Kariba to Bumi - The Perfect Glide

Wild Zambezi • 27 May 2019

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So imagine this….

Two veteran glider pilots take off from Harare heading to Kariba in the crisp early morning of 17th May 2019 in a beautiful, white, long-winged Lambada motor-glider.   

The owner of this magnificent aircraft is about to achieve a life-long dream.   

Peter Wienand, (right) wants to glide right across Lake Kariba with the aircraft engine off!   His co-pilot and navigator, Dick Pitman (left), has the experience to help him achieve it. 

Peter has been dreaming of this for years.   The preparations have taken months.  As far as they know, this is a first.

Once overhead Kariba airfield, they circle and climb to 15,000 feet (where the air is so thin they have to use oxygen.)   At maximum height, they point their aircraft in a south-westerly direction and turn the engine off!

In silence, with only the gentle hiss of the air as it passes them, they travel over the massive “inland sea” of Lake Kariba heading for Bumi Hills.  Weeks of preparation and painstaking calculations have taken into account all possible variations of wind direction, strength and airspeed.  Only the distance is given -  43 miles (70 kms).   The navigator calculates, the pilot adjusts, and the beautiful, white-winged bird glides silently forwards and downwards, destination-bound.

At first they hit a headwind, and for a while they make little progress. But as they descend – and to their great relief – this changes to a tailwind and they arrive at their first checkpoint – Fothergill Island – with plenty of height in hand.

A back-up Cessna 182 with accompanying team members on board, has taken off from Harare half an hour behind them …. just in case….  (and to record this record-breaking event).  It has circled to 9,500 feet over Lake Kariba to match their height, and now searches for them as they drop slowly through the brilliant blue autumn sky above the lake.

Suddenly, (amazingly), the engineless glider is in sight – soaring, like a magnificent white bird against the vast landscape of sky and lake and filigree shoreline.  

The close encounter lasts a few moments only – but there is just enough time for this extraordinary “fly-past” to be captured, high in the sky.

The backdrop is the magnificent Matusadona National Park – with the Zambezi escarpment mountain range in the background, and the vast flatlands of Lake Kariba’s southern shore zigzagged by meandering riverbeds – home to elephants, lion and leopard… and much more.

This place was once a refuge for the highly endangered black rhinoceros.  But, tragically, they are no more.  They have all been poached for their horn.   The big white bird glides over their burial ground in silent tribute.

At Tashinga – their next “go or no-go point” – it’s obvious that they’ll easily make it to Bumi Hills, a few miles ahead, after crossing the Ume River.

Finally, after a seemingly endless 40 minutes without power, they arrive over the wooded ridge of Bumi Hills, with a fringe of red-sanded shoreline speckled with the dots of elephants.  The scar of the airstrip behind the hill is a welcoming beacon.  

The pilots are ecstatic!  They have made it across Kariba’s crocodile-infested waters with plenty of height to spare!  

Now to descend, to turn into wind and to land.  This manoeuvre needs very careful calculation.   There is no second-chance with the engine off.  Peter skilfully applies the airbrakes, which help to control the aircraft’s descent  as it glides towards touchdown.  Slowly, slowly the aircraft drops and approaches the runway at Bumi Hills.

The back-up Cessna has already landed.  By prior arrangement, a vehicle from the Bumi Hills Anti-Poaching Unit and one from Bumi Hills Safari Lodge have pre-cleared the airstrip of wandering wildlife (it is often frequented by impala and sometimes even elephant!).

The wind around the Bumi ridge is tricky…. tossing the sleek white bird around in the air on her final approach. 

But then, with a crunch of tyres on rough gravel, the glider touches down at 9.31a.m, rolls effortlessly down the runway, and Peter executes a skilfully manoeuvred turn to bring her to a complete stop right in front of the welcoming party! 

The relief is palpable.  The Lambada’s glass canopy slides open and two beaming pilots emerge triumphant!   Peter has achieved his dream!

The photoshoot takes place in the warmth of the morning sun, with Lake Kariba’s deep blue waters and the autumnal golds of Bumi’s wooded hillside in the background.  It’s a perfect setting to celebrate the achievement of a lifetime ambition. 

The Kariba Glide was not only possible….. it was PERFECT! 

Well done guys!

 

The Kariba Glide team would like to extend their heartfelt thanks to the following who made the event possible:-

- KW Blasting (for loan of the Cessna 182 back-up aircraft)
- Bumi Hills Anti-Poaching Unit (for helping with logistics on the ground and photography)
- Bumi Hills Safari Lodge (for helping with radio comms and logistics on the ground)
- Rhino Safari Camp (for collecting and hosting the team overnight at very reasonable rates)

 

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