Thursday, 31 December 2015

My Top 3 Outdoors Podcasts of 2015

1-    The Outdoors Station – Going strong since 2006, Bob Cartwright has now produced 400 episodes of the show.  Back Catalogue has some truly excellent stuff in it and for anyone wanting to do the TGO challenge there are several year's TGOs covered each in around 10 episodes – some great tips here.  Bob returned to podcasting the challenge this year.  Other highlights included some of his one night out wild-camping 
2-      The Pursuit Zone – A relative newcomer.  This podcast is put together by Paul Schmid and is US based. Despite being based in the US this is an unusually non parochial production.  Of the episodes I have listened to so far approximately 80% have been of interviews with Brits and only 1 has been an interview with a US adventurer. 
3-      Scotland Outdoors – BBC Scotland production this is the podcast of the Scotland Outdoors radio show that goes out every Saturday morning at 0630 on BBC Radio Scotland.  Range of topics is eclectic but great listening

Tuesday, 29 December 2015

Some Other Stuff I did in 2015

Rome for Xmas

The Great War; a call from the trenches; the University of Aberdeen -  6 November  and;

Survival in Solitude an Interview with Terry Waite by Professor Anne Glover of the University of Aberdeen -  16 November

If one looks around it is possible to find some truly high quality free nights out.  These 2 events in November were held at  the University of Aberdeen .  The 1st as part of the University’s ongoing  events programme ( ) and the second as part of the multi-University ‘Being Human’ Festival of the humanities ( ).

In ‘The Great War; a call from the trenches’, Professor Steve Heys (narrating), Tom Scotland (performing poetry from memory) and the Chamber Choir of Robert Gordon's College described the war on the Western Front through  the poetry and diaries of Siegfried Sassoon and the poetry and letters of Wilfred Owen. The Robert Gordon's Chamber Choir added emotion to the presentation with WW1 songs chosen to complement the poetry and to reflect the mood of the times.  By the end of the evening it was impossible not to have tears in one’s eyes.  My only note of caution would be that the presentation showed very much presenting the ‘Poet’s view’ of the war  that is now being brought into question as too simplistic and sentimental (Blackadder-like) a view of the conflict.  Having shown  that the war in the trenches was truly awful, and it was, it should be remembered that Owen died not in the trenches but in the last days of the war during the great advance towards Germany once the stalemate had been broken.

In ‘Survival in Solitude’ Terry Waite,  who spent almost five years in total solitary confinement after being captured by Hezbollah while he was in Lebanon trying to secure the release of British hostage John McCarthy and other western captives, was interviewed expertly by Professor Glover.  In this fascinating interview, Terry Waite spoke about how he kept his humanity under the toughest of conditions, including during mock executions.  In particular, Terry showed a huge sense of humour and even spoke of seeing humour in the sometimes awful situations he faced. 

Terry also talked about how he was able to draw positives from his captivity stating that although he would have preferred not to have been captured that he does not regret it – it is now part of what makes him who he is and he certainly came across as someone comfortable in his own being. Since his release, Terry has founded Hostage UK, an organisation designed to give support to hostages and their families.  He talked briefly about this at the Q and A at the end of the interview and it would probably come as a surprise to most just how many people are being held as hostages across the world.

At one point during his captivity, Waite had eschewed the opportunity to escape after a guard had left his AK47 unattended.  Waite had considered using the weapon but chose not to as ‘a man working for peace’ he considered that it would have been counter-productive, if not hypocritical, to have used the weapon on his guards.  Instead he told them of their error.  In the Q &A he was asked for his opinion regarding the UK’s response to IS.  Tellingly this man of peace was categorical in stating that military force would be needed to deal with this abomination of Islam.  Jeremy Corbyn should take note!

It is now a quarter of a century since Terry was captured.  The man that has emerged from those 25 years and who sat in front of this audience was witty, urbane, humane and most importantly at peace with his past.

Prague in July

Tuesday, 22 December 2015

Book Review - When Britain Saved the West: The Story of 1940 by Robin Prior; completed 18 December 2015

Australian author Robin Prior has written a masterpiece.  This book was one of Dr Gary Sheffield’s History Books of 2015 (BBC History Magazine); I couldn’t put it down it is an excellent read.  This is not just the story of ‘Britain Alone’ that has often been re-told as it examines how Britain, under Churchill’s leadership stood against Nazism and for the concept of Liberal Democracy.  The author defines ‘The West’ not in geographic terms but in conceptual ones as that ‘group of countries where the state seeks to uphold the rule of law and the values of the Enlightenment – political diversity, freedom of speech , tolerance of minorities; secular in outlook’ .  By this definition then,  in Europe only Britain remained as part of ‘The West’ by July of 1940 as every country in Europe, except Sweden and Switzerland, was either occupied by or allied to Nazi Germany.  1940 was also the year that Nazi Germany lost the War, as Richard J Evans points out in  ‘The Third Reich at War’, when Germany failed to knock Britain out of the war – ‘she was doomed from that moment’.  Evans described the Battle of Britain as the 1st major turning point of the War.  This book is not just about the Battle of Britain, however, as Prior identifies a number of key crises, as well as the Battle of Britain, within that fateful year that threatened Britain’s existence as a state, it is not a general history of all the military events of 1940 so the Norwegian and N African Campaigns are left out.  

