• Going Places - African Tour Part 2

    Going Places - African Tour Part 2

    By Rodolfo Astrada

    In the last feature we started the African tour with the Frankfurt - Nairobi leg, leaving at the time of making landfall over Egypt, Sidi Barrani to be precise. The terrain below and up to the Qattara Depression was where the second battle of El Alamein was fought, 1942, when Rommel had to give up overwhelmed by Montgomery and Alexander. That defeat led later to the complete retreat of Axis forces from Africa. Then Churchill - always in the lookout for famous quotations - could proclaim before the House of Commons "This is not the end, it is not even the beginning of the end, but it is perhaps the end of the beginning".

    Going Places - African Tour Part 2

    Our route takes us west far from Cairo and the Nile, so we have no chance to watch Giza slip below, while the historic river looks only a darker ribbon far on the horizon. Save for the Nile valley, Egypt is mostly barren desert, a sea of sand south and west for hundreds of miles, perhaps some wadi marking where a river briefly flows during the rainy season December to February. But don't count on many more than ten wet days any given year. Take a note about potential for photovoltaic energy production, more on this later.

    In 1937 Shorts introduced the Empire series of flying boats we mentioned in the last story. The big four engine ships were a familiar sight on these whereabouts we are flying, plying the routes from Southampton with stopovers at Marseille, Athens, Alexandria and onwards. Each Empire flying boat had its unique name, the Canopus (first prototype), Centaurus, Calpurnia, Cavalier, Calypso, Coriolanus and on for a total of 42 built and flown during the fleeting golden age of the flying boat. Imperial Airways gambled high by placing an order for 28 units of an aircraft that was not even designed by 1935, only a specification for 24 passengers and 170 MPH, maybe with a range up to 2000 miles in a special extended configuration if possible. Shorts had no experience in building such a big ship yet produced several innovations in terms of structural design and aerodynamics including novel Gouge flaps after team leader Arthur Gouge which reduced landing (splashing?) speed as much as 12% for the 18 ton ship. By 1937 the latest models could fly nonstop from England to Egypt, 2300 miles.

    A spinoff from the Empire product line, the Shorts Sunderland was a militarized version which earned quite a reputation in the later stages of WWII. Designed under specifications for a long range patrol plane, it specialized in chasing U-boats and rescuing survivors from sunken ships. Savvy U-boat captains knew all too well to dive hastily as soon as a "flying porcupine" was spotted loitering above. Though ponderous a plane, submarine speed was no match for a swooping Sunderland bristling with depth charges and the advantage of perspective; dozens of German submarines fell prey this way. Then again in what was the most improbable outcome for an air battle, a single Sunderland on patrol over the Bay of Biscay, June 1943, was chased by a flight of eight JU 88 fighter bombers. Twisting and turning viciously it managed to shoot down two attackers, a probable third, and mangled the remaining ones so bad they ended up disengaging. With dead and wounded crewmembers and a disabled engine, it nonetheless limped home.

    Going Places - African Tour Part 2

    After the war, surplus Sunderlands readily found place in passenger carrying duty. We had for decades a flying boat service making the Montevideo - Buenos Aires run under Argentina or Uruguay flag, the deep grumble of the four Bristol Pegasus radials a familiar sound in the general area of Montevideo bay.

    In the previous issue early drafts I had the outline and some material for a section devoted to Pan Am's pioneering intercontinental flying boat services to Asia and Europe. Finding it should make the feature unduly heavy I pushed it to this issue, only to find again it takes much space. Leaning it is out of the question, should not properly honor the trailblazing feats conceived by Juan Trippe and its far reaching consequences for the airline industry. Hope next time this issue will be properly settled.

    We now meet the fringes of what gradually will turn into the African forest, past Khartoum, Sudan, where the Blue Nile joins forces with the White Nile. Now that I mention, back in 1858 without the benefit of satellite imagery, it took walking the forest to find the sources of the Nile, a matter then still not settled. That year an expedition financed by the Royal Geographic Society commissioned Capt. Richard Burton and Officer John Speke to find out. After various mishaps and health troubles, it was Speke who discovered and named Lake Victoria correctly identifying it as the source of the White Nile, and is the officially accepted discoverer despite subsequent heated debates out of our scope.

