UGANDA (eTN) – Uganda has many tourism attractions, some quite mundane and others quite unique, and yet others quite thrilling, like spending time with the rare mountain gorillas, racing quads through the mud along the banks of the Nile, bungee jumping with a baptizing dip into the Nile, or getting really wet on the world’s longest river while rafting the grade 4 and grade 5 rapids along its upper valley. The adrenaline rush sets in for the rafters when they are flipping in the rushing waters of the rapids, with some of them even thrown clear, somersaulting in the air before hitting the clean warm waters.
But now, there is a new kid on the block aiming to provide quintessential thrills and adrenaline rushes, and somersaults are no longer reserved for those rafting, but also for those brave enough to strap into the front seat of a “Great Lakes” bi-plane at the Kajjansi airfield outside Kampala and take to the skies.
Capt. Howard Davenport and his colleagues at the Kampala Aero Club and Flight Training Centre (KACFTC) – visit their website via www.flyuganda.com – put the “Great Lakes” back together again after her long journey from the United States, from where she was shipped all wrapped up in a container to keep wear and tear low.
Aviation buffs know this logo and get all excited when seeing this “grand old dame” of aviation, be it on the ground and close up or up in the skies doing loops and rolls.
The “Great Lakes” – incidentally named after the North American Great Lakes and not the regional East and Central African Great Lakes – was finally registered and licensed by the Uganda Civil Aviation Authority for acrobatic flying, and KACFTC is putting final touches on a tourism package for individuals, companies on retreat, or workshops at the nearby Lake Victoria Serena and especially tourists, who can do a bit of sightseeing from high up, which is one option on offer, or else strap in and take to the skies over Kajjansi and Lake Victoria and experience the thrill of momentary weightlessness when doing a loopings and reaching the top before that feeling in the stomach reverses as the dive down commences before leveling out again or doing “seconds.”
The tighter the straps are pulled, the better, as anything loose fitting will lead to uncomfortable moments when flying inverted or doing the loopings. And, OF COURSE, there is an emergency chute strapped to one’s back, too, “in the very unlikely event…” and some more advice – keep mobile phones etc. ON THE GROUND since anything loose WILL slip out of shirt pockets and irretrievably fall to the ground below.
For all those who consider the fumes of jet fuel or AVGAS as a type of perfume, and for all those seeking that massive adrenaline rush when the acrobatics begin, this will be quite a unique experience, and not costing over the top, as – compared to the much more expensive balloon rides over the Kenyan national parks, which now cost nearly US$500 – the 30+-minute flight will initially only cost US$250 per person.
Capt. Howard Davenport, a pilot for over 38 years now, knows the “Great Lakes,” and his own single seat, “Jungmeister,” like the back of his hand and has accumulated over 18,000 hours on both fixed-wing and rotary aircraft, and spent years flying “Jungmeister” and the “Great Lakes” in acrobatic mode. He is Uganda’s ONLY pilot EVER licensed to fly acrobatics from the surface up and is, of course, a licensed instructor pilot for ordinary airplanes, sea planes, gliders, and helicopters – in itself no mean feat, but no wonder having served for the FAA for 14 years as pilot examiner and another 21 years in aerial law enforcement in Texas. Howard is proud to credit the famous “Cole Brothers Air Show” for his prowess in flying acrobatics and in particular his erstwhile instructor Duane Cole, a twice US Champion.
On a more daily level, he serves as the Aero Club’s Safety and Quality Manager, one of the “accountable: appointments under their UCAA AOC licence.
The “Great Lakes” I flew with was built way back in 1978 but has been meticulously maintained and kept in a state of superb airworthiness, which beshames many more recently-built planes I have seen across East Africa, but then she has ever only flown 918 hours, when I took my ride earlier this week.
If anyone, therefore, is slightly, or massively, addicted to the big roller coaster rides or the free-fall contraptions put up at fun fairs, here is the alternative right in Kampala. A short distance from the city, along Entebbe road, taking the clearly marked turnoff at Kajjansi to the left just after the police station, the Murram road eventually takes one to the airfield, and it is the first entrance to the Aero Club, which is properly sign posted.
Once the car is securely parked inside, after the mandatory security check at the perimeter wall, it is but a few steps one takes to the reception where the friendly lady behind the desk will sort things out, or at least get things going, while the little snack bar has all it takes to steady a squirmy stomach. Calling ahead, though, will make sure that Capt. Howard is actually available on the day and not flying across Uganda somewhere, and that the weather forecast is favorable.
The club has a swimming pool next to the main building, where those going later or not at all can relax and see what is going to unfold first around and then above them. It makes for a fun outing and plenty of stories to tell, and those going up will be enjoying a great unrestricted view of the areas surrounding the airfield when flying upside down, or inverted as the lingo goes.
Those on the ground can also take pictures during the preparation stage, during taxi and the start of the takeoff, and depending on the lenses available, can even capture a few good shots of the aircraft in the skies. For that purpose, however, the Aero Club does offer a ride in their helicopter for onlookers, and one does get great shots mid-air as Capt. Howard puts the “Great Lakes” through its paces. That, of course, is at an additional cost but again absolutely worth it, especially when giving such a ride as a Christmas, birthday, or anniversary present, or awarding top performers with something unique, something very special, and something others have not yet “done that, been there, and have the t-shirt to prove.”
In closing, a few hints from me:
As a frequent flyer on such small aircraft, the “Wild Skies over Kajjansi” did not affect me, not in the slightest, but others may want to consider what they eat or drink BEFORE strapping in and going up into the skies over Kajjansi. It is generally a huge adrenaline rush similar to white water rafting, when going over “the big ones,” but that is a wet affair, while up in the skies it is windy, very windy in fact, but otherwise dry – no flights when it rains. LEAVE anything on the ground which is sharp and can poke you during the maneuvers when G-forces are hard at work, or things which can slip or fall out of pockets, to avoid it dropping and getting lost, and a video camera should have a wrist strap to be securely “bonded” with one’s arm, lest it goes for free fall, too. Other than that, it takes no extraordinary act of bravery, just a little confidence in the skills of Capt. Howard and an aircraft so well maintained it looks like new. Enjoy, have fun, and GO FLY.