Prior’s narrative commences with the Parliamentary Crisis that led to the deposition of Chamberlain for  Churchill in May 1940 at a point when Chamberlain had in fact just won a No Confidence vote and remained as leader of the Conservative party, which had a large majority in Parliament.   The author is scathing of Chamberlains’ lethargic prosecution of the war , a result either of his belief that a negotiated peace with Hitler was still possible or, according to Prior, that once war was engaged the German peple would overthrow the Nazis.  Both possibilities show a fundamental ignorance of the nature of the enemy on Chamberlain’s behalf.

The Parliamentary crisis, in spite of the result of the No Confidence vote, was precipitated by the abject failure in Norway and the resulting collapse of support from the opposition benches (led by Atlee and Goodwood in particular and by Bevan the Trade Unionist) for the war as well as from within the Conservative Party ranks (led by factions linked to Eden and Beaverbrook).  Churchill’s wide cross party appeal, his long-standing record of opposition to Nazism and his good relations with opposition and Trade Union Leaders, led to Chamberlain to resign as PM and recommend Churchill to the King on 10 May.  Now Britain had a leader prepared to do whatever was necessary to win the war (including offering a permanent political union with France to keep her in the war, and after the French defeat to take the distasteful but ruthless decision to sink the French fleet at Mers-el-Kébir (killing more than 1,200 men) to prevent it from falling into German hands).

Churchill’s accession was by no means smooth as the Parliamentary Crisis became the Cabinet Crisis. 10 May not only marked the accession of Churchill but also of the German attack kin the West.  Not only did Churchill have to manage the war but he did not yet have a free political hand.  With Chamberlain still leader of the Tories and the appeaser Lord Halifax still head of a powerful party faction these men had to be given War Cabinet posts at the expense of Eden and others who would have provided much needed backbone.  To be inclusive Atlee and Goodwood had to come into the War cabinet to provide a national coalition to prosecute the war.  Throughout the next few weeks Halifax in particular would work to undermine Churchill’s bellicosity by seeking Italian intervention for a negotiated peace.  It was only firm leadership from Churchill and eventually the obvious intention of Italy of joining the war on the German side that defeated Halifax’s intent.  Chamberlain’s death in November would eventually allow Churchill to get rid of Halifax but for now he would continue to be a thorn in the side.

The military defeat of the BEF and the later surrender of France is an oft told story but Prior makes a number of key observations that have been less well publicized.  First among these was the intensity of the efforts that Churchill went to in order to keep France in the war.  Although it is well known that Dowding refused to send additional fighters to France, Churchill committed far more than he needed to (and many French fighter ac were never committed).  Prior shows, that contrary to common perception the BEF and supporting French Army immediately to its south fought determinedly and effectively though were left hanging by the collapse of the Belgians to the north that precipitated the retreat to Dunkirk and the evacuation.  British commanders., particularly at Corps and Divisional level also performed well and it is a credit to the BEF commander, often maligned, and to the initiative of  British Army leadership that Gort was willing to disobey Churchill (without repercussion) to order the retreat of the BEF to the coast , thereby saving it.  An Army in being in Britain would later be a key piece of the jigsaw leading to the cancellation of Seelowe. 

At Dunkirk, Prior’s major criticism is for the performance of the RAF whose fighters should have been able to establish air superiority over the beaches as its fighter bases were much closer to the battlefield than were the Luftwaffe’s.  Dowding’s failure to provide air superiority over Dunkirk when he easily could have done so concludes Prior, put the evacuation at unnecessary risk and his parsimony was not justified.

A large part of the book now examines the Invasion threat and the Battle of Britain in its key phases including through the Blitz in the winter of 1940/41.  Prior forensically examines the probability of success of any German Invasion and concludes categorically that any invasion would have been defeated, although he is very clear in reminding us that the Britons of 1940 could not see that as they were not in possession of the facts as we are today.

 The Army in being, rescued from Dunkirk is a key factor in his calculations but the major determinants of his conclusions are the strength of the Royal Navy and the Royal Air Force.  Prior concludes that RN, despite losses at Dunkirk, was always more than capable of intervening in any German invasion and that the removal of ships from Channel Ports to prevent further losses to the Luftwaffe was no more than an inconvenience. 

For the RAF, Prior concludes that the Battle of Britain was not as close a run thing as is commonly perceived.  At all times during the battle Dowding kept a large part of his force in reserve or supporting roles and the Germans, despite knowing the function of RDF, did not appreciate how it fed into the integrated C2 system of the command nor the importance of the Sector Airfields.  This is not to say that   AVM Park was not under extreme pressure.  From his perspective the Battle was indeed a close run thing as his forces were limited and his Sector stations were those under attack  but Prior highlights a note made by Dowding on one of Park’s despatches that Park was being, understandably,  unduly pessimistic.  Throughout the Battle the RAF maintained Air Superiority and Prior makes a convincing case that they never looked like losing it. 

Of course the Battle did not end in 1940 but continued in the Night Blitz of British cities into May 1941 which is where the author now takes us.  Night defence against the Luftwaffe was ineffective this early in the war and the civilian population suffered an unprecedented (to that time) attack as a result.  Prior contends that he argues that the German bombing of London was always planned and not triggered as a result of RAF raids on Berlin the intention being to force Britain to conclude a disadvantageous peace.  The attacks killed 40 000 people which is a lot but as it only represented 0.14% of the population of London in military terms this was insignificant.  London, just as Berlin was later to prove, was just too big a target for the attacking capabilities of the Luftwaffe (never designed as a strategic force).  Whilst the Blitz was indeed an ordeal for the civilians of Britiain in was never going to knock the country out of the war.  German successes against the likes of Coventry, Liverpool and Glasgow were not followed up which allowed damaged manufacturing and port facilities to recover.  Indeed Prior’s key points of the Blitz period are that the Luftwaffe was not equal to its task in either equipment or planning. 

