Category Archives: There I Was…

Lucky Break With Exploding Fuel Tank.

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.

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Chileka Final Approach


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.’

Lions at Tiger Bay


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