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Tour Report - South Africa 2018

by Paul Giblin

Saturday 16th September 2018

An evening departure with Emirates sees me onboard A380 A6-EDL heading for Dubai. I'm on the Aeroprints trip to Johannesburg for the Waterkloof airshow with time in Durban and Cape Town as well. Check-in was very quick and completed with no problems, security the same. I was even allowed to choose which coloured number to stand on! A very prompt departure sees us at FL390 in no time, evening dinner beckons. Chicken or beef it says on the menu, that and a beer will be fine. All of note at Gatwick for me was A330 B-8383 Air China.

A couple of spins before we land into a warm Dubai - 32c at 0730! A rough headcount shows 20+ FlyDubai plus a packed biz ramp, alas none of them are readable. We park on the B terminal and manage to get a few Emirates on the taxi-in. Once off the plane we get to transfer security and get a lucky break with the queuing system, often very disorganised but this time to our advantage, no queue at all. We did jump about fifty people but nobody seems to care or notice. Once through we head to gate 15 which was the one we arrived on, and yes we're on A6-EDL again to Jo'burg.

With the aid of FR24/free wi-fi we are able to get all the movements which are fairly easy to see from the B terminal. A few winners for the group, FlyDubai A6-MAX, FMA-FMC, a few Emirates B777s in the EQ batch and A380 A6-EUW going on its first revenue service. There are a few "foreign visitors" including three Indigo, Rwanda A330, Gulf Air and Oman. Also all the Saudia A320s seem new from a year ago, HZ-AS67/79 noted. A few more familiar faces arrive at gate B15 before we're coaxed back onboard. Despite a reasonably prompt push back we sit at the threshold for an eternity before departing. We must be heavy because we climb like a dog, only reaching a low cruise altitude after 26 minutes.

Service onboard is good and guess what's for lunch. Chicken or beef, I opt for the latter with mash, nice it was too. A few beers to help me have a snooze and we settle into a flight not far short of 8 hours. We land on the outer runway and run long to the end, then wait to cross the nearer runway before parking up next to B737 9XR-WG Rwandair. It takes ages to get off our A380 as they let off all the big chairs first, and then we're part of the masses walking to immigration. Luckily there are not many non South Africans it seems and we are straight through with just a quick stamp.

The bags took a while but soon enough they arrive and we group up in arrivals. Seen on arrival were B777 D2-TEG TAAG, B737 9XR-WG Rwanda and B787 A6-BLU Etihad. Two mini busses take us to the Premier hotel which overlooks one part of the airport. As usual some of the rooms face the right way, we're facing the other! All is not lost as we have an "agreement" to use rooms facing but we also found a convenient corridor window which did just fine.

Food in the hotel was plentiful; an "eat all you want" buffet for 240 Rand suited most. The staff were very attentive, sometimes too attentive. After a big meal we retired to the corridor window. The wifi didn't seem to work well in our room, but out in the corridor it did.

Tuesday 18th September

We had a short session looking out of the window before breakfast which was another gut filling event if you so wished. We had a deliberately slow start to the itinerary today, allowing us to make inroads into the SAA fleet. From the hotel we could see one side of the terminal; this used by the international heavies only, but also the remote parking ramps were straight ahead. These mainly held the Embraers and a few A319/320s. The notable movements included A319 V5-ANM Air Namibia, B777 B-KQC Cathay and ATR A2-ABO Air Botswana. They had two others in regular use, ABP/R which between them operate about six flights a day. Soon enough we met up downstairs and boarded a coach for Rand. It was a pleasant drive, first experience of crazy African driving on this trip. It didn't take to long to reach Rand where we waited for the SAA museum to be opened. The aircraft here are all outside so it was mainly the photographers that paid their money to go in. A few light aircraft also buzzed about. Stored near the museum are three aircraft including An-24 TN-AHH.