Throughout the book, Roosevelt’s presence is felt, initially through the attempts to engage Italian support for a peace settlement (Halifax) and then through Churchill’s increasingly strident appeals for support – not to save just Britain but Liberal Democracy.  True he did allow Britain to purchase weapons form the US (initially for hard cash) but he only introduced ‘Lend/Lease’ once Britain appeared to be running out of Dollars.  In return the US received Gold Bullion and a number of territories whilst US industry was bolstered by British orders for materiel.  Prior presents the US as almost asset stripping Britain whilst Britain is standing up for all the values espoused by the Great Republic.  In evidence, Prior presents a draft of one of Churchill’s letters the Roosevelt that seems to show Churchill in the same light!   In the end Prior is no fan of Roosevelt who he contends did his best to stay out of the war even in the face of 70% of US public opinion (and his own Cabinet’s resolve) to get involved.  He even concludes that it was Hitler (by unnecessarily declaring war on the USA)  rather than Roosevelt who ensured that the USA would come fully to Britain’s aid.

The Hero of this book is undoubtedly Churchill. In seeing the war as a Manichean struggle between good and evil of ‘Christian Civilisation’ against Nazism he was the right man at the right time.  The book concludes with part of the ‘Few’ speech that almost brought me to tears.  It shows that Churchill was really fighting not just for Britain but for the values of ‘the West’, the vision that this speech shows when Britain was not only prepared to stand alone but saw herself as part of a much greater concept makes todays Little Englanders in the Conservative party, and the appeasers of the left seem as pygmies against the colossus that led the country in 1940:

“… our willingness at the darkest hour in French history to conclude a union of common citizenship in this struggle. However matters may go in France or with the French Government, or other French Governments, we in this Island and in the British Empire will never lose our sense of comradeship with the French people. If we are now called upon to endure what they have been suffering, we shall emulate their courage, and if final victory rewards our toils they shall share the gains, aye, and freedom shall be restored to all. We abate nothing of our just demands; not one jot or tittle do we recede. Czechs, Poles, Norwegians, Dutch, Belgians have joined their causes to our own. All these shall be restored.

What General Weygand called the Battle of France is over. I expect that the Battle of Britain is about to begin. Upon this battle depends the survival of Christian civilization. Upon it depends our own British life, and the long continuity of our institutions and our Empire. The whole fury and might of the enemy must very soon be turned on us. Hitler knows that he will have to break us in this Island or lose the war. If we can stand up to him, all Europe may be free and the life of the world may move forward into broad, sunlit uplands. But if we fail, then the whole world, including the United States, including all that we have known and cared for, will sink into the abyss of a new Dark Age made more sinister, and perhaps more protracted, by the lights of perverted science. Let us therefore brace ourselves to our duties, and so bear ourselves that, if the British Empire and its Commonwealth last for a thousand years, men will still say, "This was their finest hour."

Prior’s conclusions are that Britain, and therefore Liberalism, was saved through Churchill’s leadership, the determination and skill of the BEF and its leaders and the power of the  Royal Air Force and Royal Navy.  In retrospect he sees that Britain could only have been defeated in 1940 had she chosen to have given up (as Halifax and some appeasers still proposed in the Cabinet crisis in May). One may not agree with all of the author’s conclusions but one should definitely read this book.  It is Brilliant.


Tuesday, 17 November 2015

The Adventure Game - A Cameraman's Tales from Films at the Edge a talk by Keith Partridge at Aboyne Community Centre 14 November 2015

Eilidh Scobie, the driving force behind Aboyne Stravaigers (and much else that goes on in Aboyne) had arranged for Adventure Cameraman Keith Partridge to give a talk about his career at the Aboyne community centre last Saturday. Shamelessly I invited myself to stay the night with Martin McGregor so we could attend and also enjoy a post-match drink.
Martin is a fine cook and he provided Keith and several others of us with dinner before Keith’s talk so it was nice to meet the ‘star’ (who proved to be a very fine dinner companion) before the show. The Adventure Game, Keith explained was to be called ‘Going to the Office’ but with a new book out he thought the title needed changing. Having said that, it clearly came across that Keith thinks himself extremely fortunate that his ‘Office’ is truly the Great Outdoors.
Keith is best known for filming Joe Simpson’s epic tale ‘Touching the Void’ buthis talk, to an audience of around 150, took us through how, as a lad with no A levels growing up in the not particularly renowned mountaineering area of Norfolk he came to be one of a small band of film Cameramen to have carried a camera to the summit of Everest. His talk, supported by Slides and videa, was in 2 parts each of around an hour. The 1st half covered how he had got into filming and Mountaineering and his BBC apprenticeship before becoming a freelance. Expeditions covered here included Caving in PNG, climbing and searching for poisonous wildlife in the Amazon and most spectacularly the filming of Humpback Whales rising up amongst Kayaks off Northern Canada.
The second part of the talk built to a crescendo from the foundations set in part 1. Taking us through the epic filming of a 16 yr old hunting foxes in Mongolia with his personally trained Golden Eagle we moved onto the filming of ‘Touching the Void’ and to me the even more impressive filming shown from ‘The Beckoning Silence’ that recalled the 1936 Eiger north face Disaster resulted in the death of five climbers who were avalanched whilst crossing the Hinterstossier Traverse. This looked like a particularly challenging piece of filming, though Keith would explain a couple of the tricks of the trade to me after the show. The climax of the talk was Keith’s 2012 filming of Kenton Cool’s Everest summit expedition to place a 1924 Olympic gold medal (presented to the 1922 Everest team) on the summit. Keith’s story of the expedition was gripping and I can only say that the filming from the summit at 0530 in the morning was stunning.
After the talk it was great to talk to Keith in more detail about his adventures and tricks of the trade. For this opportunity I must thank Jacqui and Duncan who invited us all back to their house for grub and a beer (or two) and Eilidh for bringing Keith along. Of course particular thanks to Martin for providing a free B&B service and to Keith for being a great sport and staying up late to chat with us mere mortals. Keith you are a gentleman
Needless to say I bought Keith’s book for more info see:

