The hard-packed earth on the runway at Chikwenya, Zimbabwe, was most welcome.
African Fly-It-Yourself Safari
Lanseria Tower, Cessna Zulu Sierra, Kilo Delta Tango, 10 Miles Northwest for Joining
By Mike Venturino
Thus began the last set of radio communications on our Fly-It-Yourself Safari. In this case, we were told to hold over the Hartbeespoort (sounds like it looks) Dam for our Special VFR clearance into Lanseria’s Class C airspace. The weather had deteriorated to just below basic VFR minimums during our one-hour flight from the airstrip at the Waterberg game reserve. The conditions were forecast to remain stable for the next hour so a diversion to our alternate of Wonderboom (FAWB) — great name for an airport — was not required.
Lanseria (FALA) is a major G.A. airport on the northwest edge of Johannesburg, South Africa. Like the U.S., South Africa allows VFR flight in Class C airspace on a Special VFR clearance during daylight when the visibility is less than three miles (5,000 meters) but at least one mile (1,500 meters). Unlike the U.S., the ceiling can be as low as 600 feet!
Once an IFR arrival had landed, we were cleared into the airspace and told to report three miles for “joining and landing” instructions. After we called the airport in sight, we were told to join the left downwind for Runway Six Left and “report final approach.” Pay attention! It was only after we reported on final that we were “cleared to land.”
Pilots in the United States are accustomed to hearing a control tower ask for a report nearer the field, after which the aircraft’s landing sequence will be assigned. In much of the rest of the world, a pilot will be told to expect “joining and landing” instructions. Therefore, on initial call-ups, we would ask the tower for “joining and landing instructions” or simply “your joining.” While just different words for that same critical piece of information, the term “joining” sounds so much more collegial — or even welcoming.
All this goes to show that while English is the official language of aviation, accents, idioms and local procedures still can make it challenging for those of us with the term “English proficient” on the back of our licenses. As we prepared ourselves for our flights, we had to acquaint ourselves with some different or unexpected ATC terms for familiar maneuvers and get used to the idea that routine reports would be answered with requests for information that U.S. agencies only ask for in an emergency.
For example, after reporting in with aircraft type, location, altitude and ATIS (if there is one), it’s routine in southern Africa (and perhaps many other parts of the world) to be asked for your endurance (and they’re not talking about your bladder!) and number on board. Consequently, on initial call-ups, we usually just added that information. In Mozambique, each transmission from ATC began with the Zulu time, a throwback to the days of position reporting that would insure that the giver and receiver were in sync.
Other wrinkles included setting QNE (29.92 inches) at 2,000 feet AGL ascending and QNH (local altimeter) at 3,000 feet on descent, accents that make the word “joining” sound like “training,” place names in Afrikaans which are tongue twisters for American English speakers (note Hartbeespoort above) and an almost total lack of radar control.
During our 13-day odyssey, we revisited our soft-field take-off and landing skills and basic VFR pattern work. South Africa doesn’t use the 45-degree entry to the downwind. An upwind is flown to a crosswind leg. The downwind is entered from there. When entering this pattern, the call is a somewhat enigmatic “Kilo Delta Tango is on the dead side.”
The reward for all of this was a flight over spectacular country at low altitudes in virtually empty airspace, a type of flying that hasn’t been widespread in the U.S. for decades. It was worth “joining.”