We next drove round to the terminal where we had an extensive ramp tour. One of the senior firemen took us around, he was glad to have something to do. There are a lot of hangars here and although the pace was not too slow it does take a couple of hours to do one side of the airport. Most of the hangars were open to investigate but the odd one or two said no. This said you could get most of the occupants from outside. There is quite a mixture here, mainly light aircraft and twins, but a few biz and one or two propliners to be had. A hangar full of Harvard's was memorable as was one with F27 5Y-SEC too.

Having done enough walking we bid the fire chief farewell and headed off making a brief stop in Armadale for a Shackleton (1723) on top of a petrol station. Next stop was the South African National museum of Military History in Saxonwold which has about 15 aircraft including a Buccaneer and a DC-3. At this point we were running a bit behind schedule, but luckily one of the museum volunteers not only showed us around but gave us a good insight into most of the exhibits.

Last stop of the day was Grand Central which was a little bit disappointing, probably because it was now late afternoon and many of the hangars were shut. Despite this we made a comprehensive walk around, notable was the lack of the stored Falcon 10, but one hangar contained two ex German AF Bo.105s and further round was an ex Army Gazelle XZ316. It was then back to Jo'burg where we caught up with a few liners after dark from the corridor window. Noted were B747s VH-OEH, D-ABYJ, B777 A7-BAL, B787 A7-BLS and B737 ET-APF Ethiopian. We also had a token biz movement when Gulfstream HZ-MF4 arrived.

Wednesday 19th September

Today was a day at Lanseria, a must for any biz fanatics. We started off with a little bit of time at Jo'burg first, nothing too startling. The Safair fleet has expanded and there seems to be more SAA Embraers than I remember from my previous visits. We drove to Lanseria which didn't take too long, once there you need to present your id and get a permit which for 30 odd people took some while. After a fair amount of faff we went with our official airport escorts airside and started a slow but fairly meticulous walk around all the hangars. It probably took about two hours and the majority of hangars were infiltrated, or in some cases one person went in and got the numbers.

It's a bit difficult to pick highlights but non South African biz included LJs D2-EPC, V5-TUC, Hawkers FAM-002, 5N-MAO/Z, Global N416BD, Legacy VQ-BFP, E135s V5-ANG Air Namibia, N704PG, C680 D2-EPL, Citations 5R-AHF/HMR/MGX and Hawker N942DS. Also noted was Dash 8 D2-EUP, King Air 5R-MGK, E120 9J-PKP, B1900s TU-GAH, 5Y-VVM and King Air D2-ERO. After this two hour stint we adjourned to the terminal for lunch where they have a fantastic cafe overlooking the ramp. After lunch we did the other side of the airfield which probably took about one and a half hours so not to bad. I logged about 160 in all which is mainly biz and large twins, King Air/PC-12 size.

By late afternoon the feet had had enough and we returned to Jo'burg for the customary coffee and Ethiopian B737 arrival (ET-AQQ) which is due at 1955.This is followed by a larger than required dinner, but it's hard to resist a carvery and some very nice pudding!

Thursday 20th September

A slightly longer stint at the hotel today as the itinerary had been disrupted by the museum closure. All military visits/establishments closed as personnel were seconded to the airshow. Anyway, there were a few different liners on view and the 0400 Ethiopian ET-AOA departing about 0900. We had a quick look near the hotel for some preserved aircraft, Mirage III 807 and Mb 326 494 were seen, and then we were off to the far side of the airfield for ramp tours with Federal Airlines and Cemair.

We visited Cemair first, very friendly and helpful. A quick look around their hangar and ramp area with some B1900s, E120 and CRJs noted. They have some old Delta CRJs for spares (N964CA) plus some ex Flybe Dash 8s. One of the reasons for visiting these companies is to get a look onto neighbouring ramps. I'm not sure we gained much but every little bit helps.