Monday, 12 October 2015

Bush Pilot Course - African Adventure

I’m not sure why I was looking at Bush Pilot training courses about a year ago, probably I was just bored on a Friday afternoon. In any case I suppose the reason is now irrelevant as history shows that I found the ‘Sky Africa’ website ( ) and thought that here was something fun that I could try, particularly given the strength of Sterling vs the South African Rand. Here was a real adventure holiday on a different continent where I could improve my flying skill, learn new trick as see some fantastic wildlife. I mentioned the course to Alex Guild and he agreed to join me for the trip. My intention was to fly the Cessna 182 but due to this being unavailable I chose the Cessna 172 ZS-OHK as my mount for the trip; Alex would fly a Pa28-235 ZS-DYX which would have a 100hp more than my 172.
We took the KLM flight from Aberdeen to Schipol and then onwards to Johannesburg on 22 September arriving at OR Tambo International at 2200. Sky Africa had booked us into the Birchwood Hotel complex (rather pleasant) which is near the airport and it was just 200 Rand (£9) to get a taxi to the hotel where our 1st priority was a couple of beers. A text from Sky Africa sent to Alex told us that Clemens Maly would collect us at 0900 and take us to Brakpan for the start of our course. We would be in the hotel for 2 nights before flying to Kunkuru on the 25 September.
Next morning, Clemens duly collected us; we were to find out later in the week that he was also an excellent pilot as well as a taxi driver! It would be Clemens who would do most of the airfield briefing, with Tony Kent going over Forced and Precautionary Landings the notes of which are below
  • Brakpan 122.7
  • Springs 122.4
  • JHB ATIS 126.2
  • JHB INFO 119.5
  • Safety Comm Equivalent 124.8
  • Low Level 124.8
  • Unmanned Airfield 124.8
  • GF Areas 124.2
  • Chat 123.4
Airfield FABB Brakpan
  • All Ccts to EAST - RW 36 Rt Hand Cct; 18 LH
  • AF Height 5300ft
  • Cct Height 700ft AGL on JHB QNH
  • Mag Var 18.5W
  • All departures and arrivals 6000ft on JHB QNH
  • Must be SSR equipped
  • No manned tower
  • All comms ac to ac 122.7
  • Flight test - East Rand Trg Area
  • Departures to East (Jan Smuts Dam) or South (Ergo Slimes Dam) Only
To South
  • RW 18 climb to 6000ft and route dct to Eastern Side of ERGO
  • RW 36 Rt turn to downwind 6000ft off down
To East (Caution Springs)
  • RW 36 RH Cct to Downwind then route dct Jan Smuts Dam
  • RW 18 LH Cct to Downwind then route Dct Jan Smuts Dam
Arrivals No Overhead Joins at FABB
From South
  • Call inbound at ERGO on 122.7 aim for hangers remain clear of 36 Final
From East
  • Call Inbound on 122.7 at Jan Smuts Dam after handover form JHB Info (119.5)
RT. Contact JHB info 119.5 when departing cct and on return when entering buffer zone

Departed Brakpan
Alt 6000ft
Intentions (e.g East Rand Trg Area)
No Semi Circular Rule - instead North Track 7500ft; South 7000ft; Unable 6500ft or below
SA Air Law
'Blue System'
CAA Regs 2011
Min Heights over Built Up Areas or Open Air Assy (200+ ppl) 1000ft Vertically 2000 ft Horizontally except T/O and Landing
  • <1000 ft agl clear of ground and cloud
  • >1000 ft agl viz >5k 2000ft horizantally and 500 ft vertical separation from cloud
  • No VFR on top
  • Flight above 3/8 or more prohibited
  • IMC Extremely dangerous without weather radar
  • Instruments Required - Magnetic Compass; Accurate timepiece; Altimeter ; ASI
Flight plans required only for flights between 2 or more controlled A/F; International Flights or Transitting Controlled Airspace
High ALtitude Ops
Props and Wings Less Efficient
Start Up Leaning:
  1. Engine Start
  2. Check Oil Px
  3. Lean
Run Up Leaning
  1. Mixture Rich
  2. RPM 2000
  3. Carb Heat Check
  4. Lean gently until max RPM
  5. Rich slightly approx 3 full turns
  • Long Ground Run
  • Feels Uncomfortable
  • You Have Runway - USE IT
  • Use Ground Effect
Forced Landings
Precautionary Landings
Options (you have time so use it):
  1. Airfield
  2. Fallow Field
  3. Reaped Field
  4. Planted Field
  5. Ploughed Field
  6. Open Field
  7. Road
Flight 1:42 in ZS-OHK Local Area - ERGO - East Rand TA - Steep Turns - Stalls - Incipient Spins - Forced Landing - Precautionary Landing - Dalmass - Lakes - FABB Join Downwind 6000' - 2 x Ccts
Dinner this night was a Geronimo burger in Highflyerz - an aviation themed pub attached to the hotel that was to become a favourite.

