Close Shaves and Tented Camps

By Salome Maree



I look startled at my captain as he was wiping the sweat from his brow with the back of his hand.

The trees in the Congo are truly spectacular. When flying they create a dense green carpet which look thick enough to walk on. Once on the ground, though you realise their sheer size. I've never seen trees that big before. Most of the trees reach a height of around 40 to 50 metres, which is about the height of a fifteen-story building.

We were doing a charter flight from Entebbe (Uganda) to a logging strip in Congo to pick up some of the miners who were on their way home, back to Entebbe (Uganda). These gigantic trees, big guys, hot temperatures and short, dirt logging strip made for a very interesting departure. As first officer or GUFUSU (Gear Up Flap Up Shut Up) on the King Air 200, one of your jobs is to call out the air speeds during departure. As I have an altitude restriction, I have to fly aided by a stiff flight cushion behind my bum to reach the rudder and the seat needs to be in the highest position. Even then I need to sit completely upright to see over the nose. This meant my head was down in the cockpit, unable to see outside, watching the airspeed and calling them out as they slowly crept up.

It felt like a lifetime before we reached Vr. (rotation speed)

With my head down I did not realise how close the end of the runway we actually rotated.

Thank goodness for skilled hands and Pratt and Whitney.

We had to fly some spares and a box or two of groceries to a mine exploration camp in the DRC. When we arrived, the locals greeted the aircraft with jovial enthusiasm and the children were dancing around. We have taken to carrying a couple of extra cold drinks, even though this was just a delivery flight, so that we could hand them out to the kids. The children really enjoyed the free, icy cold drinks.

Gigantic trees and the local long drop

The mine exploration camp was well planned with raised walkways for the rainy season and quite a snazzy kitchen. The camp had a horse shoe shape, row of khaki military style, 2-man tents equipped with two stretcher beds and the cooling luxury of an air conditioner, which felt like heaven in the steamy heat. There was a fancy long drop (you still had to hold your breath if you did not want to pass out from the smell), which has been screened off and military style opens sided showers. With me being the only female in the camp, I opted for my trusty wet wipe bath insteadÖ

During the rather lavish dinner which consisted of a braai feast with some of the fresh vegetables we brought in that day, I discovered that these guys have not seen a female in nearly 2 years. I whispered to my captain, under my breath: "If you wake up tonight with me under your bed, you will definitely know why." He just gave me a sidelong glance and wry, smile.

That night I slept with one eye open, jumping every time a tent zip was opened. After an uneventful night (thank goodness) and a wholesome breakfast we were on our way to Entebbe, dodging some of the massive tropical thunderstorms already building on the way home.

We will be heading to Kananga for our next adventure in the DRC - with a G-string.

Four hours in Kruger

Female Aviators
Aviation Personalities

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