News: 5 Jul 2010, Independence day






Today is independence day, 35 years since The Republic of Cape Verde became independent from Portugal. There was a big party in town last night, a really excellent drum band played for a couple of hours in the park outside my hotel window. The army marched past our hotel this morning, complete with a brass band playing from huge loudspeakers in a Suzuki jeep.

At 6am we were all at the airport for another attempt at flying. The wind was still strong, but 12-16 Knots I thought was worth a try. Initially the plan was to do the fly-bys at the beach and then go and land in Mindelo harbour, but the first turboprop of the day was delayed and the beach flights could interfere with it, so we decided to go directly to Mindelo harbour. I was made to file a flight plan and do a general declaration (normally only necessary for international flights) which also took a bit of time.

They let us take off from the taxiway which was nice because it's a long way from our old fire station to the nearest entry to the main runway. It was initially rather slow into wind through the 'venturi' valley over all the permanently bent-over bushes there, but we speeded up as we approached the harbour. Once over water, wheels up, rudder down, in case of emergencies. Fom time to time I called the airport with my position but I'm not sure they heard. I definitely need to fit a better antenna to my waterproofed radio system for the next episode. Anyway, I was well below any other possible traffic.

The film crew were standing on a small area of high ground close to the harbour but it was rather rough from the wind rolling over the hills behind the town so I kept quite high. I think they would have liked me to have flown past them at lower level, and I think Stéphane was quite disappointed I didn't fly over the town more, but both of these would mean going deeper into the rotor so I kept more or less over the harbour. It was nevertheless quite a hands-on experience and after a while Stéphane said it was so rough he couldn't really take meaningful photos so I called to Christian that we wanted to land. We hung around for a while as they moved down to the beach I said I'd aim for.

Checked wheels locked up and rudder locked down, fairly rough approach but it settled down as we landed on smooth water and planed in between a bunch of moored fishing boats right onto the beach. Quite a neat amerissage and arrival even if I say so myself, and soon a crowd appeared wanting to see this strange thing, some of them still rather drunk from last nights partying.

Film crew were keen to get me to buy some petrol from the station only a few yards away from the beach. We'd come prepared with an empty can to do this. Next decision was how to get back, fly or derig and truck it? Truck was not immediately available because of the public holiday, in any case the wing bag is in the hotel and our old tyres are at the airport so it would all take rather a long time to organize everything. Wind didn't seem to have got any worse but as it was coming from the town, and over the marina, a takeoff would mean taxiing quite far out into the harbour into rougher water, it would be a shame to takeoff too short only to hit someone's mast.

The compromise was for me to fly back solo; the takeoff on water is much shorter and the climb much better, I had to do a scene with the cameras explaining this to Stéphane. Antonio phoned the airport to warn them I was returning, and discovered there was no other traffic to worry about. We turned the machine around and with the drunks pushed quite far back and the FIB parked half on the beach so I could warm up the engine a bit I then gunned the engine and remembering to pull the rudder down as soon as the water was deep enough, shot off downwind at a good speed to maintain a positive wind; a tailwind is fatal in this machine on the water. I went quite far until I judged I could just make a right turn in front of a small freighter (left turns are bad as the engine torque already tips the machine to the left, and combined with a left turn the left side undercarriage dips into the water and throws a lot of spray into the prop - I told you this thing is quirky…)

I tore round into wind, full throttle took off quite quickly and turned well clear of the masts. I circled round close to the crowd and waved, apparently this was very effective and caused a lot of excitement as they all waved back, but I didn't see this myself over the side of the boat. It was a surprisingly smooth, and quite fast flight downwind to the airport where they again let me land on the taxiway so I didn't have to go too far back to the old fire station. And yes, I did remember to put the wheels down and the rudder up before landing.

They made me do another general declaration for the return flight, and enquired whether I would be paying my landing fees now or later. I said later - I can see a battle coming on...

Unfortunately the wing camera fogged up for some of the flight and I'm not sure much of it is usable, but I had another (rather expensive) camera mounted in the bow of the boat looking backwards and apparently this is great, especially of the amerissage, so the film crew are reasonably pleased.

This afternoon we went off to do a piece in front of the eagle on droppings monument in a roundabout to Sacadura Cabral and Gago Coutinho's 1922 flight across the South Atlantic. With the cameraman rather dangerously positioned in the middle of the road I explained the story to Stéphane but even I admit it was far too long, I spoke too fast, and at the end of it Stéphane admitted he hadn't really understood a word. Even doing a much more concise version in French didn't really light Stéphane's fire as he is obviously as disinterested in aviation history as Christian our Director. The Suzuki jeep went by, this time playing Bob Marley at great volume. We pressed on, but there didn't seem to be any way to satisfy the director. Eventually Christian proposed that if the historic flight involved aircraft with names - Lusitânia, Portugal and Santa Cruz, then what about a conversation involving a name for the FIB?

Completely off the cuff, Stéphane suggested it should be called Cagou, after a nearly flightless bird native to New Caledonia where he lives(Kagu inEnglish). I thought this was a bit unfair as it's not the fault of the FIB that we're not doing much flying, but the weather in this place. The only suitably exotic alternative name I could think of at that moment was "Lilac breasted roller" on the basis that it is an African bird and the machine is a bit of a roller, even if there isn't much lilac about it or that Rollers are not sea birds. It isn't exactly as concise as Cagou either. As we couldn't agree which name was best, we compromised with the idea that the FIB could have both, one each side.

Christian thought this all made excellent TV, so I suppose somebody will be found to paint these names on the side of the boat and the epic story of Sacadura Cabral and Gago Coutinho's flight will be relegated to the cutting room floor. Oh well, you can't say I didn't try.

A brass band has just struck up in the bandstand outside my hotel window. They're playing music slightly reminiscent of Spaghetti westerns, and it's a little bit out of tune, but rather charming all the same.

Tomorrow Stéphane and the film crew go Tuna fishing and apparently there's no room for me, which is a bit disappointing, and the day after that we're off to Santo Antão. Although it's only 42 Km to that unused airfield there, it's dead into wind and I could wait for days before I can get there, so we've agreed it would probably be most reliable to take the FIB there by ferry and if the wind is suitable for taking off there at all, then it will be a quick and relatively easy flight back here. So I suppose I'll be spending tomorrow at the airport derigging it again. But plans can, and do change...

Joint Aviation Services, suppliers of insurances to the expedition
Micro Avionics - Suppliers of pilot intercom and radio equipment to the expedition
Polaris - manufacturer of the FIB
SKYDRIVE, the UK Distributor of ROTAX engines
Articole Studios - GRP mouldings
Cam-ARA - Suppliers of video equipment to the expedition