Day 2 - 24 September

In the afternoon a Braii (sic) was held on the roof of the Ops building. As I had flown early I did eventually get a lift back to Birchwood after dark in Got lift back in Glen's Jaloppy - a true experience of Africa
Our second night at Birchwood was spent mostly in trying to find 2 Rand (0.09p) coins for the washing machine – Alex’s OCD had kicked in and he wasn’t going to go into the bush unless he had done some laundry 1st. The trouble was that the 2R coin that was required for the washing machine was a little rare. The Hotel had none as it had been a public holiday and they had no bank run that day. After 2 hours of wandering from place to place we eventually entered Highflyerz just before closing time, got a beer each and at last a handful of 2Rs. Back at the hotel I handed my dirty clothes to Alex and went to bed. He stayed up past midnight to get the clothes cleaned but his personal crisis passed

Friday 25 September

Next was the most interesting strip of the day – Freeway. I presume it is named Freeway as it is right beside the main road heading north from Jo’burg. Freeway is a long (2900m) gravel strip that was used by the SAAF C130s during the border wars of 1966-89. There are still the hulks of DC6? Transports left at the side of the runway. It was here that I did my 1st mid then low level inspection going into a procedure turn to land on the strip. This worked a treat. A second landing was also done pretty well even if I do say so myself. From Freeway it would be 25 minutes to our refuelling stop at Brits which had an 800m asphalt strip and was the base for the SA aerobatic championships. On the way we flew over the Tswaing (place of the salt) crater, which is under consideration as a UNESCO World Heritage site. It seems however that human encroachment is likely to spoil this setting before too long as there were shanty dwellings pretty much as afar as the eye could see to the south west of the crater. The approach to Brits worked well and I landed on the uphill runway (02). After a can of coke and filling the tanks of OHK I took off on 20 downhill with tailwind which is the recommended thing to do given the high density altitude where the downhill acceleration outweighs the tailwind effect (unless of course the wind is particularly strong)
From Brits it was just a 10 minute hop to Kunkuru where I think the powerlines on the approach to 05 led to me coming in too high and then flaring high but OK. OHK was parked for the night and once the other ac arrived and were put to bed we clambered aboard the Landcruiser for the short drive to Kunkuru lodge where cold Windhoek soon proved popular and we were shown to our accommodation for the next few days. A briefing for tomorrow’s flying was held at 1800 which was followed by dinner and more Windhoek.
Total flying for the day 2hrs 54mins

Saturday 26 September

After a good night’s sleep, interrupted only by roaring of the Lodge’s resident Lions, I awoke at 0600. Oddly this roaring was not that disturbing to my sleep, perhaps it being a natural sound it did not keep me unduly awake or perhaps my lodge was further from the Lion enclosure than that of the others meant it wasn’t as loud for me as for the others! After a fine breakfast we drove up to the strip for a soft field take off on 23 . Flap to 20 and stick right back , once airborne unstall the wing and keep nose just off the runway, flap 10 and allow to accelerate in ground effect at 65kts gently climb away. This one was a good one. From now on most touch and goes would be short field (0 flap until 55kts then 10 flap , rotate accelerate in ground effect to 70 kts and climb away at 65. All future take offs from Kunkuru would be soft field though the last one would be somewhat twitchy as we hit turbulence on take-off – more later
Sand Rivier at 3250’ amsl is a sand strip. Here I did a Medium (500ft) and low (50ft) level inspection plus 2 x Touch and Goes both nice. 15 minutes later we were repeating the exercise at Zebra – a grass strip hidden in trees, this time for a single Touch and Go. Then it was on to the most exciting strip of the day Mabalingwe on the way there an eagle took evasive action on us an disappeared in a steep dive below our starboard wing
Mabalingwe is a game reserve and the landing strip is the access road to the reserve. The road is only 5 metres wide and would be the narrowest we would land on all week. OHK was the 1st to arrive (EGP had already gone on ahead) so it was our job to stop the traffic by flying low over the gatehouses at each end of the strip. There is only one way in and out of Mabalingwe so I landed uphill on 04 (not that the runway had any markings!) and taxied to the end of the road to await the arrival of the 2 Pa28s. These duly landed and we all then took off, in reverse order downhill on 22 and set course for Thabazimbi.
Because of the mountains, there are no circuits to the north at Thabazimba. Disconcertingly howver there are also mountains to the south as the airfield is in a valley. Wanting to stay well clear of the hillside to the south I turned in too early on the 1st approach and seemed to be descending at idle ofr ages before getting to the correct height for the approach, all week Glen would be telling me to get lower so I seem to have got in some bad habits. Disconcertingly also there are houses on finals (as indeed there are at Brakpan) that cause turbulence. The 2nd approach was better as I extended downwind for longer but still OHK seemed to have a great glide ratio.

