Sunday, 23 March 2014

Appearances can be deceiving

The hills of Karamoja, the most north-easterly region of the Pearl of Africa - Uganda, they look so beautiful in the bright morning light, as I bank steeply over the delightfully named airstrip called Kaabong 5180ft up in the highlands. I can see a Landcruiser acting as a useful marker parked on a clearing on the side of the airstrip.  My two passengers and their driver gaze up at me, as I zip overhead, usually there is a flag fluttering in the breeze from the large aerials these vehicles usually sport, always a useful aid as to the winds strength and and direction but today nothing but it is not difficult to work out today! The sun glitters on the quartz covered runway and all seems peaceful. Excepting it had been such a rough, slow ride as we pushed our way north at 114kts*, into exceptionally strong winds that tore across Karamoja, despite the tranquil scene that lay below me, as the aircraft bounced with enthusiasm from aerial pothole to pothole.

It's warm sunny day in Africa and you wonder what events this airstrip has seen as in it's heyday it was a lot longer! Lining up on finals I held the aircraft steady as the runway desperately tries to dance it's own rythmless quickstep, left, left, left, right, up, up, down, down and down. Somedays airstrips really do not behave and today it seems particularly eager to discourage a visit. It is a strong quartering headwind from the right but I soon get the airstrip to behave itself and come into line. Need to add lots of power descending through the last 200 feet, as a sudden rush of air** seems particularly keen to push one into the ground for an early 'arrival' but I out guess the downdraft and so cross the threshold in a firm, secure and very short-field landing. Definately a nine (my daughter always used to mark my landings out of 10), there is a certain pleasure in the challenge.  The runway has been shut for nearly 2 years and has only recently been re-opened after some remedial work but it is rather narrow now and turning on the runway needs caution as the slope of the drainage ditches is not ideal.

In the old days I used to always pull off the runway but now the drainage 'dip' need more of a 4x4 if one was to negotiate them, so wisdom says stay on the strip. I taxi to the end of the runway which has a convenient turning point, avoiding a rather hefty piece of quartz I park and hop out, quickly chock the wheels. I have decided I will take-off into the slight upslope with gently rising ground, as with todays strong headwinds and my light take-off weight this will be the way to go.  I've dropped off all my up country passengers en-route and just have a lone return passenger, who I picked up at Kotido, she  is very pleased to have some fresh air. The other two passengers walk down to me with their bags.

I do a quick walk around the aircraft to get ready for departure again, I find a couple of small nicks in the prop from a stone or two either kicked up on the brief burst of reverse thrust which helps slow the aircraft down on landing or on the turn, engineering will be able to file those out easily when I get back, props have quite a hard life!

The aircraft rocks gently in the breeze and I think about Karamoja over the years so many cattle raids, fights that have become battles. Almost unreported the tribal warfare has cost many a young man's life. The nomadic lifestyle paints a romantic freedom to the westerner tied up by rules and expectations but the good and bad rain cycle creates a hard hard life and the mobile life takes its toll on the women and children of the region. Interesting how some may say let them be but if you talk with a few of the mothers you find they want for their children exactly what we want for ours, to have health living beyond 5, they want peace and for their children to go to school.

Perhaps appearances can be deceiving...

as I look at the photo , I think what a lovely day, so peaceful but appearances can be so deceiving, in so many ways.

Full power and I am off in no time as I turn into wind and climb away. Next stop Soroti where I pick up 4 more people but we have an extended stay for 20 minutes whilst my 3 passengers change their complexions back from green to white. Actually in all my years I have had very few passengers who have been sick - honest.

 *we would expect a groundspeed generally around 140-160kts
** downdraft

If interested their is a video on youtube bigglesgsy you should be able to find a clip of landing at Kaabong a couple of years ago.

1 comment:

  1. Its always interesting when passengers get sick in a small general aviation airplane and think it would be better on a bigger plane. But I guess everyone reacts differently. Fortunately over all the years of my flying career in general aviation I never had a passenger get sick.