The Federal Airlines ramp was a similar story, just a bit closer to the Denel ramp; this is the awkward one due to their military work and general disposition. A few very old and dusty aircraft litter this area. Obviously all the time we were on their ramps we could monitor movements at the airport. We then went round to the sports field area which is along side one of the taxiways that link the two runways, from here we monitored movements for a while. Pick of the movements here was A350 ET-ATY which taxied right past us. Other than that A350 9V-SMO and B737 ET-ARB Malawian were also seen.

We then had a drive around the Denel area with little success other than their preserved Mirage 855. It was then back to the hotel for the afternoon where we made a quick side trip to see a recently arrived Mirage of the Gabonese Air Force. With this done we returned to the hotel where we spent the remainder of the afternoon picking off a few liners and some assorted props including B777s A7-BAN Qatar, N707DN, A320 S7-AMI Seychelles, A330 EC-MLP Iberia, B777F ET-ARK Ethiopian and B737 ET-APO Ethiopian.

Friday 21st September

Today was a trip to Wonderboom, but first we had some time at Jo'burg either side of breakfast. Noteworthy were B777F ET-APS, A330 EI-EJN Alitalia and Phenom ZS-STS. We then set off for Wonderboom but stopped nearby at "DC-6 Truck Parts" which apart from what was his business, seemed to be a collection of airplanes, railway carriages and other miscellaneous military vehicles. The ones we were particularly interested in were DC-6 ZS-MUL, AN-2 7P-AND and A-20 Havoc ZS-CVD. He was a very friendly chap and before we knew it we were up inside the DC-6.

Next stop was just a quick look from an unmade road towards a farm that had two ex Zimbabwean DC-3s, 7039/7310. This was accomplished quickly, but the road was a dead end so a 180 was required. Our driver seemed to be quite a sensible chap but he decided to go forward into a driveway, and then reverse back across the road. Unfortunately the road which looked rock hard in the baking sun was in places very soft and sandy and we became completely "beached" across the road. We had about a foot at the front, and scrub behind the coach. We were well and truly stuck. We all disembarked to lighten the load, and some of the group helped the driver in various ways, rocks under wheels, digging out the sand etc etc. Eventually, with about twenty of us pushing the bus we managed to escape the sand. A big cheer went up and we were all relieved to be back on a proper road.

We got to Wonderboom a bit late, but before too long we were on an organised ramp tour. The security people have changed here now and although we got around most of the airport it seemed less organised than before. Additionally, it seemed that most people went home about 2pm on Friday's, so we found quite a few hangars well and truly shut. Despite these problems we still managed a good haul, possibly the highlight was five ex Zimbabwean DC-3s in a hangar, alas closed but thankfully visible. The hangars that were still open were all friendly so we managed OK in the end. Also noted were P.166 ZS-FIN/HJT, Twin Otter D2-FVO, DC-3 ZS-DRJ, An-2 ZS-FOO and C208 D2-ETP. One of the last hangars we got in had three old LJs, ZS-ECS, LXH and OEA. By the time we finished it was just about dark, so we returned to the hotel for food and drink.

Saturday 22nd September

Today was the show at Waterkloof and we were privileged to be arriving and departing by DC-4 ZS-BMH. We had to leave the hotel at 0530 and go to Rand Airport for the flight which we were sharing with the Ian Allan group. Needless to say with little traffic on the road we were there early, pulling up behind the other groups coach. These sorts of flights take a lot of planning and we were duly given a detailed briefing beforehand. Obviously flying into an airshow requires special permission and compliance with their schedule so the Captain was very keen to get us onboard and ready to go once he got the exact slot time. This duly happened and we were off after all the usual safety briefings from both the Captain and the cabin manager who was a bit of a wag to say the least.

