“Me Bwana, you copilot. Where are we anyway?”
Thanks to Marion Wightman
Cessna 402 Z-WRB had just come out of a C of A check.
Chief engineer, Mr Eric Churcher asked me to take the aircraft into D4 and do a test on it. On my pre-flight I could not drain the fuel from the right aux tank. An engineer came and attended to that and I went off into D4. All seemed fine and I transferred the plane to Harare main as it was an early take off the next day. I was due to take the Canadian Ambassador and his son to Matputo.
A snippet from Roy Downes‘ memoirs… brilliant!
I learned about flying from that
Most flying magazines devote a page or two to this subject. So perhaps now is as good a time as any to include an account of one of the many lessons I learned, during the twenty-eight years I spent in the air.
It was a beautiful, Central African, late afternoon with eight/eighths of blue sky. Our Viscount was cruising at FL150 en-route from Harare to Blantyre in Malawi. Some sixty miles out of Blantyre, we intercepted the required 242° Radial from the Blantyre VOR and contacted Chileka ATC, who cleared us for a straight-in approach to runway 10, giving the weather conditions as: surface wind 240/10kt, visibility 10+km, weather nil, QNH 1023, QFE 928, Temperature +21°C. The quartering tailwind would give us a tailwind component of 6kt, well within the capabilities of the aircraft.
At +21°C, the heat of the day had passed and we were looking forward to a beer in the Chileka Flying Club, as we were ‘night-stopping’ in Blantyre. Runway 10/28 at Chileka Airport, Blantyre, is 7628ft long at an elevation of 2555ft AMSL. There was no ILS at the time but runway 10 was equipped with a VASI system (Visual approach slope indicator), for glide-slope guidance. At 49 miles DME, I reduced the power from the cruise RPM of 14200 to 10500, set a torque pressure of 40psi and commenced the descent. On crossing the Shire River (the only river that drains Lake Malawi and the fastest flowing in Africa), we were passing 5000 feet on the QFE and 15 nautical miles from Chileka. We were ideally placed for the planned straight-in approach. At five miles DME, I allowed the speed to decay to the flap limiting speed and selected the flaps to 20°, called for the undercarriage extension and increased the torque to 80psi. The co-pilot then completed the final items on the landing checklist. At 800 feet we were correctly positioned on the glide-slope with the speed stabilised at 120kt. The tower controller again passed the surface wind information and cleared us to land – no change, steady at 240/10kt. To think they even paid us to do this!
As I have indicated, I was certainly no stranger to the African Cumulonimbus. Repeatedly, I had successfully wrestled with these gigantic energy fields and their indescribable turbulence. I knew all there was to know about extreme turbulence – or so I imagined. At about 600 feet, I noticed we were going slightly above the glide slope – starting to experience the result of the reducing tailwind – so I reduce the torque pressure to 60psi. With the conditions as smooth as one could possibly wish for, I selected 32° flap. Then it happened. The worst turbulence encounter I had ever experienced. Without warning, the nose pitched down dramatically and the aircraft rolled violently to the left. For the next fifteen to twenty seconds, there followed the most exciting roller-coaster ride ever. Disney’s ‘Space Mountain’ was tame by comparison. I cannot describe the control inputs I made while endeavouring to prevent a semi inverted collision with the ground. A full power application had no immediate effect but as we crossed the runway threshold, we were at least the right way up. The aircraft was not responding to the power application and it appeared that we were going to contact the ground with far too high a sink rate. Then, as quickly as it had started, we flew out of this isolated ‘bubble’ of turbulence into smooth air, about 50 feet above the runway.
I regained control, landed and stopped comfortably in the remaining distance. Had the phenomenon lasted another second or two, I am in no doubt we would have crashed. With no Flight data recorders installed, the investigators could not possibly have determined the accident cause, and ‘Pilot Error’ would have been the inevitable conclusion. What then was the cause? It certainly was not the aircraft. Could it have been wake turbulence? Hardly so. The preceding aircraft, an Air Malawi DC3, had landed an hour and twenty minutes before – Chileka is no threat to Heathrow. Was it a dust devil? It seemed unlikely. African dust devils generate vast columns of dust, visible for miles and the tower controller was adamant that he had seen no such evidence. In any case, with the late afternoon temperature and the steady surface wind, the conditions were not conducive to dust devil formation. I naturally discussed the event with my fellow pilots but all I ever got from them was that ‘glazed’ look of total disbelief. Conversely, meteorologists were extremely interested and obtained detailed weather data from the area, to try to determine the reason. However, no one has yet offered a logical explanation for that ‘bubble’ of extreme turbulence. What then did I learn from this? I learned that above all, pilots should always ‘EXPECT THE UNEXPECTED.’
