Lindbergh Lodge: Tranquility of the African Bush
Great places to fly via lightplane are most assuredly not the sole province of the United States. Here's a delightful illustrated narrative of AVweb member Hannes Ambichler's recent Sunday outing from Johannesburg to a magnificent wild game preserve and hunting farm in the wilderness of South Africa's North West province in a Piper Archer.
It was a wonderful South African Sunday winter morning. Clear skies, still a bit cold, but the weatherman insisted it would reach 25 C later today. Sigrid, my wife and a pilot, too, was preparing for the flight to Lindbergh Lodge.
Lindbergh Lodge is a private game and hunting farm in the North-West province of South Africa. At an elevation of 4500' on the highveld, it is home to a plentiful of plain game. Sigrid and I decided to return to the place where our first cross-country took us after earning our private pilot certificates.
Regula and Stefan were joining us. A Swiss couple, and our closest friends since we moved to South Africa two years ago. Regula was looking forward to a little horse-riding exercise. She had not been riding for while. The chance of a close encounter of giraffes in their natural habitat was temptation enough for her, to try it again.
So we were heading for Grand Central, one of three General Aviation airports in the Johannesburg metropolitan area. 8.00 AM is a good time to arrive at the airport. The Piper Archer, the 180 hp ship of this nice little flight school was already waiting for us. Sigrid checked out for hire and fly, while I did the pre-flight for her. Everything was all right, we only needed to top up oil and get some fuel.
"ZS-KWT is ready."
Heading for LindberghGrand Central is beautifully located between Johannesburg and Pretoria. We had unusual wind from the South, so we are taking off the uphill runway 17. Turning out right at 500' AGL, over the Midrand industrial area, heading for the wealthy northern suburbs of Johannesburg. Every house is surrounded by a well-maintained garden, and of course there is a swimming pool. Beautiful sights, these red roofs, green lawns and blue pools. Regula got excited. We had just passed their house.
Sigrid was leveling off at 7000', just underneath Johannesburg air space. To the left of us, the skyscrapers of the New York of Africa, as Johannesburg is often called, looked so peaceful in the morning light.
We had about 90 minutes of flight ahead of us. The Archer was doing a good 120 knots ground speed, and our GPS told us that we were some 0.2 miles left of track. Thanks to the Pentagon, we knew exactly where we were. Below us, there was a change of scenery. We ran out of wealthy suburbs, and we were coming up to the Westrand. To the right we could make out some of the mine dumps of the dusty mining town of Krugersdorp, and to the left the township of Soweto, which got a lot of news coverage during the upraises of the 1970's . Would you know that Soweto is the second largest town in Africa? Only Cairo in far away Egypt is bigger (in terms of population).
The rest of the flight was as uneventful as expected. We safely passed the skydiver town of Carltonville without a parachute wrapped around our prop, passed the military airspace of Potchefstroom without sighting a Mirage, and cruised at 8500' over agricultural land and wilderness.
Except some Cirrus high above us there was no cloud. Winter is the ideal flying time on the highveld for VFR pilots like us. Perfectly smooth air, hardly any clouds from April to October (we are on the Southern Hemisphere). Although visibility is not always great, due to some low haze, we always enjoy a smooth ride and the sparsely populated landscape below us.
Landing at the Grass StripThe first time we flew into Lindbergh it took us three quarters of an hour to find the grass strip. And we only found it following roads (we could almost read road signs) and having a friendly fellow-pilot on the ground vectoring us in. But this time, we had our handheld GPS on board and quite a few more hours in our logbooks.
At the last fix we carefully noted the time and checked the DI twice as often from there on. Sigrid was slowly descending and reached circuit altitude perfectly on time. Both the clock and the GPS told us we were there, and here was this green strip amidst other green, yellow and brown fields. Sigrid positioned the Archer on a wide downwind, called for other traffic and got ready for her first non-tarmac landing. Our instructor had told us, that a good landing is always preceded by a good approach. And this was a perfectly flown approach, followed by a greaser. What a pleasure to fly as a team.
The airstrip is in convenient walking distance from the lodge. So we parked our aircraft next to the threshold of runway 03, took that little luggage we had and walked towards a quiet and relaxing day. Lindbergh Lodge had expected us. The young lady at the reception showed us around, although we insisted that we had been here before.
Welcome at LindberghWhile having the first welcome drink I decided that next time I will convince Sigrid to let me fly the first leg and let her get us home. We always fly one leg each. But the one who flies in the morning can enjoy a beer or two during the day. And that was exactly what Sigrid did that day. While the three of them had their beers, I pretended that I enjoyed my soft drink.
The horses for the two ladies were ready. Stefan and I watched them preparing for the ride with a smile on our lips. After getting some instructions on where to go and where not, off they went. We were told that there was no hunting today and the girls were perfectly save.
While the ladies had fun on the horseback Stefan and I decided that another drink and some Tennis would be fine. In the meanwhile the sun was standing high on the sky and African winter did show its best side. Mercury was climbing to 25 C and a little breeze came up, ideal for the two of us.
After a little while the humble waiter from Lindbergh's own restaurant came to brief us what to expect for lunch. Today it was cheese soufflé, and we had to promise to be in the restaurant and at the table at 13:00 sharp. Otherwise he could not guarantee that we enjoyed the meal. We decided not to take a chance.
Lunch was great. One would not expect genuine French cuisine in the African wilderness. After enjoying some Chocolate Mousse for desert it was time to have some rest. The swimming pool area seemed to be the ideal place for this. It offered a great view to the waterhole right in front of the lodge, where the wildlife comes for refreshment all day. While my crew and passengers still had some rest, I used the arrival of a noisy German bunch of tourists as a welcome excuse to et back to the airstrip to get the Archer and myself ready for the flight home. There was still not a cloud on the sky and I did not even bother to contact the Johannesburg weatherman.
Back to CivilisationAt 4.00 PM sharp, my team arrived and reluctantly accepted that they would now be taken back to civilisation. There was almost no wind, so I decided to use runway 03 to avoid the long taxi to the other end of the runway. Although I had 1000 meters of runway ahead of us, I opted for a short-field takeoff. With four people on board, still more than half fuel, 4500' elevation, and some 25 C air temperature, I did not want to risk anything. Density altitude calculations in this part of the wo
And right I was. It took us more than half of the runway to gain a suitable takeoff speed of 60 knots. And while pulling her off the ground the stall warning reminded me that the Archer is more comfortable at 65 knots. Without the extra drag from three wheels we quickly picked up some speed and climbed at a cumbersome 200' per minute to our cruising level of FL 75. Surprisingly enough, we could immediately get hold of Johannesburg Information and tell them that we were here. "No reported traffic, squawk two-zero-zero-one..." the nice lady responded.
The late afternoon sun quickly turned red into one of these stunning sunsets we have here almost every winter evening. The Red set fire to Johannesburg's skyline forming an unforgettable picture. These are the moments where I regret that I have not yet invested in these fancy cameras, lenses, filters and all what goes with it.
Grand Central Radio advised us of three aeroplanes being ahead of us in the circuit, of which only one of them I could make out against the dark red background. Why are all these guys coming back from their Sunday trips just before sunset? Couldn't they leave a bit earlier? But why should we complain about a 5-mile downwind, after having such a great day.
We have really enjoyed the trip. South Africa's great winter weather, the tranquility of the wilderness, and the well-managed Lindbergh lodge have made our day. In two weeks time we will be heading for the Kruger Park.