By Donald Hondo
What a remarkable feat! Last year local travel agency Inspiration Zimbabwe was involved in the organisation of a unique vintage air rally. A squadron of 1920s and 1930s biplanes embarked on a 13,000-kilometre flight from the Greek Island Crete to Cape Town.
The journey lasted 36 days. Twenty teams from seventeen countries travelled Imperial Airways 1931 “Africa Route”. Participating planes had to be built before 31 December 1939. The aircraft flew low along the Nile from Cairo to Khartoum, past the highlands of Ethiopia, down the plains of Kenya and over the bustling hub of East Africa. The flight path continued past Mount Kilimanjaro to the Serengeti, on to the spice island of Zanzibar and even further South, crossing Zambia, over the Victoria Falls to Bulawayo in Zimbabwe.
The final days of this breath-taking journey took them into Botswana and South Africa, to the Cape, journey’s end. Being part of the Vintage Air Rally was a privilege. I welcomed the flights in Victoria Falls where we stayed for two nights with one of the days dedicated to a show featuring the biplanes. On the third day, we moved onto Bulawayo where most of the time was spent on the maintenance work on the biplanes.
By the time the biplanes departed Joshua Nkomo Airport in Bulawayo, there was an inner satisfaction from within myself: handling work behind the scenes, sorting out accreditation for the filming crew, working our deputy minister of tourism Honorable Ms. Anastasia Ndlovu (our guest of honour in Victoria Falls) for a gala dinner. Being hands on the ground during the arrivals and departure of the biplanes ensured the success with which the Vintage Air Rally had come and gone out of Zimbabwe!
As well as being an adventure, the rally was aligned with several internationally renowned charities, including BirdLife International, to raise awareness about the plight of the African vulture – seven of 11 of the species are currently critically endangered. Each pilot represented an endangered vulture, and the threats these birds are facing was featured at each landing.
Some interesting facts:
- The rally flew over ten countries: Greece, Egypt, Sudan, Ethiopia, Kenya, Tanzania, Zambia, Botswana, Zimbabwe and South Africa.
- Teams travelled in loose formation, with 80 kilometres between the leader and tail-end Charlie.
- Modern aeroplanes and helicopters also took part, providing support for the older biplanes.
- This was the first time in eighty years a group of aircraft was granted permission to land at Egypt’s Giza pyramids.
- Botswana’s President Ian Khama specifically asked for the route to be changed to include his country.
- The rally was the first ever airshow for Sudan and Zambia.