Refuelled at Haakdoring
Next stop was our fuelling point at Haakdoring. For the life of me both this day and Wednesday I could not see the strip (a dirt one) from above. Glen pointed me in the right direction but it was only by following the flightpath of a formation of 2 helicopters also inbound to Haakdoring that I was able to locate it. Turning finals it was easy to see as the landmark of a large haystack was just to the right of short finals. We were the last ac in so trundled up to the fuel point and filled immediately. Haakdoring is a farm strip but it also has a flight school and excellent classroom facilities where I was able to get a drink of water (the temperature was now around 35C). In the hanger there were 3 helicopters, a C182 and a large Crop-sprayer. In the garden there was a pet Kudu and impala! I liked Haakdoring.
Getting airborne again we headed Northwest to Batavia for a low pass and then Derdepoort on the way we had another airmiss with an eagle. It was here that we saw Elephants close to the Botswana border. More disconcertingly our oil temp was in the red (partly because the gausge was reading high and also because of the high OAT) so we decided to give Sebele a miss so as not to overwork the engine and allow the revs to be maintained at around 2300. Making the mixture richer also helped bring the temperature back into the green. Instead, therefore of Sebele we headed directly to Pilansberg aka Sun City where we did an orbit of the sun city resort before carrying out a touch and go (annoyingly badly) and heading south to Rustenburg in order to top up our tanks for the next day’s flying and also picking up a 25l drum of fuel for the C152 to allow her to fill later at Kunkuru. This latter addition would cause a bit of bother given the now full AUW of OHK and the OAT of 35C at 3700ft amsl. Taking off downhill, the climb out was leisurely to say the least as I coaxed the ac into a shallow climbing turn in order to avoid the chimney of a factory and head her towards the granite quarries of Rooiknoppiesdam over which we all seemed to arrive at the same time! After taking time to take a good look at the quarries it was just a short trip back to Kunkuru for a straight in approach to 23.
After beers and a quick soak of my feet, Glen took everyone for a Game Drive and the chance to get a good view of the Sunset from a small and oddly formed hill. Highlights for the trip was the small family of Hippos and the Sable plus the glimpse of the Golden Wildebeest that sadly the failing light prevented me getting a good photo of. The Golden Wildebeest looked almost like a mythical creature.
Total flying for the day 5 hrs

Sunday 27 September

We were going to get away at 0800 but the opportunity to view the feeding of the Lions could not be missed so everyone piled into the Landcruiser to follow the feeding truck (itself reeking of the smell of rotting chickens that were being thrown over the fence). The 30 minutes delay to the commencement of flying was well worth it.

Shona Langa
Another soft field take off started the day as we headed north East towards Klipvoordam and then turning north on a Navex to the airfield (where we did not have permission to land, at Sunset Ranch. Form here it was almost directly east onto Shona Langa for a low level inspection and a couple of touch and goes. The plan was to carry out square searches for any airfield not found but today my navigation was fine so generally I was hitting the strips too accurately to need to do a square search, Nevertheless the technique was briefed by Tony before the flight and is useful to know:
From Shona Langa we flew to Zebula for 3 touch and goes (I was starting to get high on approach again! ) thereafter it was a long transit to a rather intense period of activity with all 4 aircraft operating in close proximity at the 2 strips Kromdraai North and South (2 sand strips just a couple of km apart). After flying 2 circuits at Kromdraai S and it was straight in to Kromdraai North where a full stop is required as there are telegraph lines across the runway meaning it’s a one way in and out job. At the end of the strip was a large termite mound to avoid on turning around.
Kromdraai N
Getting airborne from Kromdraai I had little time to collect my thoughts as it was only 4 minutes to the next strip – Mawala. Here I landed long and thought about a full stop but Glen encouraged me to keep going and selecting 10 flap at 55kts we easily cleared the obstacles at the end of the runway. Again it was a short hop to the next strip Krokodilkraal a 1000m of gravel for 2 more circuits and then lifting an a 5km hop across to Karoobult (800m of grass) for a further 2 touchand goes. The reward for this intense work was a 15 minute low level (<100ft) flight with the occasional 60 degree angle of bank along the Krokodil River to our next strip at Vaalkop and then on for a final 3 circuits at Beestekraal (850 m of gravel and with 2 fish eagles on the approach after a procedure turnn) and then getting down to 50 ft for a flight along the length of Roiknoppiesdam before climbing at the end to over 1000ft to get a good view of the Crocodile farm at the Dam’s southern end. For the middle part of the day’s flying there had been a lot of navigation and time to think but all of this last piece from Kromdraai onwards had been intensely busy and enjoyable. I t was however a relief to head off to Brits to refuel and grab a coke before the return to Kunkuru where a late lunch was most welcome.
With the afternoon still young, Glen, Alex and I took off for a Game Drive whilst most of the others enjoyed the hospitality of Paul and Sanet (the owners of Kunkuru) . Glen told us how to identify Zebra and impala spoor though for a while, we were not encountering much animal life when all of a sudden we came across a family of Giraffe that were perfectly happy for us to get right up to them and get some good photos although the light was by now fading.
Total flying for the day 4 hrs

