In this, the third and final instalment of their circumnavigation of Africa in 60 days, we travel all the way back down the eastern edge of the continent with our two intrepid flyers: Edge Bisset and Jaap Scholten. 

It’s hot in the cockpit and the afternoon sun is baking us through the windshield as we fly south over the Sahara Desert. We are at Flight Level 085, but even at this altitude the outside air temperature has been in the high thirties all afternoon. 

The golden yellow sands below are as vast and empty as the pale blue sky above. They meet in a shimmering white horizon that seems to hover an infinite distance away. The landscape is barren. Not a tree or a road, nor any sign of human habitation, as far as the eye can see. Just a vast emptiness. 

For thousands of years, the burning sun above and the endless sands below have dominated this landscape. What the sun does not destroy, the sands will swallow. Intruders don’t last long. Who are we, in our fragile little aluminium machine, to trespass into this ancient space? If the desert could speak, I think, it would laugh at us. Yet it looks so pretty… 

Jaap is flying while I take a break. He is chewing on an energy bar, bobbing his head and drumming his fingers on the yoke while the Rolling Stones play through the intercom: “I see a red door and I want it painted black….” He is in a good mood and seems wide awake, keeping us nicely on course. I relax in my seat and let my eyes drift over the empty desert. 

We have become very comfortable in the cockpit over the past six weeks since leaving Cape Town. During the first few weeks of the journey, as we routed up the west coast of Africa, the learning curve was steep. Unknown countries, foreign languages, ITCZ weather patterns, dust storms and ocean crossings; all came with their own lessons, and we were often stretching the limits of our own experience. The second part of the journey, from North Africa into Europe, was easier. Fuel was readily available, English was widely spoken, weather patterns were less severe and facilities were excellent. And by then we had become a team, each of us knowing what our own responsibilities were and what to expect of the other. 

Now we are closing the loop by flying the final portion of the trip, from Italy back to Cape Town, and the cockpit feels like home. So much so that I, who struggle to fall asleep in an airliner, can comfortably nod off in a Cessna 180 while we fly over one of the most remote and inhospitable parts of the planet. 

“No colours anymore, I want them to turn black…”

The heat and the gentle humming of the engine are lulling me to sleep, when something flashes. I glance at the engine monitor. The CHT reading for cylinder 6 blinks on and off, indicating abnormally high temperatures. From the corner of my eye, I can see Jaap watching the gauge with equal attention. If it were an old analogue dial, I would reach out and tap the panel, like Richard Todd in the Dam Busters. But that’s not going to make any difference here. The LCD screen of the JPI engine monitor continues to flash in warning. All other cylinders read normal, as do oil temperature and oil pressure. Probably just a faulty lead to the CHT probe, I think to myself. I’ve seen this before. But usually I’m within an hour or two from home and within reach of help. Usually I am able to raise someone on the radio, if necessary. And usually, I can see some sign of habitation, a place to head for if the worst should happen.

I glance out the window at the endless ocean of sand below. Plenty of space to put it down if we have to, but there’s no sign of life as far as the eye can see. Just desert in all directions. And we’ve been out of radio contact for a while, in a dead zone, unable to reach either the Egyptian or Sudanese ATC. 

Mick Jagger seems unconcerned but his words have an ominous ring to them. “If I look hard enough into the setting sun…”

My eyes go back to the engine monitor. All of the other gauges are behaving normally but the CHT on number 6 is still going haywire. Nothing to worry about, I tell myself, just a faulty lead. But in the back of my mind I can imagine the voice-over from an air crash investigation programme: “…every accident is preceded by a chain of errors…”

Outside, nothing but an ocean of blazing hot sand, slowly passing below. We are hundreds of miles from anywhere. 


After a brief but enjoyable stay in Brindisi, we left Italy this morning and headed South East for the coast of Greece. The cool temperatures and high humidity over the Med made perfect conditions for carb icing. The Continental O-470 is known to be susceptible to icing, and we’ve become quite used to managing it, but when you’re over the ocean it certainly gets your attention.

