Trans African Catalina Trip

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Re: Trans African Catalina Trip

Postby seawings » Tue Feb 19, 2013 9:41 am

flyernzl wrote:This is absolutely fascinating!


You're telling me!

I cannot wait for the next part...........!!

Again, just what I built this forum for; (I know I keep on saying it but the Members on here just continue to amaze me with their knowledge and, now, their lifestories). Brilliant stuff.
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Re: Trans African Catalina Trip

Postby Cameraman » Sat Feb 23, 2013 11:14 am

Good Morning,

I've just been sipping a cup if breakfast tea whilst absorbing the atmosphere of this wonder journey.

Thanks for posting.

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Re: Trans African Catalina Trip

Postby strangeclouds » Wed Mar 06, 2013 9:50 am

The Last African Flying Boat movie finally now can be found here.
In its entirety.
good timing before the next chapter......

http://youtu.be/Hv8PDWHNOfA
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Re: Trans African Catalina Trip

Postby DavidLegg » Thu Mar 07, 2013 8:55 am

TonyR wrote:Bless you SC, for this link ... I"ve been trying to get a copy of this documentary for years! I've never met Pierrre Jaunet, but I know his brother Michel very well, as we both share a passion for vintage Land Rovers!

As an aside, PF-PBY (cn 300) is scheduled to make 2 passenger-carrying visits to Switzerland this year ( Lucerne in May, and Vevey in September). I am already booked up!


PH-PBY.
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Re: Trans African Catalina Trip

Postby DavidLegg » Thu Mar 07, 2013 2:19 pm

TonyR wrote:Sorry - slip of the keyboard (hic!)


:-)

I've not flown in PH-PBY but they sound like really good trips if they take place. Lucerne and Vevey are both fantastic locations. I've landed in G-PBYA at the Geneva end of Lac Leman and it was awesome.
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Re: Trans African Catalina Trip

Postby DavidLegg » Fri Mar 08, 2013 8:10 pm

TonyR wrote:
DavidLegg wrote: they sound like really good trips if they take place.


David - you've got me worried with that remark. I know PH-PBY had to cancel a visit to Switzerland in 2010 owing to certification problems, but I understand she has been active again since August 2012. Do you know something I don't?


I know nothing!!! PH-PBY has been active inasmuch as she flew again in the latter part of 2012 but I don't think she carried any fare-paying pax. All I meant was that a lot of people have been disappointed in the recent past because advertised flights have not taken place but hopefully 2013 will see it turn a corner. She certainly looked very good in the hangar in a photo taken earlier this week that I have seen.
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Re: Trans African Catalina Trip

Postby strangeclouds » Tue Mar 12, 2013 8:56 am

The Last African Flying Boat was a co-production done by the BBC for the ABC World of Discovery Series which first aired sometime in 1993.Originally it was slated to have Michel Palin in it (of Monty Python fame), as it was going to be paired in with his Round the World in 80 days series. That didn’t work out.There were two versions of the final cut, one for the USA and another for the UK. The two versions were slightly different. For movies as well as music this seems to be the norm. The one that I’m referring to here is the BBC version. In 1990 it won a BAFTA Award for Best Single Documentary.

By Jan 1989 the Beebs arrived in Cairo early to get things organized for the beginning of the trip.Things didn’t start out that well after the associate producer went location scouting.She was walking along the river alone briefly when some locals tried to jump her.Luckily she escaped with only a few scratches. Something tells me that the perpetrators didn’t escape with anything less.

The first stop would be Alexandria.. The producer and the assistant producer and the soundman and the cameraman and the assistant cameraman and all the gear, plus two trusty Aton Cameras.And …. the writer.

We left from Embaba Airport on Jan 13 1989.

