2009. május 4., hétfő

A long time ago in Maun

For all of you who are not really into forums here's a post from a Maun "vet" that really gives you the last kick to start packing and head to Maun. Thanks Draglift for allowing me to post your memories here too.
I was based at
Khwai River lodge just North East of Maun in 1983-1984 aged 24. At the time I had an FAA ATP and had converted to both a South African CPL/IR in Johannesburg (Lanseria) and then did a Botswana CPL/IR validation in Gaborone. For the Botswana medical one of the printed questions on the doctor’s form was “Is he an idiot?" My job was to fly a Cessna 206 (A2-ADX) and 2 Britten Norman Islanders (A2-AEA and ZS-KMD.) I have quoted those registrations 26 years later with no need to look them up (...) I thought the Islander was very sophisticated as it had a seat belt sign switch which illuminated 2 seat belt signs! It was great flying and great multi-engine experience. Apart from Maun the roads through the bush were sand, navigation was dead reckoning apart from NDBs at Maun and Kasane. In the camps we refuelled by handpumping avgas from 54 gallon drums through a chamois leather filter. The Cessna Caravan had not yet made it to the Okavango. Britten Norman had come out to demonstrate the turbine powered Islander but noone had bought them. All flying was daylight only as there were no runway lights anywhere although once in an emergency I landed at night at Khwai between 2 landrovers with their headlights on and Maun when one of our servants had accidentally cut off most of her leg at the ankle while chopping wood. My routes were Vic Falls via Kasane. Also Maun, Gaborone, and a lot of the camps, and occasionally to Etosha and Johannesburg. A lot of the flying was dead reckoning and the delta could change overnight after rain.

The Cessna 206 was an incredible workhorse and I handpropped the 300 hp Lycoming on a couple of occasions when the starter solenoid failed. The one I flew didn't have a pod and the weight and balance rule seemed to be "if there is less than 6 inches between the tail skid and the ground the c of g is too rearward or it's too heavy! (Please don't anyone take this literally.) The DCA insisted on a weight and balance per flight and we got round that by having about ten completed weight and balance sheets in the plane and if I was met at the end of the flight I hurriedly selected an appropriate one. The new Airport at Gaberone was being built and flying down to Gaborone to have the plane serviced meant a couple of hours dead reckoning before the ADF picked up the local radio station which was a stronger signal than the airport NDB.
Kasane was a dirt strip in those days. The airport manager's job seemed to be to clear cattle off the strip. My first trip in to Kasane he said to me "After takeoff if you fly over de army camp you will be shot down" I innocently replied "OK, where is the army camp?" His reply "I cannot tell you, it is a secret!" However I had been well briefed beforehand. If you wanted immigration to attend your arrival you first buzzed the town of Kasane and cycled your prop(s). Ten minutes later a white Land Rover would arrive in a whirl of dust and 2 immaculately dressed passport officers would get out and stamp your passengers' passports on the bonnet before driving off again.
Victoria Falls was a delightful airport. For a while the landing fee was 25 Zim dollars but you could only import 20 Zim dollars. It was a catch 22 situation. There was no currency exchange at the airport and you had to pay in local but there was a fine if you brought in more than 20 Zim dollars! I used to look enviously at the Air Zimbabwe Vickers Viscounts which seemed enormous.
My experience in the Okavango was unforgettable and one of the best experiences in my life. 652 sectors in all with a few interesting moments. But at the time I was thirsty to fly bigger planes. I've been flying wide bodied Boeings for the last twenty two years but have a yearning to go back to the Okavango...

Photos: Mack Air and Kavango
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