In the Air
The desire to fly is an idea handed down to us by our ancestors who, in their gruelling travels across trackless lands in prehistoric times, looked enviously on the birds soaring freely through space, at full speed, above all obstacles, on the infinite highway of the air.
Apart from the romance associated with aviation, it is a great tool for efficiency. In the first five days of the Grumeti Fund Aviation Wing’s operational existence, there were seven sorties. These included the sightings of nine rhinos, and a patrol of the entire protected area boundary (a total of 204 nautical miles). During this initial surveillance areas being threatened by cattle encroachment as well as illicit charcoal manufacturing were identified. In the midst of an exceptional wet season, we have already seen the added benefit of having an eye in the sky. The introduction of this small, cost effective and extremely capable Aviat Husky A-1C has truly given us a third dimension, enabling us to achieve what would by other means have taken months.
The Grumeti Fund embarked on this aviation project in order to embolden the security effort, as part of its commitment to re-establish the critically endangered eastern black rhino into the western Serengeti. Phase one of the aviation program was the arrival of the Husky. An aircraft identified primarily for surveillance and key species monitoring. Phase two is set to be a helicopter. The helicopter will be instrumental in the rapid deployment and immediate support of game scouts. With remote and austere working conditions, the helicopter will be used on the off chance that the Grumeti Fund needs to medevac critically ill or injured scouts. More standard operations will include the supply of rations and other mission critical equipment to previously inaccessible areas. This dynamic machine will be instrumental in providing support for locating and treating wildlife with human-induced injuries.
The development of the Aviation Wing began in December 2018 when the decision was made to purchase the Husky. The order was placed at the Aviat factory in Afton, Wyoming where the new aircraft was manufactured. After a characteristic delay or two, the complex task of shipping it to Kenya for reassembly began. Having worked together with LongShips Trading the aircraft was ready to be ferried to Grumeti in December 2019. During the manufacturing period, the Head of Anti-Poaching and Head of Special Projects underwent pilot training. Because northern Tanzania poses particularly challenging flying conditions choosing the right flight school and instructor was key . The decision was made easy when Paul Santopietro of Captain Paul’s Tailwheel Academy was identified. Paul has flown tailwheels all his adult life and has accumulated nearly 20,000 hours flying time, mostly on tailwheel aircraft and, more importantly as an instructor. The two Gumeti Fund senior managers embarked on a training program under Paul’s tutelage. Spending many back-to-back hours with the instructor, the two learned quickly, taking to heart his teachings, which included sayings such as: “The three most useless things in aviation: The sky above you, the runway behind you and the fuel you left behind”. Learning in a tailwheel isn’t easy, but it was necessary for the task ahead.