Cape Town - A dozen biplanes taking part in a Vintage Air Rally (VAR) are bound for a Cape Town Grand Finale on the 16th of December, having just done a world first fly-over the Victoria Falls.
The aircraft dating from the 1920s and 1930s took off on November 12 from the Greek island of Crete on their 13 000 kilometre (8 000-mile) journey to Cape Town.
The Vintage Air Rally has in just under a month been following in the footsteps of the pioneering flights of the 1920s – which connect some of the most beautiful and evocative points in Africa.
It is the largest group of vintage biplanes to attempt the journey across Africa, with teams from a dozen countries including Britain, Canada, France, Germany, South Africa and the United States.
Vintage planes and classic cars
They've flown low along the Nile from Cairo to Khartoum, past the highlands of Ethiopia, the plains of Kenya and the home of African aviation in Nairobi.
Their journey has taken them past Kilimanjaro into the Serengeti – and on to the spice island of Zanzibar.
And now after crossing Zambia to Victoria Falls, and being met VAR arrived in Bulawayo and met by the Matabeleland Vintage & Classic Car Club in Bulawayo, they're set to end their journey in stunning Cape Town.
One of the pilots Mark Oostingh, posted to the ZS-DNP VintageAirRally Crete2Cape Facebook page saying, "The flight over Vic Falls was not cleared for low level flying initially but yesterday (Thursday) we were cleared for less than 500 ft over them. It was an iconic flight.
Iconic Vic Falls flight
According to Oostingh they formed a 3 ship formation with 2 Travelairs over the falls and did a pass at 200ft, all being filmed by the Antenov camera ship and the helicopter. Click here to see the footage
"Flying over the Vic Falls at 6000ft above sea level. (The wavy quality is due to the prop wash). We were not allowed any lower. Today, as the Vintage Air Rally leaves Zim, they are permitted to fly over the falls again but they have to be BELOW 500ft above ground level. That should be amazing. The water level is quite low but standing in front of it is still spectacular."
"What a blast. I then did a pass a bit lower through the 'smoke' and then set course for Kasane and our breakaway trip to Bots. We flew up the Chobe and over Moremi and the swamps to Maun - we saw hundreds of elephant as well as many other species."
Oostingh also states that one of the Tigers broke its tie downs and is damaged and out of the rally, following a storm that came through the airport at Maun, "coming so far to have this happen is really bad luck!"
A number of vintage firsts
The biplanes also became the first group of aircraft allowed to land at Egypt's Giza pyramids in 50 years.
“There’s no autopilot, there are no automatic systems, it’s all hand flying, with very little protection from the elements—sun, wind, dust, the oil being sprayed out of the engine up front whilst it’s still turning. It’s all full on,” says VAR organizer Sam Rutherford.
There has been a genuine risk of engine failure, according to Rutherford who stated at the onset of the journey, “They’re all single engine aircraft, there isn’t a spare one on another wing. But on the positive side, the aircraft fly relatively slowly, and indeed they force land very, very slowly. So it only needs a small patch of land, a little bit of road, even a football pitch, to safely get the aircraft on the ground.”
With his green bomber jacket, windswept hair, and sun-crinkled eyes, Pedro Langdon, a Canadian-American has been flying his 1928 Travel Air 4000, a commercially built plane with a 220 horsepower, seven-cylinder engine says, “For me, it’s a whole other world up there, a way to become more present in the moment, it’s an exhilarating experience.”
The rally is working with the charity BirdLife International to raise awareness about the plight of the African vulture, with seven out of its 11 species currently on the edge of extinction. Each pilot is matching themselves to an endangered vulture, and each landing en route will highlight the issue.
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