News: 17 June 2011, Postscript






You will recall that last time I saw the FIB in Dar, some nine months ago, it was disappearing off down the road on a truck towards Teddy Junior's warehouse and I would be seeing it all in Mauritius in a couple of weeks time.

I returned home to my family in England to get my life sorted and ready for another month away.

And then everything changed. News came from the producers that it was simply impossible to find a way of getting it to Mauritius. While it was well known there are no shipping services between Dar or Zanzibar and Mauritius, the idea had been to put it on one of the cruise ships which ply this route. Only thing is, there were no cruise ships in the entire western part of the Indian Ocean because of the Somali Pirates.

Was this a genuine threat? Well yes, in fact there was a front page item in the Tanzania Daily News I was reading on the plane home about a pirate raid on an oil exploration ship anchored off Mtwara which is right down south, close to the border with Mozambique. In this case, being a strategic installation of national interest they had some army on board who captured one pirate and fought the rest off, but just shows none of the Tanzania coast is safe and why cruise ships don't go there any more.

I briefly looked at the possibility of flying the FIB from Dar to Mauritius, that really would have been an adventure via Mozambique, the Comoros Islands, Mayotte, Madagascar and Réunion. But 3000 Km would a long way to go in this machine, especially in the time available, and there are three over-water legs beyond the range of it, the longest being 700 Km from Madagascar to Réunion. (It used 60 litres just to fly 190 Km from Kervan Saray back to Zanzibar). The only remaining solution was to air-freight the FIB to Mauritius, and the only way anyone could find to do it in the short time available was via Europe, and the cost was going to be at least $18,000.

So they sacked me instead.

The producers got a paramotor guy to do the flying in Mauritius. From independent sources I heard it was windy and he had an accident which could have been very nasty, but he was lucky. In Madagascar I believe they used locally based Cessnas. For quite a long time I held out the hope they might still want to take the FIB to São Tomé and Principe, on the equator off the West coast of Africa. Nobody goes there and it would have been really interesting (as well as a nice winter break). In theory there was even plenty of time to get it there by ship since they weren't going there until late January, but in the end that didn't happen either. They still went and made a film, but I don't know what they did about the aerial shots because I don't think there is much in the way of light aviation there at all, we will have to see the finished product to find out.

Surplus to requirements, the poor old FIB just sat in a warehouse in Dar waiting for someone to buy it. My problem was that there was a lot of my personal kit all mixed up with it, lifejackets, ELB and loads of other bits and pieces you need to keep a show like this on the road while there's a film crew around, as well as quite a lot of stuff I had on loan from nice people like Micro-Avionics.

Eventually, in April 2011 I heard it had been sold to Franck Urgon who is based in Nantes in France and it was going there by ship. Franck is an airline pilot by trade but has been flying microlights for years, though not so much recently, and wanted to use it for doing joy-rides off the beach in the summer. (as you can in France). It finally arrived in his hangar close to St Nazaire last friday and I went out there on sunday to help him get it out of its box, assemble it, and if the weather was kind, to demonstrate some rudiments of how to fly it, and especially how to manage it on the water, which is the trickiest bit.

Considering it had been in its box for 9 months it was in very good shape, lucky I'd given it such a thorough wash with fresh water before packing it up in Dar. And nothing was missing, which I had been worried about. There was a leak from the 2 stroke oil tank which had been soaked up by my spare flying suit, the nosewheel was flat and the rear right side chamber on the boat seemed to have a leak. At first we thought this might have been caused by the rather tight fit in the container of the bit where the undercarriage leg goes right through the chamber, and since I'm unsure how this is actually constructed we would have had to refer to Aimaro at Polaris how to fix it, but Franck's six year old son found a pinhole leak on the outside of the tube and it was easily fixed with a patch. How this pinhole was caused I'm not quite sure, because it was fine when I packed it.

