On a very cold Thursday morning the media contingent assembled at Wonderboom Airport ready for the flight to the most amazing aviation in Southern Africa. Race for Rhinos now in its fourth year in the beautiful Makgadikgadi salt pans in Botswana, in 2015 and 2016 the race was held at Kubu Island but due to higher than expected rainfall Kubu was ruled out and it was moved to Sua Pan for 2017 and again this year.
Little Annie at Wonderboom
The excitement was reaching fever pitch as we got airborne in the stunning Antanov AN-2 “Little Annie” for the short hop to Pilanesberg International Airport to clear customs, before embarking on the three hour plus flight to “Sua City”. “Little Annie” is operated by “Just Love Mission” in a bid to bring the love of aviation to orphans and disadvantaged children wherever she goes. The bumpy conditions took its toll on the passengers but all that was forgotten when we got the first glimpse of the Pans and passed overhead our home for the next few days. The different colour waters at Botswana Ash’s (BOTASH) mining operation, one of the major sponsors of the event, are really beautiful.
Runway and Parking for the aircraft
Coloured water at BOTASH
On base leg for runway 10 the magnitude of planning became evident as we caught the first glimpse of the tented city that would be the home of “Race for Rhinos 2018”, everything in this “International City” had to be driven or flown in over the proceeding days.
Base Leg at Sua City
On landing we were quickly whisked off to the make shift customs and immigration table at the Lapa the only fixed building in the entire city, as always the friendly staff from Botswana immigration were on hand to assist making this a very smooth and painless process. We then were given our tent numbers and we were ready for the fun to begin.
Little Annie at Sua City
Custom and Immigration Table
Home away from Home
After quick refreshment in the large “Mess” tent and meeting up with old friends it was off to the runway to capture the arrival of some of the competitors. The teams were given all the route documentation for the race on arrival and some teams were already frantically plotting and planning for the following day’s race route.
As the shadows grew longer the parking filled up Marshals and Scrutineering teams form Absolute Aviation were working frantically to disable all GPS devices in all the aircraft to comply with the race rule, no navigation aids may be used only map and compass “old school” navigation is permitted.
The wildlife started coming alive as the sun set over the pan in the most extraordinary display of colour, this is without a doubt one of the most beautiful sunsets I have ever had the honour of witnessing.
Grey Headed Gull
Flamingos over the Pan
All the teams were then summoned to the “Mess” tent for the briefing and rundown of the general rules and procedures for the race the following day. Chris Briers, the driving force behind the Race for Rhinos welcomed everyone and indicated to all the Participants what to look out for at each of the turning point. Then it was dinner time and some well-earned liquid refreshment and then off to bed.
Race Day One
Brian and his team from Capital Sounds made certain everyone was awake early with “Revelry” being played over the PA system at exactly 6AM followed by some amazing get up and go songs to set the mood for a wonderful days flying. After a hearty breakfast buffet and a few cups of steaming coffee the competitors made their way to their planes for a final Scrutineering session. Portable GPS devices and Smart Phones may be taken along but must be sealed in an envelope which is signed off by a marshal, the devices are there for emergencies and if opened the team is immediately disqualified but they can return safely if they get lost.
Activity on the Flight-line
The first aircraft to get airborne was the Bat-Hawk of Dave “Bubbles” Boshoff who climbed to FL130 and stayed up there for the full duration of the days racing. Dave was up there in a Telstar capacity to facilitate communication between the competitors and the base of operation at Sua City. The Bat Hawk reached this altitude in just under thirty minutes, the temperature up there was well below 0°C and this in an open cockpit aircraft.
Bat Hawk taking off
Dave dressed for the cold
On Day One the entire fields take-offs are arranged from fastest to slowest and are spaced 30 seconds apart. After a wave of the Botswana National Flag by former president Ian Khama the long awaited forth rendition of Race for Rhinos got underway led by the Piper Aerostar (Race 74) of Rufus Dreyer and Joggie Prinsloo who made their way from the Eastern Cape to compete.
President Ian Khama
Race 74 Piper Aerostar
The last Aircraft to get airborne over an hour later was the Piper PA-28 Cherokee (Race 29) crewed by Fiona and Angus Macaskill all the way from Gloster Strut in the UK.
Race 29 Piper PA-28 Cherokee
After about 50 minutes the first of the field of 116 aircraft started returning and after tall the handicap calculations were made the Aveko VL-3 Evolution (Race 25) of Michiel and Greyling Jansen was placed first after Day One, followed by the Glasair Aviation GS-2 (Race 41) of Peter and Alan Sheppard. Third place belonged to Stephan Fourie and Derek Bird in a Van’s RV-10 (Race 99).
Race 25 Aveko VL-3 Evolution
Race 41 Glasair Aviation GS-2
Race 99 Van’s RV-10
After everyone landed safely I was offered a scenic flight in a Bat-Hawk over the Pans and surrounding area, the abundance of wildlife is amazing.
Pelicans on the Pan
Heron in Flight
As the sun started moving towards the water once again it was time for the display pilots to take to the Botswana Skies, first up was Dion Raath. Dion performed a graceful display in “Mighty Mouse” a North American T6 Harvard.
Nigel Hopkins once again demonstrated why he is amongst the top Freestyle Aerobatics pilots in the world with a very Hi-energy display in his Porsche Sponsored Extra 330SC. Nigel was then joined by his Team X-treme teammates, Mark Hensman in a Sbach, Jason Beamish in a Van’s RV 7 and last but not least Mark Sampson in a Van’s RV8 for a tight display of formation aerobatics.
Next up was the breath-taking display by the Raptures Formation in Van’s RV 7’s and 8’s, Pierre Gouws, Ryan Beaton, Trevor Warner and Dion Raath reunited the team for the Race for Rhinos.
The mini airshow was closed off by Neville Ferreira in a very Hi-impact solo display in his newly repainted Slick 540, Neville was recently chosen to test fly the Hungarian Genovation Gen Pro for the Budapest based factory.
James Pitman form the Airplane Factory, manufacturer of the very popular Sling 2 and Sling 4 aircraft, got airborne in something slightly slower he flew up and down the shoreline in his Paramotor , James will be taking part in an adventure flight from Hartebeespoort Dam to Lake Kariba later this month, its will be a long flight hanging under the canopy of a Paramotor.
The day was brought to a close with a mass RV formation as the sunset over the Pan, twelve RV’s in formation was a wonderful way to end a great days flying.
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