Saturday, November 15, 2008

All things Zambian

I went to Zambia expecting to be staying for 2 or 3 weeks, but it ended up taking nearly twice as long as I expected. I’m still in Lusaka (the Zambian capital) but will most likely be returning to Maun in two days time. The Zambia survey contract that I wrote about was done for ZAWA (Zambian Wildlife Authority). The main purpose of the survey is to count elephants, but while they’re at it, they’re counting anything that they see. It was an ambitious undertaking, with the intent of doing a comprehensive survey of the entire country’s National Parks and Game Management Areas in three weeks time. The time expectation didn’t end up being at all realistic, but for the amount of planning that had to go into this project in a very short time period, we got quite a bit done. It was exhausting for all involved, and to give you a taste, here’s a typical day’s schedule.

430 am: Wonder how it could be morning already, roll out of bed, rub the eyes, splash some water on the face and wolf down some cornflakes.

5 am: Meet with the ZAWA teams, climb in the pickup bed and ride to the airport squinting into the sunrise and the cool morning air.

530 am: Do a thorough preflight of the airplane, pile the crew into their seats, and take off into the prevailing easterly winds with a blinding sun in the face and hope nothing is crossing the runway at the time. Head for the morning survey area, sometimes up to 45 min flight from the base airport. Follow little lines on the GPS for 4 hours straight while trying to maintain 300 feet above the ground and 85 knots airspeed, avoiding mountains and hills, and trying to keep the ornery airplane engine from overheating. Look for wildlife in any spare time.

10 am: Return from the survey saddle-sore and with legs aching from being in the same position all morning. Try to avoid colliding with any of the many people or vehicles crossing the runway. Hand-pump fuel into the airplane in preparation for the afternoon flight under the close watch of crowds of locals who flock to see what all the action is about.

1130 am: Get to the hotel/guesthouse, grab a quick bite for lunch and crash in the room for as long as possible. Get up in time to enter GPS waypoints for the afternoon surveys, a process that might take as long as an hour.

2 pm:
Meet again for the afternoon flight and truck back out to the airport.

230 pm: Quick check of the airplane and we’re off again, this time battling high temperatures and reduced aircraft performance in the afternoon, barely clearing the trees at the end of some of the shorter strips. Weigh the advantages of taking off uphill and into the wind or vice versa. Survey for 3 hours, dodging rain showers and thunderstorms. Time the return to the airport to allow for a flight to another airstrip before dark if the home airport is under a storm.

530 pm: Back home again and pump fuel for the morning flight. Secure the airplanes and leave them in the care of the ZAWA sentry, armed with a rickety rifle of some sort.

630 pm: Get back, talk over the plans for the next day, and start entering more GPS waypoints for the morning flight. Eat a meal scraped together by Tracy, the wife of one of the pilots, from canned food and bread and whatever else can be found in the village (most of the places we stayed served traditional food, which we stomached for a while, but after a while pretty much anything is better than fried village chicken and mealie-meal. Not bad for a bit, but the menu is very repetitious and greasy.)

830 pm: If state of fatigue allows it, have a quick shower. Tuck in the mosquito net and roll into bed, aware that it all starts over again in less than 8 hours.

After almost 4 weeks of this schedule, with just a few days off scattered in there, I’m pretty much destroyed. It’s been a lot of fun and a great experience, but I’m very ready to be heading back to my house in Maun and to the flying there. I’ve posted some pictures from the last few weeks on my picasaweb page


rojoweaver said...

Hey is that "my" A2-FMC, or is it another airplane with that registration. If it is the same airplane you've been in that one a lot before!

Also what is that creature on the last two photos? I never saw anything like that before.


Travis said...

No, but it's named in honor of your FMC. The one you used to fly is actually in Zambia and is 9J-FMC. It was flying into Lusaka at the same time as me last week and it was a bit confusing on the radio.

And I have no idea what that thing's plant material of some kind, but I'd never seen anything like it before. I just thought it was pretty cool looking.