(Capt. Howard Davenport flying inverted over Lake Victoria with this correspondent at the time as his daring passenger in the front seat, picture courtesy of KAFTC)
The Kampala Aero Club celebrated its 15th anniversary last Saturday at the Kajjansi airfield with a series of stunning aerial displays in the skies as well as mountains of food and rivers of drinks on the ground, music included of course. The weather made it a picture perfect day and he crowd of some 150 invited guests had the proverbial ball, many of them for the first time, and others after a considerably time being able to see what progress has been made at Kajjansi and in particular at the Kampala Aero Club.
Formed in 1997 KAFTC, aka the Kampala Aero Club and Flight Training Centre with its home base at the Kajjansi airfield just outside Kampala, has since its humble beginnings with a single Cessna 172 grown in leaps and bounds and today has a fleet of 12 fixed wing and rotary aircraft, owned and leased, which is also a living testimony of the growth of aviation over the past 1 ½ decades in Uganda.
From the initial single C172 the Aero Club now operates 8 Cessna aircraft including two C208 Caravans, the latest DHC Twin Otter 600, a Bell 206 helicopter and their joy and pride, a classic Great Lakes bi-plane. Add to this acrobatics guru Capt. Howard Davenports personal Buecker Jungmeister bi-plane, incidentally the same plane which in 1973 won the US Acrobatics Championship, it is obvious that this is much more than a business but a passion for all involved in the day to day operations of the airline.
From a container office, where it all started, the Aero Club has today grown into a fully fledged aviation operation, airline, training school and maintenance base, and the array of buildings, from terminal to cafeteria to offices to hangars, speak volumes about the enterprising nature of Captains Jeremy McKelvie and Russell Barnes, who founded KAFTC 15 years ago.
The little graphic below shows in detail the growth path of the Aero Club, in terms of aircraft and in terms of buildings and, unlike in other places, they are always open to visits by aviation buffs, and the media, to show them around their operation, close up and personal, one of the greatest advantages of being based in Kajjansi and not in Entebbe, where security gone mad would end a visitor wanting to put a hand on a plane probably in the cells.
Not that security at Kajjansi is any less but it is executed with a smile, and with a good measure of common sense, as the last weekend with so many visitors showed, when even the most curious of kids, and adults, had a chance to walk through the hangars, pace across the airstrip and walk up to the planes and touch them for real. That is one way to create the next generation of aviators by showing the kids the proverbial ropes and fueling their interest to the point of taking flying lessons themselves.
(The Kampala Aero Club and Flight Training Centres development path since 1997)
The birthday party was of course all about flying and the programme did not disappoint the invited guests. At 3 pm sharp did Texan dare devil Howard start up the engine of the Great Lakes, taxied the few metres to the runway and then took off to perform a series of aerial acrobatics, including loops, rolls, Cuban 8s, hammerheads and downward spins ending in an inverted flight over the runway to the gasps of the spectators.
A more sombre mood then followed when the late Steve Considine was honoured with a Missing Man Formation doing a fly past at slow speed over Kajjansi, while Amazing Grace was played out by bag pipes, also of course remembering all the other pilots who are now cruising the skies above us without the need of their planes.
The DHC Twin Otter 600 was next to perform first a high speed low altitude pass, followed by a low speed pass before the demonstration of landing and bringing the plane to a full stop within 200 metres of touch down, an example how this aircraft was built as a STOL plane, able to be airborne and landing in the shortest possible distance available in often remote strips.
Capt. Russell Barnes, who flies both fixed wing and the helicopter, then showed his skills to the crowd when doing a medivac demonstration jointly with staff and an ambulance of The Surgery in Kampala to where patients and victims of accidents can be airlifted within minutes compared to often over an hour by conventional ambulance transfers.
A mock first solo flight demonstration had the spectators roll with laughter, perhaps giving some of them a memory flash of how their own first solo flight went, as Clem Cadiddlehopper attempted to first take off and then tried to land again, before his fuel was running short.
The penultimate programme point of the day was the flour bombing, which sounded more martial than it was, aimed to raise funds for a school project KAFTC had been supporting for years now, and the three team did their best to hit the marked target on the runway, hoping to miss the crowed behind the hedge and fence something they thankfully managed to accomplish.
The grand finale though was again Texan daredevil Howards moment, when in his own personal plane, a Buecker Jungmeister, he performed some breathtaking acrobatics enhanced by smoke flares, before finally performing his signature flying move, the Ribbon Cut as he flew across the Kajjansi runway at 30 feet inverted, cutting the tap and shredding the streamers. While everyone had performed to the highest standards of aviation, Howard for sure stole the day with his acrobatics and it is hoped that many will be inspired to take a ride with him and show how daring they really are, taking to the Wild Skies over Kajjansi with him. Most asked though turned slightly pale if not outright green and heard in disbelief that this correspondent had not only been there and done it but had the keen desire to jump into the plane with Howard and do it all over again, multiple times.
And then it was party time as the smell from the grills drew the crowds to the burgers, sausages and fillets, the salads and of course the cold beers to celebrate with the heroes of the skies over Kajjansi, who could at last have a proper drink of their own, having had to stay sober all day long.
The Director Air Transport and Economic Regulations, who represented the Uganda Civil Aviation Authority together with several of his colleagues, expressed his personal delight over this celebration of air transport in Uganda and so did key members of the tourism fraternity also present on the occasion. No wonder the Aero Club is the tourism sectors number one choice for charters to fly tourists across the country, safe, reliable and with facilities on the ground to match their 15 year incident free record in the air. Visit www.flyuganda.com for more information.
Happy Landings to them all, for the next 15 years and well beyond!
(Capt. Howard The Texan Daredevil Davenport in his personal Buecker Jungmeister cutting the ribbon at the Kajjansi airfield / file photograph courtesy of KAFTC)