving us a ground speed of 200 MPH.
Half way through the trip whilst still grappling with our engine management system, there was a bump. We both thought a flight4life sticker had detached from the plane. Then another bump, and shortly thereafter, another. At this stage we considered that it may be an engine problem. We reset the power and the mixture and the rest of the trip was uneventful. On landing all stickers were in place, so we downloaded the engine information onto the pc to analyse so as to determine whether we had had an engine problem. All the charts looked normal, so we went out for dinner.
THURSDAY 9TH FEBRUARY
We departed from Elstree on Thursday 9th 2006 at 10 am on the first leg of our long adventure and charity raising endeavours for the one2one children’s fund. The flight was successful except for an agonising moment when all our Navigation and communications radio’s went dead!! There was a panic in the cockpit and dismay when we thought that our endeavours had come to an abrupt halt. The fault was quickly rectified by one of the crew who ascertained that the other crew member had accidentally knocked two vital switches off. He blames it on the emergency gear he was wearing. Another less serious development was the loss of our auto pilot, but our on-board engineer seems to have fixed it. It is amazing what you can do with a hammer!!
The weather en route was sunny but we were flying above a layer of cloud so the only scenery we had was the tops of the Alps protruding through the clouds as we crossed the Rhone valley.
Tomorrow we make for Crete and we will try to place another posting in the evening.