We reached the west coast of Greece, and in typical travel-brochure style, there were beautiful coves with quaint little villages dotted all along the coast. If only we had more time to explore this part of the world. Perhaps another trip…

Crossing the south of Greece, we were surprised to find a lot of snow still covering the mountains. We left the Greek mainland behind and settled into our “ocean routine” of regular checks, fuel management, de-icing, and eventually peering into the distance for signs of land. 

Before too long, the island of Crete presented itself, snow-capped peaks sticking out above the clouds. Fuel, tie-downs, chocks, some laid-back Greek administration and we are off to the hotel.


We took off from Crete and immediately encountered a thick maritime cloudbank. We skirted it as we climbed, routing east along the coast before setting out south across the Mediterranean Sea. The last of the pretty islands disappeared as we set out over endless deep-blue ocean. It was beautiful, scary and exhilarating. Occasionally another big fluffy expanse of clouds broke the monotony and we would find ourselves back in the carb-heat routine. Still, it’s a relatively short ocean crossing and after three hours we spotted land again – we were back in Africa! 

After a brief stop at Mersa Matruh to clear customs and uplift fuel, we took off again and routed eastward, to the oddly named “6th of October” airfield, just outside Cairo. Apparently, it’s not uncommon to name airports, and entire towns, after famous historical wars. After a long day of flying, we made our way to our hotel, which directly overlooks the Pyramids of Giza. What a sight!


We have just enjoyed a day of exploring the pyramids of Giza and could happily spend more time here but we have to move on and figure out a way to get to Sudan without too many stops. The challenge we face is that the Avgas supply at Aswan is no longer there and we are told that it’s not possible to get Mogas through the airport security. This means that we need to arrive at Aswan with enough fuel to get us all the way to Khartoum the next day without refuelling. That is no small feat. After much deliberation, we have decided on the following route for tomorrow: we will fly from Cairo to El Gouna, on the Red Sea, where we will fill up with fuel. From El Gouna we can make it to Aswan, where we will stop for the night. The next day, all going well, we will clear customs at Aswan and route to Khartoum. Two long days of flying!


Egyptian controllers are the strictest we’ve encountered so far. In some cases, we have been made to climb directly above our departure airfield until we are at cruise altitude. And that cruise altitude, which they dictate, tends to be at around ten thousand feet. This means taking off at sea level in a heavily loaded aircraft, on a hot Egyptian day, and executing a circling climb to, say, ten thousand feet. Once we are at altitude, they would vector us all the way to our destination, at which point we would be told to do a spiralling descent, all the way down to the destination airfield, at sea level. No cruise climb, or cruise descent, in other words. This adds a fair amount of time, and fuel burn, to the leg. Any romantic ideas of flying low-level along the Nile are quickly forgotten. 

Once we were released from Cairo’s control, we made our way southeast to El Gouna, a small resort town on the Red Sea. The desert landscape did not disappoint. The fuel stop at El Gouna was a quick one. Thanks to the helpful, friendly locals we were refuelled and flying again in no time.

The second leg of the day took us from El Gouna to Aswan. The usual shenanigans from our super-efficient Egyptian controllers saw us climbing out to 11,000ft for the westward leg. But it was midday on the Red Sea and it was hot… 40 degrees hot. ZS-DKN took off easily enough, heavily loaded as it was, and the Red Sea showed her remarkable colours before we had to turn away to the West. Passing 10,000ft it was still well over 20 degrees outside, and the Cessna was gasping for air. It was working hard to climb under a heavy load but eventually we got to 11,000ft and set course for Aswan. 

Routing west from El Gouna, the desert is dominated by jagged rocky outcrops that eventually become foreboding mountains. “If we go down here…” Edge does not complete his sentence. We both know. “……they’ll never find us” I finish in my thoughts. 

Soon enough we had the Nile in sight, and we followed its course to the south, until finally we reached Aswan. The airport itself is large and modern, built to accommodate an expected boom in travel to the area. 

