Arua Airfeld is a non-radio dirt strip in the far north of Uganda. Before crossing the border of Uganda into South-Sudan we had to clear immigration/customs at either this airstrip at the Ugandese-Sudanese border or we would have to fly from Kajjansi airfield to Entebbe airport and clear customs here before flying to South-Sudan.
We left Kajjansi early in the morning just after sunrise. We were topped up with fuel but had no problems climbing out in the early morning relatively cool temperatures.
We climbed out over the swamps right there on the extended centerline of the runway. We had read the warning poster in the hangar informing us of the Cobra snakes in the swamps and the thought of having to ditch there did look too appetizing to us.
While climbing out over Lake Victoria en before flying out towards Arua we were treated with a beautiful sunrise. It wasn’t for long that the sun broke through completely starting its work to heat up the air.
The typical African dirt strip was well maintained and the landing was a non-event. Just before turning final we had to watch out for several antennas and the airfield chart provided by MAF to us noted that we should not overfly the central market square of Arua.
The door to the Meteo “department” was closed and the table with the sign to pay was outside under a veranda to provide some shade. After all the reason for landing here was just to clear immigration and leave Uganda for our trip into South-Sudan. This time everything was quite efficient and we were airborne again within half an hour.
In Bamako, Mali we paid a visit to Sahel Aviation. We now were welcomed by the staff of Mission Aviation Fellowship (MAF) in Kajjansi, Uganda. Kajjansi airfield is an airstrip about a 10 minute flight from Entebbe airport (HUEN) and owned by MAF.
From the Kajjansi airstrip a team of pilots and support staff provide their aviation services to missionaries, NGO organizations and the local community. The old view of mission pilots flying to remote dirt strips to support missionary posts is outdated. MAF is still flying out to mission posts, but also supporting NGOs and other non-profit aid organizations with their flight operations.
Rembrand, a Dutch pilot flying with MAF in Uganda, walks us around the passenger terminal. He arrived 9 months ago with his family and is now flying the Cessna 206. He arrived with just over 500 hours of flying time and when he reaches the 1000 hours pilot-in-command time Rembrand will be eligible to migrate to the larger PT6 engine based Cessna Caravans.
Kees, also from The Netherlands just like Rembrand, is head of MAF maintenance. They are taking care of several Cessna Caravans, 206’s and several other aircraft.
At another location in the city and about 20 minutes away by car from the Kajjansi airstrip is the MAF Uganda headquarters. Here we met a team of very motivated professionals.
Steve, in charge of MAF Uganda, explains and demonstrates to me how they operate and administer their operations.
All the aircraft are constantly tracked through a sat-link. In addition, the aircraft are all equipped with HF radio for direct communication.
Together with Rembrand and Margreet from MAF Uganda, we took off from Kajjansi for a flight to Kisoro airfield. Kisoro airfield is hidden in the Western part of the Ugandese mountains and in the border zone of Uganda with Rwanda and the Demoncratic Republic of Congo. We dropped all our luggage and gear at the MAF hangar at Kajjansi airfield and were enroute with the 4 of us to track mountain gorillas.
Just off the Kisoro airfield we hit our first refugee camp with refugees from Rwanda and Congo.
After flying for 2 hours and a drive in a 4-wheel Jeep we arrived at our lodge. The lodge had a great view on the Virunga mountains and was about 2 hours away from the Gorilla tracking base camp.
From the lodge we had a great view on the lake. The next morning we left the lodge at 5.30 to drive with a Toyota Landcruiser for 2 hours through the thick subtropical rainforest to go to the base camp and report for the tracking.
Here we are still smiling as we took off on the hike not knowing what to expect. To be honest, my (Sjoerd Jan) personal fitness was not great at all and I hired two porters to help me carry my bag and support me on the difficult climbs.
After hiking several hours through the thick subtropical rainforest, we hit a group of mountain gorillas. This was really an unprecedented event never experienced before. Here we were eye-to-eye within a few meters distance from these gorillas.
The next leg was from the falls to Entebbe in Uganda. In Uganda we would pay a visit to the MAF, Mission Aviation Fellowship, and go into the mountains near border of the Democratic Republic of Congo and Rwanda to search for the mountain gorillas. In Mali we already visited Sahel Aviation, which was a commercial operator flying to the mines in the Sahel area. Now we would visit the Mission pilots and hear from them how they operate in this part of Africa.
First we had to fly through Zambia and clear customs before starting on our long flight through Tanzania over remote bush lands.
After passing customs, immigration and refueling we took off to fly to Tabora in Tanzania to stay the night. We did not manage to book any hotel in Tabora and had to land before sunset as the airfield was not open anymore after that time.
Flying over Tanzania we hit some isolated rain showers, but we managed to circumvent them and arrive in time in Tabora.
We were taken by a local taxi to a very simple (really simple) hotel in town. It is here that I even encountered cockroaches on my breakfast table next to a simple breakfast of bread and soup.
Enroute to the local hotel.
The Tabora airfield. The runway was paved, but the rest was not. The next morning we paid a short visit to the local weather station which was manned 24 hours a day and 7 days per week. We asked for a weather update. The observer was surprised that we asked and walked outside, lookup up in the sky and said “it is good weather to fly”.
Lex in the left seat flying through the rift valley and over the African nature in Tanzania.
Some rain falling down.
Forests until the horizon and this for hours and hours. We did wander what would happen if the engine would fail and our aircraft would disappear under the treetops. After all, there was no radio contact as well for hours until just about 15 minutes before arriving at our destination.
Just before arriving at Entebbe Airport in Uganda, we flew for about 2 hours over Lake Victoria. The weather there was not great with threatening weather and buildups of dark clouds.
Finally we arrived at the Entebbe airport. Again, just like in Bamako, the airport was full with United Nations aircraft, soldiers and UN staff.