    One John Goddard set himself the goal to live an adventurous life, broken down in 127 particular goals to be more precise. Among them to climb the Popocatepetl, the Kilimanjaro, look for Noah's Ark atop Mount Ararat, kayak the Nile and write a book among others. Ah, he drove 46 different types of aircraft including the F111. Did I say kayak the Nile? Right, in 1951 he gathered a couple of French pals Jan La Porte and Andre Davy, hauled their frugal equipment to the sources of the Kagera River which is the largest affluent of Lake Victoria, to make sure, and started the adventure. Eight and 1/2 months and over 6000 km later they were paddling the salty waters of the Mediterranean after sorting all kind of near misses from the very start, be it dangerous hippos, dangerous waters or dangerous people along the banks.

    Going Places - African Tour Part 2

    Once and again they got lost of each other, reunited again and pushed on to Rosetta, the town with the same name of the river branch which is part of the delta and where the famous stone enabled Champollion to decipher Egyptian hieroglyph scripture. Later Goddard wrote a book which I highly recommend "Kayaks Down the Nile", telling it as it was. Went on to study anthropology, film underwater, became member of various explorer societies and in general spend a pretty adventurous life. Some good example of bad arse as they say, with due respect.

    Going Places - African Tour Part 2

    And as time and sand goes by, we enter Kenya airspace abeam Lake Turkana. That it is elongated more or less North - South is no coincidence, the lake fills the trough formed by the eastward drift of a chunk of eastern Africa, the East African Rift. Apart from geology, Lake Turkana got notoriety after the finding in 1972 of a very ancient skull attributed originally to Homo habilis. Further findings followed, with Maeve Leakey discovering in 1994 the Australopithecus anamensis fossil. Dated at roughly 4 million years, it ranks as one of the oldest known human ancestors and put on firm basis the thesis of Africa as birthplace for our species.

    Closing in on our destination by now. For a change here comes a more under the hood view as to how this arrival comes about.

    Going Places - African Tour Part 2

    Going Places - African Tour Part 2

    Disclaimer, I am not a professional pilot much less a jet airliner qualified pilot, what I do while simming is to play as close as I know. Lots of regular stuff is out of necessity left aside, like load and detailed performance calculations, weather, paperwork, whatever else it takes for a regular operation. That said, let's go for the fun.

    Nairobi sits at 5330' and has a single southwest - northeast (06/24) runaway. The vast majority of landings are by ILS 06 approach. Landing brief is: follow vectors to GV VOR, then turn (left in our case) on a heading of 105 until localizer intercept, crosscheck bearing of NV VOR on extended centerline past the airport. In case of missed approach, climb on runaway heading to 6000' or NV VOR whichever comes first, then right climbing turn to 9000', expect further instructions.

    Going Places - African Tour Part 2

    MDA is 9600' in this northwest sector, target altitude at GV is 9100'. In the real world I should be directed to some of the northwest arrivals like TILUK or LADAN for our route, anyway all end up at the GV VOR (GG NDB) fix. As is usually the case FSX has other ideas about final approach vectoring and sends us to 8300', no problem if keeping a healthy situational awareness, Mt. Longonot at 9100' lays safely to the right, while the Ngong Hills ridge at 8070' will be outside the localizer intercept left turn.

    Going Places - African Tour Part 2

    We are already at 250 kts and have the localizer alive 25 nm out. On turn to final we engage approach mode and select final approach speed. The MD11 does not like to go slow and a runway altitude of 5300' does not help either. 155 kts is a normal Vref (flaps 50) for average load and normal arrival fuel, I like to add at least 5 kts for margin. Double check gear: four green, flaps: 50, autobrake: set (min) as per landing checklist.

    Going Places - African Tour Part 2

    Switch off A/P and A/T passing 1000' AGL, gently nudge throttle while making short but decisive stick inputs in order to keep GS/LOC in check yet not to overcontrol. Heavy aircraft like the MD11 are slow to get moving in any direction and slower yet to stop moving! DH is 5530' (200' AGL), continue.

    Going Places - African Tour Part 2

    Some lines above I made a mention regarding photovoltaic energy in connection with the Egyptian dessert. Turns out I am tinkering with the idea of dipping into dangerous waters, more precisely in what can be speculated about future developments in aviation. What has to do photovoltaic energy with this? Next time we'll try to explore this and other topics as usual while we fly towards Johannesburg. See you!

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