Monday 28 September

As every other day this one dawned warm and sunny, my skin was now turning from pale blue (the result of a Scottish summer) to white! This was going to be another long day of flying as we were going to the furthest north point of the week (Nungu) via the Waterberg mountains and the Poer Se Loop canyon (low level and great fun) and Mokolo Dam. To start the day off though we would get in some formation flying between Kunkuru and Shona Langa.
It was over 30 years since my last piece of formation flying and then I had a jet engine and airbrakes but I surprised myself at how easy station keeping was on Heyo and Philip in EGP. EGP was airborne 1st followed by me in OHK. The brief was for EGP to stay in the overhead until all 4 ac were formed up but Phillip decided to head on route to Klipvoordam as OHK formatted and the 2 Pa28s were still on the ground. The only way they were going to catch us was if we orbited at Klipvoordam (Glen’s strong suggestion to Phillip over the RT). Here the Pa28s caught up and I was able to get a good shot of Alex in DYX. Somewhat annoyingly Alex (perhaps his hero is Buzz Aldrin – who was famously ‘too busy’ to take a photo of Neil Armstrong on the moon) did not get one of me! Fortunately Heyo did though on a mobile phone rather than an SLR. Still there was Karma in the situation as Alex needed a Paisley to English translator for most of the trip and I was not now always around when he needed me.
The formation broke at Shona Langa, where we each did our own landing after Heyo had done the low level inspection. Still we were closely grouped and although I was 1st to Warmbaths (Vultures orbiting in the deadside overhead) Alex and Tony had to stop here and try to repair a prop pitch problem with DYX. Both Dan and I also stopped to allow Glen and Clemens to assist. Deciding that nothing more could be done but that DYX could continue we were soon airborne and en route ot our next target- Bufland for a single touch and go and then for a northern navex through the Waterberg Mountains via old and new Entebeni. Here we took some time out to practice Wing Overs and view Hanglip mountain with its golf tee and target green in the shape of Africa.
Taking the opportunity for canyon flying was great fun though we were soon headed towards our refuelling point at Waterberg Aerodrome (via 2 circuits at Vaalwater South). Here we refuelled OHK from the 25l drum we had been carrying since Kunkuru using a siphon tube. It was from here that we flew onto Bushwillow for a single circuit before entering Poer Se Loop canyon with EGP following us through and some great low level flying. As we exited the mountains we headed for Haakdoring (which again I struggled to see – seemed damned well camouflaged to me) for fuel, taking the chance to do 4 more circuits at Thabazimbi on the way.
The trip to Kunkuru from Haakdoring was only 35 minutes be we extended this by re-visiting Krokodilkraal and Sand Rivier (3 landings) as well as going into Liverpool (1000m gravel) for one touch and go.

Tuesday 29 September

Today was a day off but and although there was plenty of time to relax today we were not idle. After breakfast at 0700 we piled into the Landcruiser to follow the farmhands to watch the feeding of the prize Buffalo, a couple of herds of which were kept on the farm. Buffalo are one of the so-called big five (the others are Lion; Leopard; Hippo and Rhino) that are labelled as the most dangerous animals to hunters. On the way back to the lodge we saw a large male baboon. Sadly these are not welcomed on the farm as they attack the prize animals so they are often shot – though none of us were armed.
Later we were given a lesson on survival relevant to the local environment. Alex took from this only 1 lesson – don’t bury your passengers. This was followed by lunch and a couple of hours shooting with rifles, shotguns and pistols (and I couldn’t a barn door for some reason). Finally we all took the chance for one last game drive as we would be departing Kunkuru for the last time in the morning.Violin Spider at Dinner
At night Alex and I realised we would still need to find something to fill our last couple of days as Wednesday would see the end of the course but we would not fly out of South Africa until late on Saturday night. Clemens suggested we visit the Kruger National Park (on my bucket list) and contacted Janna in the Sky Africa office to organise a trip. Janna booked us back into the Birchwood for Wednesday night and booked us in to the Kapama River Lodge in Kruger for Thursday night. She also sorted a dry hire rate for OHK and organised permission to land at the SAAF base at Hoedsprit (pronounced variously by Alex as Hootsberg; Hootssport; Hoots spot – I was surprised he didn’t try Hoots Mon!) 6km from the lodge.
Tonight at dinner a Violin Spider crawled up the side of the table leg. This, one of only 3 really poisonous spiders in South Africa, was captured in a glass by Glen who then released it away from the lodges. The bite of this spider causes severe tissue necrosis so Glen was being more humane than I would have expected of him

Wednesday 30 Sept

On this morning’s soft field take-off I applied all of the correct techniques but OHK did not want to climb and we struggled away at just 55kts over the trees. Both Glen and I were mystified by the lack of performance and could only conclude that we had been affected by turbulence (today was the only one with any wind - this was to get up to Northerly gusts of over 30kts in the next couple of hours).
Our route back to Brakpan was to be something of a sightseeing tour taking us as it did over the marina at Hartbeesport Dam and passed the South African Nuclear Weapons research station ( decommissioned after Apartheid) and then the Aerotek Test Track (once owned by the SA Army) and on to the Ernie Els golf course; Kayalami race track (now by either Audi or Volkswagen I can’t recall which); Ellis Park rugby stadium; Soweto before recovering to Brakpan via Ergo Slimes dam for a perfect landing on 36.
En route I had a few less perfect landings. Aviators paradise (800m asphalt), just 14 minutes after take-off was beside the road into Jo’burg , was the 1st touch and go of the day. Once we had circled the Jo’burg CBD and flown over Soweto (SOuth WEst TOwnship)– now pretty much just a suburb of Jo’burg we did an approach to Tedderfield where a 30 kt crosswind decided against attempting a landing. Not to be cheated the north/ south orientation allowed 4 circuits of the grass strip at Panorama, where the only disconcerting thing was the rising ground at the end of 01 runway and OHK’s awful climb performance at this altitude (500 ft amsl) as she really seemed to struggle to climb. Oddly just 5 minutes away at Klipriver (also grass and at 5000 ft ) she climbed away easily. Well that was the end of the bush course from here it was just 15 minutes (Still Air Time) back to Brakpan. Of course we had a gale of a headwind from ERGO to Brakpan so that short few miles seemed to take an age to cover.
Well that was us. We would have a night at the Birchwood and another Geronimo Burger at Highflyerz for dinner. Glen had kindly agreed to pick us up in the morning where we would find a fully fuelled and serviced OHK for our trip to the Kruger.
Total flying for the day 2hrs 12 minsThursday