By Debbie Carter
I have noticed that our darling Mitch has relayed a few of his experiences on this site.. I learned from flying from that. I thought I might tell a story. Not so much that I learned from flying from it … more so that I learned from flying in Africa from it…
It was a horribly “guttie” (sp) day and was wet and low level overcast. My duty that day was to fly 7 fishermen to Tiger Bay for what they hoped would be an amazing weeks worth of fishing. I knew the Tiger Bay strip well, and I also knew the Piper Navajo which I was flying that day.
We landed with no event. I noticed the strip was soggy and very wet. We stopped incredibly quickly, but props, undercarriage, pilot etc were all OK. My wonderful bunch of fishermen alighted with all their kit and were transferred into at least 6 landrovers. They waved goodbye to me with great bravado and I wished them the best of luck.
Here in lies the first mistake. It is always normal at a bush strip for the land vehicle to ensure that the said aircraft gets safely airborne before they leave the area. Well not one of them did that, they all drove away into the distance.
I was concerned about the condition of the strip. I decided that as the aircraft was now very light, I would try and take off from the 3/4 to mid section of the strip, which had more gravel. I taxied to my turning point applied left throttle and right rudder and simply sunk like a boat in water into about a metre of mud. The props started flicking up mud onto the windscreen, so I quickly shut the engines down, as the aircraft sunk deep into the mud. It was over, I wasn’t going anywhere and neither was there anyone to assist me.
The temperature (OAT) was 40c and I didn’t have any water – only the left over water from my fishermen most of which had whisky in. I tried endlessly to relay but there were not many aircraft in the sky that day due to the weather.
Then the worst happened – nature called and I just had to go and had actually considered walking the long and lonely trek through the bush back to the camp on my own. The door on the Navajo is a beast to handle. I lowered the stairs and left the upper door down and stooped out. I walked a couple of metres… and then lo and behold, not far ahead of me in the bush was a lioness and her crouchy husband and cousins and kids and everything. There must have been a dozen of them. The lioness sat up when she saw me … I cannot describe how I felt in that instant but I think it is obvious. I walked slowly back the few metres I had covered and tried to go up the stairs backwards – banging my head very badly on the lowered top door.
How I closed that door I will never know. The lions continued to walk around the aircraft for a further hour, until I eventually managed to get a relay through Speedbird (BA) about my predicament. Its a long story, I know, but I got to spend 3 glorious days fishing and sunbathing at Tiger Bay. I am not too fond of those who drove the landrovers xxx
|Headlines – Rhodesia Herald|
|Headlines – Rhodesia Herald|
I have been advised that Flight Engineer Taffy Powell, the kindest of men, sadly passed away some years ago. He and Jock Elphinstone (RIP — old friends) were involved in the delivery of the first CAA Viscount from Weybridge, England in 1956. Seventeen years later here they are again … in the clandestine procurement of Boeing 720s for Air Rhodesia. Remarkable! Today the last surviving member of the Boeing team is Captain James Mackenzie “Horse” Sweeney. But the good news is … “Horse” celebrated his 90th birthday with a parachute jump in Cape Town recently, so we can expect to have him around for some years to come. He takes up the story from an aircrew perspective:
|16 hours 12 minutes airborne training with United Air Lines, Denver, March 1973|
|Taffy Powell, Bob Hill, Shorty Rosser and Jock Elphinstone|
|At Basel airport|
|Jock Elphinstone’s log book|
|L to R … Harry Smith, Jock Elphinstone, Tony Beck, Mervyn Eyett,
Chum Keyter, Taffy Powell and Shorty Rosser
|Memo from Mervyn Eyett|
The others were: Serial number 18242, originally N8713E, then D-ACIS. Serial number 18244 was originally N8715E, then D-ACIT.
|First Day Cover|
|Memo from Mike O’Donovan|
|Miss Elphinstone’s ticket|
|Air Rhodesia ticket|
|Sunday Times, 4 November 1973|
|“Can’t catch me!”|
|VP-YNM Air Zimbabwe Rhodesia|
|Z-YNL Zimbabwe registrations were issued in 1983|
A serviceable Z-YNL was sold to Air Charter Services, Zaire, by public auction and departed Harare in November 1988 as 9Q-CTD. Loaded with spare parts from Z-YNN and accompanied by a B707 of Katale Aero Transport, it flew to its new home at Kinshasa’s N’Dijili International (FIH). New ACS was the new corporate identity allocated in 1992 and its last flight was in late 1993 or early 1994 … which was probably the last passenger scheduled flight of a B 720 anywhere in the world. It was withdrawn from service later that year and moved to a hangar, in very dusty conditions at Kinshasa. Thereafter it was cannibalized for spares for the B 707 of New ACS.
|Nov 1994, 9Q-CTD with New ACS colours in maintenance hangar (FIH).
First release of pic by Michel Huart.
|Control wheel relic from the scrap heap|
|John Heap, “Horse” Sweeney and Jock Elphinstone|
Airline flying is one aspect to aviation that has it’s own uniqueness. To some aviators it may seem boring and mundane, but to those who have had the opportunity to fly and handle large airline transport aircraft, in a multi-crew environment, they would testify that it is a thrill that you have to experience to understand.