Embaba airport was an unusual kind of place. It was located in the center of the city, and it was used mainly for pilot training. It was then Cairo’s municipal airport . It was accessible by military and civilian aircraft at the same time. At Embaba it was the second time that I had ever actually seen a plane crash, the first time was about 5 years earlier in Botswana. It was the same thing…a gear up landing.
Glancing out over the runway at Embaba field I was wondering what all the fuss was about. It was abuzz with people rushing about in an elevated state of
excitement, shouting at each other as if something was horribly wrong.
I looked up to see what was going on. Out from behind the wing of the Catalina appeared a small twin engine aircraft on final approach with its landing gear still retracted. As it touched down there was a grinding sound combined with a skidding rumble, similar to skiing over small rocks. A large cloud of sand and dirt slowly cleared away leaving the sight of two pilots jumping out of the aircraft and running away.. Suddenly they were surrounded by several sympathetic bystanders.

Our departure to Alexandria would then be delayed for a little while until they cleared away the wreckage.

The first call was to land at Dekhila Harbour at night with flare pots close to the Quaitbay Citadel. The skipper and I weren’t too excited about that idea, so we decided that we would have to explain to the director a little more clearly about the boundaries of what they were attempting to accomplish. Thus we then negated any future issues when it comes to limitations.
The harbor authorities were also unable to agree with it either. The Director wasn’t off to a very good start.
At Alexandria Harbour we still managed to get a water landing in. .The harbor was packed with other boats making landing and take-offs difficult . A few brief shots made it into the final cut. One good shot of how not to land properly.

Then off to Cairo. We got into a little bit of trouble for buzzing the Pyramids at Giza. The script called for a couple of low passes before heading off southbound, and I think the skipper got a little bit carried away. Afterwards we were scolded by the authorities. The director really liked that shot though, and after that his spirits finally began to lift.
El Minya was our next stop, where a chase helicopter would join us for some air to air shots up the river . El Minya is a restricted airport of sorts and we again had a hard time trying to explaining what we were up to. Since the Beebs were paying the landing fees now at this point I could tell the great sense of relief from the Boss.

Image
The Pyramids at Giza.
Photo:author

At Luxor we had a hell of a time trying to line up the right tack for the next ground to air shot. This would involve the aircraft flying along the pillars at Karnak..The director was equipped with an aircraft radio on the ground, stationed at the temple. He was telling us a little bit more this way or that way a bit higher or lower and eventually the skipper was just about to have a fit. This was right before we managed to get it right finally.
At Aswan the director wanted to spool up the danger angle a little bit. This was enabled by a staged exchange with an unsuspecting Egyptian air traffic controller.
The next shoot was at The Old Cataract Hotel in Aswan that evening. The bar scene took place that night, with the skipper playing piano in a dimly lit room.
This was when a lit cigarette butt fell into the piano by accident(unrehearsed) almost setting it aflame, and then we tried to put it out by spraying water onto the hammers which didn’t help the smoking embers deep within the piano.

The next day we did some more pick up shots on the ground, shopping around the markets and hanging out with the local Egyptian kids practicing English.

The script at some point has difficulty in defining between what is fact and what is fiction. I can understand that in order to make a movie more interesting for your average viewer that it might be necessary to bend the truth and exaggerate the facts..(such as the pilots hadn’t ever flown in Africa before/and that the co-pilot navigator cant actually fly the plane/the skippers never flown the aircraft before).and now days we call it reality TV....But then it was all about show buisness...and one would usually assume that the best thing about a documentary is that it should tell the facts since it is...…a documentary. Also since this picture is an “award winning documentary “ it brings up issues weather or not that theres much fact at all….along with any other movie that makes any claim to be a documentary....

At certain times during the trip the writer and the skipper were not really getting along at all. Perhaps this did ...and definitely not... help the script. The writer also wanted to create the idea of the skipper of being a one horse cowboy riding a lame horse across the endless desert. It was reality tv that this tension took place between those two,and that it eventually enhanced the direction for this show....

From Aswan we continued up the Nile to Merowe in Sudan. We were on final approach into the airport we then hit some birds. Always pull up in a case like this as birds tend to panic and dive when they see a plane coming. These being Sudanese birds perhaps they didn’t…and we went right into them. The sound is exactly like being in a car and then being pelted by snowballs in the dead of winter.
We sustained a few dents on the leading edge of the wing from that, and it also took a little while to pull some of the bird leftovers out of the engines. The director really liked that and we ended up having to re-create that little incident for the camera afterwards.