I can't claim to have made many flights on classic propliners but being onboard with the engines firing up one at a time, smoke and noise around you was quite exciting. I think what also makes it special is having people watch and photograph you, a rather unusual feeling for me; it took fourteen minutes to get to Waterkloof, flying at about 1500 feet. There was quite a crowd once we came to a stop. We were then into the show which was possibly a little disappointing in both quantity and quality. We had three main display elements, Hawks, Gripens and PC-7s. Other than these there were a couple of helicopter assault missions, a large display of Harvard's and a few individual performances, possibly the Zimbabwe K-8 a notable highlight.

I would say that I'm not in any way complaining, just that they filled the show out with quite a lot of repeat displays, possibly three or four from some aircraft. This included ultra-lights and similar. Our DC-4 was also due to take part with the Harvard team, but the airshow co-ordinators put too many demands on the plane and the Captain. Our departure was a bit stressful for the flight crew as we had to get back to Rand in daylight, needless to say our departure slot slipped back and back with the sun setting. We taxied out, and then had to go the full length of the runway to line up behind a Gripen. This was doing a display and you would have thought knowing our aircraft's time limitations we could have taken off behind the Gripen before it started its display. Wrong, they made us wait until it had finished. Once it landed, we took off and returned to Rand in thirteen minutes with the sun almost down to the horizon. A large crowd was in the airport cafe and for what must be a common sight it still caused a stir. The Captain thanked us for our patience and was obviously relieved to have got back with probably twenty minutes to spare. The drive back to Jo'burg was quick and painless, a couple of liners noted, B777 A7-BEI and B737 ET-ASJ, then the usual carvery and beer.

Sunday 23rd September

Today was another early departure, this time to the airport for a 0800 flight to Durban. Being in the domestic terminal allowed us a close look at the SAA hangars, E190 ZS-YAH was a welcome addition to the log. We were flying on Mango B737 ZS-SJL and taxing out we went past some of the stored aircraft. This helped to confirm some of the quoted information. Mango service was good and tea at 15 Rand beats Easyjet anyday. (90 pence). The flight was 44 minutes and we arrived into a soggy Durban. Not a lot on the ramp, Global N416BD, Citation ZS-BVO, B737F ZS-TAG and a few other liners.

We made a quick pit stop at the hotel, and then went to the nearby GA field - Virginia. It had a very welcoming flying club cafe which we occupied whilst arrangements were made. At about £1.20 a pint, some of the group were getting very comfortable. Before people took root one of the firemen took us on walkabouts, every hangar was visited albeit some were closed. We were a little surprised to log five Citations (ZS-CCW/DES/FLJ/ACE/CWG) amongst the light aircraft and helicopters. Once the ramp tour was over we retired to the cafe where snacks and drinks were consumed with much eagerness it seemed. Some of the group had negotiated a helicopter ride (R66), and two flights were made. Obviously we had to wait in the cafe whilst these were happening!

By mid afternoon we had exhausted the cafe and helicopter rides, so an early finish was made. The hotel was on the ocean front, so it seemed rude not to go and dip one's toes in the Indian Ocean. The waves were quite ferocious and one of the group nearly lost more than they bargained for. King Air ZS-ZOO did a low pass along the beach to add to my log. There was quite a bit of wildlife about to keep us interested until we retired to the hotel. Dinner was a bit of an event, there was only one restaurant and two waitresses, but I presume only one person in the kitchen. Serving over thirty all at a similar time was never going to happen. Thankfully we didn't have anything else to do and the banter between tables kept us going until food and drink arrived. I think we waited about 90 minutes, kept going by some nice beer and a major thunderstorm that raged over our heads.

Monday 24th September

The storm finally cleared about 0400 and we were all down for breakfast by 7am or so, as were the same staff from the night before. This time they had reinforcements and everything went quickly and without delay, apart from toast which had to done in a different part of the hotel! Soon enough we departed, we even managed to spot a cheeky monkey in the nearby litter bins. Our only stop today was Pietermaritzburg which was a good hour or so outside of Durban. A sleepy airfield would be a good description, but they did afford us a full ramp tour. There wasn't much for me apart from a King Air ZS-TSM but I think the light brigade logged over forty in all.