On this page, you will find links to that feeling, as seen through the eyes of those who were involved in airline flying from the advent of the profession, right up to present day operations, in an incredible little airline, that has evolved through the political annuls of history in Southern Africa.
This also includes the incredible history of another aspect of the business, which is freighter operations. Here, you will see an incredible story, when we look at the legendary Jack Mullock’s Affretair operation.
By Mitch Stirling (Air Rhodesia)Rhodesians, dispersed throughout the world, have watched in utter dismay as their once-proud national carrier has stalled and nosedived into obscurity, its demise unprecedented in the annals of aviation history. International aviation watchers and plane spotters have been greatly saddened by this unhappy turn of events — inspired by politics and fuelled by ignorance and incompetence.Built from the remains of Central African Airways, Air Rhodesia Corporation was formalized on 1 September 1967. Once described as “a small airline with a big heart” it faced many challenges during its short years of existence but emerged with a reputation second to none as one of the better smaller airlines in the world. But a report in Time Magazine signalled the beginning of the end for the airline.
|Boeing 720 -1.|
|Vic MacKenzie cartoon.|
|720 on Apron|
|Jameson Hotel, Salisbury Menu With Signatures – 25th April 1973.|
|IDS (Rhodesian Prime Minister) on the jump-seat.|
During the early days the threesome could be seen behind a tall security fence around the maintenance area at Air Rhodesia’s headquarters at Salisbury main, away from the public gaze. But the circuit at Salisbury airport was alive with the crackling sound of JT3C turbojet engines as they laid down dark exhaust trails. More air crews, their careers stunted by sanctions, were eventually converting to jets.
|Take off (only 65 of original B720s were built)|
Air scoops above the inner engines were notable features too. Fresh air from these intakes was routed to turbo compressors which, combined with 12th/ 9th stage bleed air from the engines, was the primary source of cabin pressurization. This created a problem at top of descent when thrust was reduced to idle, as the engine bleed was now insufficient to supply enough air. The flight engineer and pilots had to work closely to control the pressurization with throttle and coordinate the descent profile. Freon was used as a coolant for air conditioning. Big leading edge Krueger flaps were a notable feature too, used to enhance take-off performance. In short, the B720 was an aircraft well-suited for Air Rhodesia’s Africa route requirements. They were high-speed, designed for short haul and intermediate stage lengths and with a passenger configuration of 126, a cruise speed of 930km/h and a range of 3 700 km they compared favourably with South African Airways B727 trijets.
|Boeing 720 Flight Patterns|
|Normal Take Off 20 ° or 30 °|
|Approach to Stall and Recovery|
|ILS 2 Engine Inoperative|
|First Scheduled Salisbury to Durban (South Africa)|
|Captain Tony Beck with Ron Maskell, Henry Radnitz (Head of Engineering) and Jack Cocking.|
And then they heard them, those voices low, coming down through the years.. “Carpe diem, seize the day boys, seize the day.”
And names that must not wither
(Byron, Childe Harold)
Alexander Parkinson Singleton was born at Repton, Derbyshire, on August 5 1914. After Shrewsbury and Brasenose, Oxford, where he was a cricket Blue for three seasons and captained the side in 1937, he taught at Repton.
He made his debut for Worcestershire in 1934 and went on to make 58 appearances for the county. As captain in 1946 he enjoyed an excellent season with the bat, storing 1,615 runs at an average of 37,55. Altogether in his career he made 4,700 runs at 27,65 and look 240 wickets at 30,49.
Singleton remembered vividly playing against Don Bradman, who never failed to score a double century against Worcestershire, in the first match of Australian tours in the 1930s. Singleton recalled a moment of hope in 1938; “I was fielding at leg slip when Bradman hit a ball my way and it just fell short of my grasp.
He went on to score 258.”
In 1939, Singleton joined the RAFVR, and at the outbreak of war was called up into the RAF. Serving in Rhodesia, he met his future wife.
At the end of the cricket season of 1946 he emigrated to Rhodesia and took to farming – though he found time to play for Rhodesia (1946-47 to 1949-50). Eventually, he returned to teaching at a hoys’ school called Peterhouse,at Marondera. In 1985 he and his wife went to live in Australia.
Singleton married, in 1941, Polly Brooks; they had three sons arid two daughters.
John Reid-Rowland reports that Sandy’s flying career began with the RAF VR at Derby, England in 1938-9.
And after moving to Southern Rhodesia in 1940 he attended No 25 EFTS (Belvedere) where famous Rhodesian names in aviation began to appear in his log book as he converted to Tiger Moths – Flight Lieutenants Jack Finnis and Keith Hensman (Mark’s grandfather) among them. Harvards followed at 20 SFS (Cranborne), with John Lamplough mentioned (see photo below)