Image
The Nile close to Merowe.
Photo:author

At Khartoum the interview with the late Bill Cragg took place. A really good guy, who genuinely was concerned about the rebels and making sure that we would make it by southern Sudan without any problems. It was very unfourtunate that shortly afterwards he didnt.He never lived to see this movie.

The Lake Naivasha scene was overplayed somewhat by the film crew.That lake is drying up.Also its at a high elevation.It was hot.We erred on the side of conservatism in regard to to taking off.
We took as much weight out of the aircraft as possible before getting outta there which turned out to be a good idea.

The Ilha de Mozambique….also supremely lost in time, quite different from the rest of Africa but still similar in many ways..The causeway to the small island was always in danger of getting blown up by the rebels. Constant power cuts were the norm . We landed in the harbor next to the island and the sound of hundreds (perhaps maybe a thousand or more) of people greeting us was unforgettable. It was also loud. You can also hear it on the film… along with masses of people rushing towards the beach to get a closer look. It was surreal. I could tell that the producer and cameraman especially were totally elated. It was the highlight of the trip. It was as if locals had ever seen a plane before…let alone a flying boat. We were then greeted by the harbor master. Formally I might add..in uniform. We only stayed for two nights…. …beer was scarce…as well as food. Fish was on the menu for both nights. Not much fresh water either. The lights on the island were off after 10.Also flickering several times before then. By the time dinner was over it was time for candles, as the diesel generator would then be quiet for the night..

From Ilha de Mozambique we went inland a bit on a more direct route to Quelimane.We needed fuel.This is where I met a fellow Canadian.He was a missionary pilot who was familiar with the area.He recommended that It might be better idea to follow the coast down to Beira rather than continuing inland. Things had been heating up with the rebels lately.Our insuance was only valid if we flew over the water due to the civil unrest at the time.

Image
In Nampula Mozambique.
Photo:the assistant producer I think.

We headed back down the coast to Beira and then to Harare. The weather still wasn’t cooperating. The instruments on the plane seemed to be working ok more or less, but still we hadn’t flown in cloud at all for any length of time previous to that.We landed in Harare just in time to send the Beebs back home.

It wouldnt be too long before we were to head off north again with another load of clients......
Last edited by strangeclouds on Wed Aug 02, 2017 8:16 am, edited 2 times in total.
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Re: Trans African Catalina Trip

Postby Cameraman » Fri Mar 15, 2013 7:10 am

Mornin',

I enjoyed the insight into the BBC doc!

Regards

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Re: Trans African Catalina Trip

Postby strangeclouds » Sun Apr 14, 2013 7:40 pm

Image
Photo:unknown
The Nile,close to Khartoum.

The next trip up north was relatively uneventful for a change.....
It was on that trip when we stopped in Luxor for two days to for the clients do take their tours at the sights. The skipper an I went out to the aircraft a day before to do refueling and minor maintenance before the trip to Abu Simbel.
It was early afternoon. I was on top of the wing when I noticed a BAE-146 land in front of me. Unusual I thought, as when it taxied in two small British flags popped up out of the cockpit. The aircraft pulled up and parked beside us. After shutting the engines down the airstair folded down and a bunch of guys in brown uniforms piled out, presumably to do flight planning and refueling duties. Some of them quickly stopped to say hi and ask what we were up to in this part of the world. I didn’t have that much time to answer as I was busy fixing the loose cowling from atop the wing. They were in a rush I could tell ,and then they wondered off to do their thing.
Then someone in a white shirt appeared from the 146,and wondered over to below me and politely began to ask lots of questions with a posh British accent. At the same time the skipper was down below me in the cockpit and began to shout at me…get this or do that would you mind hurrying up….so I didn’t really have time to answer all the questions that the guy in the white shirt was asking, so I told him that I was kind of too busy to talk right now.
He seemed a bit pissed off.
Then he walked away and back into the 146.
Shortly after that one of the guys in a brown uniform appeared again and asked, “do you realize who you were just talking to?” I replied no.
It was Prince Phillip; apparently he was on his way to Japan for Hirohito’s funeral.