We then returned to Durban where we were four hours before the flight. Annoyingly all the check-in desks wouldn't take our bags until about an hour later apart from one which did the opposite, this meaning that three or four people got through to airside straight away. Thankfully there wasn't much to miss, in fact nothing apart from A330 TC-JOE THY which we saw from the coach. Once airside we had over two hours to kill before departure. Shortly before boarding we had a gate change which doesn't seem significant but there was a reason which I've never seen or witnessed before.

Our plane ZS-SJG was delayed as we had a swarm of bees in one engine. This prevented the aircraft from being refuelled and the engine from being checked. The plane was delayed until a pair of apiarists arrived to remove the swarm and we could be on our way. I imagine in these days of social media that we were now on the Durban news plus all sorts of other channels. We arrived into Cape Town at 2000, noting some new 146s ASX/ASY/ASZ and Emb 135 TFL. Our hotel was within eyesight of the terminal but required a very confluted route to get there. This part of Cape Town is notorious for villains and vagabonds so security was at unbelievable levels.

The hotel had railings and gates plus security staff on the door, made you feel very welcome. It was also odd in that it was being run by a eight year old (I kid you not!). He seemed to know what he was doing mind you, more than many other reception staff I've met. Unfortunately this hotel had no restaurant so we had to go and visit the neighbouring BP garage. This was fine other than that because of the high security situation, the cash was all held in a secure till area and all hot food/drink had to be paid for first, then a chitty was taken back to the counter to collect your food. It was all a bit much at the end of a long day.

Tuesday 25th September

Breakfast was OK, one of those places where the staff clears your table as soon as you get up! We checked out and left at 0830, bound for Morningstar airport. This was some distance outside of Cape Town, but to honest we had little else to do. There were a lot of new hangars, largely spotter proof so although there was potentially hundreds on the field, the log was much smaller. We returned to the main airport where we had some visits arranged and also hoped for some on spec.

We had permission to go into the GA area, once in we were free to roam at will. I can't remember exactly where we went, but the two stored Convairs ZS-SKL/KEI were soon noted and photographed on their ramp. We visited many hangars including the Red Cross unit, they had two of their PC-12s present - KAL/SUR, and another hangar had a Mil 8 RPX and two Kamov 32s PXU/RRI. Execujet and Signature were the usual "get stuffed", but we got around most of the others. Once we finished at the hangars we were dropped back at the terminal where most of us checked-in for our return flights, a few had separate arrangements.

In the terminal, check-in was quick and painless; a food court one floor up provides a good view of runway movements. It even had a "Wimpy" with waitress service, too good to pass by. A few more were added to the log including our old relic B777 A6-EBJ. Thankfully the flight was very punctual and we were soon away. It was a fairly full flight back to Dubai, one of three per day with one the most uncomfortable seats I can remember for years. To say I was glad to get off after 9 hours aloft is an understatement.

Wednesday 26th September

By now daybreak had broken in Dubai and most of the group was staying on for a few days of numbers. Mind you, it was stated to be 36c at 0700, so I'm not totally bothered to be coming home. We had about 7 hours airside which proved to be very profitable for me, most of the newer Emirates and Fly Dubai fleet were seen, plus a swathe of Indian carriers including Indigo, Jet Airways, Spice jet and Air India. We also had loads of Saudia A320s, Flynas, Saudia Gulf, Oman, Jazeera, Kuwait etc etc

By 3pm we had boarded our various flights back to the UK and A380 A6-EUU did the Gatwick EK9 for the eight consecutive day. A very light load which meant quick service, too quick in fact as they didn't give you enough time to eat or drink the last bit before offering you the next part! We arrived back into Gatwick at 19.17 where immigration was very slow, only two thirds of the E gates working. My 100 bus home wasn't due for 25 minutes according to the computerised bus stop, and then one turned up straight away. Glad to be home I thought!