The oil pipe was also a simple fix, just snipped off 20mm of the pipe where it was leaking and re-fitted it. I took it for a test fly around solo. Rather windy and bumpy but all was working fine until I landed with the nosewheel flat. We fixed this by inserting my spare inner tube.

Next day I took Franck out for a ride and we made a few landings in the sea. The French have much more sensible words for this, aterrissage on land and amerissage on water. He will be operating in more-or-less the open Atlantic Ocean which isn't exactly ideal but it was calm enough, maybe 50cm waves with a bit of a swell underneath. It was fun to be flying it again, though the brown muddy waters of the Loire estuary are not exactly the same as the tropical paradises I got used to flying it in.

Since it doesn't have any dual controls and he hadn't actually paid for it yet I didn't let him fly it from the front seat but I hope he now has a basic understanding of how to avoid it becoming a submarine. It performs on land, sea and air much better without a passenger so my recommendation to him is to do lots of solo flying in light air and sea conditions to get a really good feel for it before he tries it at full takeoff weight in wind and waves.

I'd worked so hard to convert the container to fit the FIB it was sad to abandon it in the long grass outside Franck's hangar. If anyone wants it, you know where it is, I don't think he wants it. The people who originally sold it to me said it is worth perhaps £200 as scrap metal, but if you've got a FIB, or a couple of ordinary trikes to move around the World, this is the ideal thing, it is astonishingly light for its size and strength and designed to perfectly fit in the hold of many types of commercial aircraft. I also abandoned my wing tube there, much cheaper to buy a replacement at home rather than ship it, my only loss is the sentimental value, it's the same tube which had been on my various expeditions to Argentina, USA and Kilimanjaro.

The rest of my stuff is presently on its way home by truck in my faithful blue barrels.

So, it's just about a year since I set off on the first trip to Cabo Verde and this is finally the end of the whole Maritime Africa thing for me, it was fun while it lasted. Post production for TV is now finished but I haven't seen any of it yet, I'm told the series will premiere in German on ARTE in July 2011 at 7:30pm:

Mon 11.7. Über den Inseln Afrikas - Sansibar
Tue 12.7. Über den Inseln Afrikas - Mauritius
Wed 13.7. Über den Inseln Afrikas - Madagaskar
Thu 14.7. Über den Inseln Afrikas - São Tomé und Principe
Fri 15.7. Über den Inseln Afrikas - Kapverden

At some stage it will also be going out in France (in French) and I understand they are working on an English version too. You should be able to find information about when and where it will be on TV at the producers website

I must thank the various people who helped me to make my part in Maritime Africa a success:

  • My wife Nicky and children Alex, Isobel and Hugo for being so tolerant of my absences.
  • Eddie at Micro-Avionics for the modifications to an intercom so it would go in a waterproof bag and the loan of some headsets and modified high-power PMR radios.
  • Joint Aviation Services Who yet again managed to provide insurance cover for me to fly weird aircraft in strange places.
  • Conrad Beale at Conair who showed me how you rebuild a 582 (with an emphasis on how to get it going again after it had been filled with sea water), and gave me some old bits and pieces for spares.
  • Nigel Beale and all the folks at SkyDrive who supplied some spares at a very reasonable price and are always there for advice.
  • Steve Cole at Articole Studios who helped with the container modifications and supplied me with a comprehensive fibreglass repair kit.
  • Aimaro Malingri at Polaris motor who taught me how to fly his unique contraption, and was always there with advice when we had problems.
  • Eve Jackson in Dar for always having plenty of cold beer in stock.
  • The folks at Filmquadrat.dok for believing I wouldn't kill myself, or their guest photographer, and especially Carolin for always being so effecient.
  • Anyone else I've missed out - sorry! Your help was invaluable.
Micro Avionics - Suppliers of pilot intercom and radio equipment to the expedition
Joint Aviation Services, suppliers of insurances to the expedition
Cam-ARA - Suppliers of video equipment to the expedition
Articole Studios - GRP mouldings
SKYDRIVE, the UK Distributor of ROTAX engines
Polaris - manufacturer of the FIB