1 October

Today we were off to the Kapama River Lodge in the Kruger National Park. This was the only lodge with spare rooms that Jana could find so it was expensive (for Africa) but it was superbly opulent! All food was included and there was a structured programme, including an 0500 wake up call for the morning game drive but I’m getting ahead of myself.
First we had to get away from Brakpan and OHK wasn’t quite ready when we got there. Our earlier high oil temperature readings had caused Bernard (the Engineering Manager ) an overnight headache and he had had the gauge replaced by an electronic ine which was still being fitted as we arrived. Alex and I decided that I would fly the leg to Hoetsprit and Alex would fly the return leg.
After a short delay and a test flight of OHK to check the new gauge, during which I filled 2 x 25l drums with Avgas (there would be none available at Hoetsprit), we eventually filled OHK to he brim and set off at 1030 departing to the east via Jan Smuts dam and then Delmas. For the 1st hour or so, the flight to the Kruger is over some pretty flat and fetureless terrain (made more featurless today because of very poor visibility in haze). However as one enters the Low Velt info zone to the east of Middleburg, the terrain changes, becoming hilly as well as high. Transiting at 7500 ft (density altitude nearer 10 000ft) we were under powered so I chose to go around hills rather than over until we entered the scenic Blyde River Canyon in the Drakensberg 20 miles from Hoedsprit where the views were great. The approach to Hoedpsrit was a surprise after a week of trying to find small bush strips as this military field is over 10 000ft long and provided a decidedly odd perspective. Still landing was a cinch and we were soon at the civil arrivals terminal on the other side of the field. Here I emptied the spare fuel we carried into the main tanks and we locked the ac for the night.
Kapama had sent out a ranger to collect us and we were soon on the way to the lodge. Our ranger gave us the best tip of the day – ‘have your camera out and always switched on’. Even on the way to the lodge we had great views of Giraffe just wandering on the road. We were greeted at the lodge and given the low-down (meal times; Ranger’s name; Time of the Game Drive and Dinner etc) most efficiently before booking in and shown to our extremely opulent rooms.
As it was lunch time we went to the all you can eat buffet and filled our faces and then at 1500 presented ourselves for Afternoon Tea and then for the Game Drive at 1600 with our Ranger –Chanee and Tracker Vusi. For the next 3 hours we drove around the bush and for me the highlight of the trip was seeing Rhino in their natural setting. Other animal seen were Hippo, impala; Kudu ; Njala; Honey Badger; Jackal; Giraffe Warthog and a Chameleon. At dusk we halted for a very civilised drink stop and then continued into the night.

Dinner was back at the Lodge where we ate with the others in Chanee’s care a feast that included Butternut soup; impala pie and ice cream as well as a very good S African Wine. Eventually we retired late after a couple of beers in the bar.

Friday 2 October

0500 the phone rings. ‘Good morning sir its time to get up’. Bleary eyed I quickly showered, gave Alex a shout and we headed to the dining area where coffee, tea and fruit juices were being served along with croissants and muffins (breakfast would be at 0900 after our morning game drive). Once again Chanee took us under her wing and we once again went in search of game. We never found a leopard but this morning we were lucky enough to see a pride of lionesses within 10 feet of us. Apparently the animals see the Landcruiser and its passengers as one big animal and not as lunch – step off the vehicle however and you’re in a whole heap of trouble!

Breakfast was served after the game drive and was, like all the food excellent. We had a couple of extra coffees but for us our time at the Kruger was over and at 1100 we were on our way back to the airport. This time Alex was the pilot so I did the navigation and radios. Our route out was slightly different than the one in as we followed the Olliphant River as far Groblersdal. Here we were able to offer support to Jo’burg ATC by relaying a radio message to an ac inbound to Middleburg. Alex landed at Brakpan at 1430 and our African adventure was over. All there was left to do was to get back to Highflyerz for a Geronimo Burger, lots of Windhoek and Some live music. It was a great pleasure to have the company of Clemens that evening as he arrived to say cheerio and somehow we ended up drinking Whisky and proceeding downstairs to the nightclub.
Saturday 3 October
Nursing our Babalaas we were breakfasted by 0900 and checked out of the Birchwood by 0930 but we still had 14 hours to kill before leaving for home. We therefore took a taxi to the South African National Museum of Military History at Ditsong where we stayed until 1430. Back at the Birchwood we collected our bags and caught the courtesy bus to the airport just in time to see England’s abject performance against Australia in the RWC. The flight home was uneventful except on arrival at Schipol to find the airport fogged out and our flight to Aberdeen cancelled! (we did get a later one).

The Crews:
C172 ZS-OHK – P1 Self; Safety Pilot Glen Price
C152 ZS-EGP – P1 Heyo; Safety Pilot Dr Philip
Pa28-235 ZS-DYX – P1 Alex Guild; Safety Pilot Tony Kent; Pax Ken
Pa28-235 ZS-FHA – P1 Dan; Safety Pilot Clemens Maly; Pax Jan and Bea
Many thanks to Sky Africa for a wonderful trip and in particular to Glen for his perseverance and good humour putting up with me.

Check out the Flipagram I made at