The last trip southbound (number 5) Max came back for another one, much to the pleasure of the crew. Again he was armed with all the latest gadgets of all sorts, a new camera as well as a portable DVD player even better than his last one. As we progressed down further south he became more popular with the clients again…I guess as they noticed how friendly the crew was with him at that time they attempted to become even friendlier. During that trip he restrained himself somewhat from becoming too acentric and drawing any undue attention to himself.

On our last leg of the journey from Malawi to Harare we never quite made it. Somehow as if that aircraft wasn’t going to let us go without its last surprise.

The trip involved crossing over approximately 150 miles of Mozambique. The wx that day was a pretty solid overcast at about 8000 feet ,so we elected to go on top rather than risk getting shot at from any lower altitude .Even though we were above the range of being fired at….it still wasn’t the ideal ,as being on top made navigation difficult. I couldn’t see the terrain. Not that the topographical charts were of much use anyhow at the best of times.
As luck would have it at half way across, the left hand engine let out a now familiar mighty crack, followed by high vibration and reduced power.

The skipper then looked at me an threw up his hands and said what the hell are we going to do now.

I looked at him and said hold on a minute here, we’ll find a hole. I scanned the horizon for a little bit of gray amidst the solid white overcast. I knew that the land leveled out to the right of our position, so I said lets go over that way, pointing towards the west, and there seemed to be a hole in that direction…and at any rate I knew from our relative position that there was at least lower elevations :ie no mountains.
We continued on for what seemed like forever, and eventually that little bit of grey turned out to be a hole large enough that we could to get down through it .We were very lucky as we were beginning to loose altitude anyhow. We dropped out below the clouds parallel to a long wide escarpment, and I wasn’t certain at this point if we were over Mozambique or Zimbabwe. Judging by the vectors I had been drawing on the map we were close to the border…but on the Zimbabwe side. We began to look for somewhere to land. By this point I had also been sending out distress calls on the radio, and I managed to get ahold of a passing KLM airliner on its way north high above us. I relayed our approximate position and intentions to them until we became out of range.
Meanwhile the passengers were getting a little bit concerned, and I think the boss did a good job of settling them down by serving them several strong drinks.
We began to circle what looked like an unused airstrip. A car appeared beside a field that we had our eyes on. They began to drive up and down the road as if to show us that we could land there. Our engine was obviously smoking a little bit of oil as well..so they could tell that we were in trouble.
After taking a good look after a low pass ,we touched down gently on a pretty rough piece of turf, unable to see much ahead of us on the ground because the grass was so tall.
We came to a stop halfway down the field. The car was in hot pursuit, and shortly after we opened the doors the car appeared from in front us and two African chaps jumped out and stared at us with amazement…

My first question was…… are we in Mozambique?
They said no.

After a huge feeling of relief , we then explained our situation and they were extremely obliging. They would be able to drive me to the nearest police station at once, so I could alert the authorities that we had landed safely. We had landed at a area called Muzarabani, an old cotton and coffee plantation district located about a 4 hour drive north of Harare.

Image
The landing at Mazarambani.
Image
Mazarambani also.
Photo:author.
The boss was still pouring drinks after landing to settle everyone’s nerves. For them at that point it was cause for a small celebration I think. For us also…but not yet ,and we decided that I would go in the car to the nearest police station about 1 1/2 hours drive away….to alert the necessary authorities that we were all ok.
Meanwhile the boss had managed to flag down a bus, complete with some African livestock and local passengers. Somehow he managed to convince them to take our clients closer to Harare. That was a stroke of luck.
The ride to the police station was long…especially after a flight like that…finally we arrived at a little shack by the side of the road. Inside was a very lonely police officer who was very happy to have a visitor after such a long time. I explained our predicament and he nodded with understanding an immediately began to Morse code to the headquarters a message that we were safely on the ground. After a few short broken exchanges we were on our way back to the aircraft.
On the way back we drove through a couple of small villages. I was tired, hungry and thirsty. I figured that the skipper would probably need some beer also for tonight, along with myself, so I asked the driver if he could stop by a bottle store on the way home. He gratefully obliged, and at the next village we pulled off to the side of the road next to the liquor store. I went in to get as much beer as I could carry out. As I was walking out I didn’t realize that the bus carrying all of our stranded passengers went driving by, and they all noticed me carrying four cases of beer towards the awaiting car. I understood from the boss that later on that the clients were kind of wondering what the heck the co-pilot was doing buying beer when he should have been back at the airstrip fixing the aircraft.

