I am sitting in a hotel room relaxing at last after 6 months of stress and really hard work. James is going through the Jeppesen en route maps and has just shown me how few African countries have radar (SSR to track transponders). Well … in a way that is the beauty of Africa.
I must admit I am still in a state of shock … so much happened in such short succession over the last few weeks that the days and nights blurred into each other. My emotions soared and plummeted a few times every day especially over the last week or 2 as we test flew the Sling and the departure date loomed. And now we have completed the first real test – it seems like a dream somehow. Right from the beginning James and I split the work – James tackled the paperwork … that is the paperwork needed to get the Sling certified and ready for the trip and of course all the authorizations from around the world … and I would be responsible for making the plane and getting it flying well. James’ other job was to obtain his IF rating and in the limited time we had that was quite an achievement. I recently obtained my PPL with a night rating so between us we should be able to handle most situations – I hope. It was a hell of a job to get the plane ready and fully tested … without Steve, Jean, Ntanga , Vincent and Jay helping day and night we would till be at home in cold Jhb!
I was really nervous and scared for the flight last night. I mean I have done some big flights but last night was really something that felt right out there on the edge. Firstly the 300 kg extra load on top of the normal maximum 600 kg at takeoff is enough to make anyone sweat. Now that I have done it a few times I know that plane is fine being overloaded but still you have to fly very carefully.
Then as we climbed out past Pilanesberg and headed towards Botswana the sun set … As the darkness descended on us my heart raced and my eyes darted outside trying desperately to look for landing places in the event of a problem. And then it was completely dark and there was no point in looking outside. James and I were busy at first preparing for the night, clothes, torches, emergency procedures … and then we were on our way, everything was working well, the engine was purring away , the plane was trimmed well and flying nicely. I looked at James in the darkness and the two of us screamed our joy and gave each other a hug … there was no turning back.
What an amazing experience .. flying at night in a tiny plane across the wilderness that is Botswana and Angola. We dealt with a whole lot of issues but we were expecting them except for one. A few times in the night we lost GPS connection but on one occasion after we had fiddled around and rectified the problem we started flying in exactly the opposite direction – back to SA. It didn’t take long to lose the plot and that gave us a huge wake up call.
Botswana would not allow us to fly a night VFR flight so we changed our flight plan to IFR and flew the whole way at flight level 080. At midnight James lay down to sleep for an hour and then an hour later I did the same – we were always both awake at 8 minutes past the hour to change tanks. 1 hour on each of the 6 tanks and then we started from the beginning again. The throttle and prop were carefully set at the beginning of the night and then we left them right there preferring not to fiddle with something that is working well. Just so that you know about this right at the outset, the Trio autopilot flies most of the time with us just tweaking it now and then but we have to watch it like a hawk because if there is a problem we have to catch it immediately.
Our biggest problem on the first night was cold. We were freezing even though we had a blanket and all our clothes on. And food. Foolishly we didn’t eat anything before we left so our lives were saved by the sandwiches Charmaine packed for us. We each have a very nice little head torch which we wear all night. Oh yes, the toilet … well Robert made us a very handy little trouser snake peeing apparatus with a pipe which we pop through the floor and it works like a charm. The plastic bags we haven’t had to use yet, but they are handy … We are excited about getting to Oshkosh and in particular we are looking forward to being with our Oshkosh family of Cherie, Shelly and Geoffrey.
More breaking news as it happens …