The skipper and I spent that night at Mazarambani fixing the left engine. We had to wait for the boss to get back from Harare with some parts which held us up for a little while longer. We became friends with the locals who ran the nearby farm, and they very kindly cut the cotton off the field to make our takeoff a little easier the next day.

On March 25th 1989 the skipper and I flew our last leg of the journey to Harare Zimbabwe. We were to leave the aircraft there for the next month or so until the bookings filled up for the next few trips. Everyone at that point went home for a few weeks’ holidays.


I didn’t realize at that point that it would be the last time that I would ever see the boss, the skipper, or JCV ever again……..



Image
Photo John Allott
Z-CAT as JCV used to be..a little while later on on the Chobe River.
Last edited by strangeclouds on Sun Jan 19, 2014 8:15 am, edited 2 times in total.
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Re: Trans African Catalina Trip

Postby strangeclouds » Sun Apr 14, 2013 7:47 pm

POSTSCRIPT





JCV ended up flying for a couple of more years …later to become a flying museum piece down in New Zealand.

After we left the aircraft in Harare I thought that it would only be three weeks holidays before getting back there again but I was wrong.. Once I returned back to Canada I lucked out and I suddenly was accepted for an airline job flying for one of the major airlines. Much to the Bosses displeasure I might add….. as I gave him quite short notice unfortunately …. all reasons for which and more perhaps that he is still sensitive about. The skipper never made it back either.

Throughout the course of these chapters I really have appreciated the feedback from the people who have taken the time to share something about this amazing aircraft . Also, to anyone who has really taken the time to read this , as its kind of long. What initially began as an easy way to describe what really happened turned out to take a lot longer than what I had originally envisioned. I hope that somehow this story will bring out some of those people who were involved with those trips or people who have had anything to do with this amazing aircraft….. together somehow.


The Boss is still doing trips overland in the Middle East and Africa I understand. The Bosses wife has passed on recently and may she rest in peace. The Skipper never really stayed in touch with anyone, and I was no exception. It was rumored that he wanted to come back for another go at it but I don’t think that ever materialized for various reasons. Who knows what ever happened to Max. He always complained about how the British Government pretended that he never existed. I did visit him in the UK after the trip, he lived in a very big old farm house alone. We stayed up very late at night and traded stories about the African trips. He took hours of video of those trips, and I often wonder what ever happened to that footage also. His favorite scene was me jumping out in Mazarambane and asking what country were we in…..Zimbabwe or Mozambique.Mozambique was at war at the time.

At times I felt that the people who came along on the trips were somewhat enamored by the lifestyle of the crew, and especially that of the pilots. For them it seemed like we lived a life of exotic destinations and excitement at every turn. For the most part this was true, but often from a pilots perspective this lifestyle would sometimes lead down a dead end street. Working for a small outfit in the wilds of Africa often ends up in chaos due to people running out of money or misfortunes with aircraft reliability or politics. Somehow I get the impression that people like Max or the Boss think that young pilots were “selling out” of the bush pilot business by moving on and becoming airline pilots thus furthering on their career. The security of a reasonable schedule accompanied by operating newer equipment is enough to make some of us move on…and as someone who was just about to retire just told me……your only as good as your last landing…..

There’s also a lot more to some of these chapters than I can tell you. I’m saying what happened to the best of my recollection but I still want to tell even more but I feel restrained by diplomacy, and also consideration for everyones privacy. This story is written about what happened over 23 years ago, and most things should be pretty much the way they were here as I have explained.

The subject of a book has come up and some of these chapters might be incorporated..It will also describe the drastic change that aviation has taken within the past 50 years…. especially the clumsy and awkward interface between culture, hardware,software and all the human limitations combined……

Well…that’s another story…….
Last edited by strangeclouds on Wed Jan 22, 2014 7:15 am, edited 10 times in total.
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