We are staying in a beautiful Nubian village, on the banks of the river. It is colourful, fragrant and relaxed. Camels are everywhere and the Nubian buildings, all based around small rondavels, are colourfully painted. It is incredibly pretty. But we had a dragging long three days ahead of us to get to Khartoum – not helped by ZS-DKN still having its original 1950’s era seats, which rapidly developed hard edges through the worn padding, and having to hand-fly our venerable plane every inch of the way as it has no autopilot.


In Africa, political change can seem to take forever. Yet to the uninformed – that’s us – it can happen overnight. After narrowly escaping a coup in Algeria – we chose to overfly and land in Tunisia, in order to avoid the unrest. Now we found ourselves narrowly escaping strife in Khartoum. 

Last night we heard gunfire in the streets and when we asked the hotel staff what was happening, they said they didn’t know. Internet access was cut and nobody had any way of knowing what was going on. The hospital sent most of their staff home and left only a skeleton crew on duty. 

In the morning we awoke early and headed for the airport, where we found some tense-looking soldiers standing guard with assault rifles. We departed Khartoum without delay and were thankful we did, because it turned out that the Sudanese military had effected a coup, removing Omar al-Bashir as President. They’ve also dissolved the cabinet and announced a three-month state of emergency. Who knows how close we might have come to being trapped in Sudan.

Anyway, as luck has it, we left just in time and routed directly to the military airfield of Ad-Damazin, which is close to the border of South Sudan. There we refuelled and took off straight away for Lokichoggio, or Loki for short, in Kenya. 

Loki used to be a busy United Nations airfield but since the war in South Sudan settled, the UN have relocated and Loki sees very little activity nowadays. Many a fine flying machine was left to rot next to the landing strip; not exactly a welcoming sight as you land at what feels like Valhalla.


With fresh oil and clean plugs – and having fixed the worrying loose sensor lead on the #6 CHT – ZS-DKN leapt into the sky as we headed to Nairobi’s Wilson Airport. We managed an early start just after dawn and set course over the Great Rift Valley – a valley so vast that it’s difficult to understand the scale; it runs all the way from Lebanon to Mozambique. The Kenyan part of the valley starts at Lake Turkana and is dotted with volcanoes – some still active – and lakes of various sizes. The lakes display fascinating colours, and the more prominent volcanoes closer to Nairobi are a reminder of the great fissure below.

Wilson airport is a crazy, busy airport that services general aviation – small private aircraft, training organisations and charter flights. Nairobi International airport – just a few miles away – controlled us inbound and then handed us to Wilson Tower as we approached. We landed and vacated early to make space for the next aircraft on final. Caravans, C206s, C180s and 185s are everywhere. Our 180 is in good company here, among the other bush planes. Belly pods and large bush tyres are the “must-have” accessories, it seems. The place is also littered with Cessna 150 and 172 trainers, Fokker 50s and a brace of Beechcraft 1800 and 1900’s. Not a minute goes by without something taking off or landing. The place is a hive of activity – clearly, GA is thriving here! 

We are staying at the legendary Aero Club of East Africa, where so many aviation legends have stayed before us. The hostess, Dorothy, proudly talks us through the history of the place and shows us around. Established in 1927, the club is steeped in history. It sports a great restaurant and accommodation, right at Wilson airport. We’re in heaven!


Sometimes the best made plans just don’t work out. We had intended to spend a few days flying around the Serengeti and visiting Ngorongoro, but it was not to be, and so instead, we decided to route for Zanzibar. 

Mount Kilimanjaro is a quick flight from Nairobi and easy to spot, being the highest mountain in Africa, but its often obscured by clouds and such was the case today. We could see the foothills covered in thick jungle, but above that it was only cloud.

After stamping documents and refuelling, we started up again and took off for Zanzibar. DKN has been running like a honey after its service, and performed flawlessly. We flew through beautiful valleys and skimmed just below the cloud base on our way to the coast. Here and there, we diverted around a small tropical downpour, but for the most part it was easy flying over lush green jungle. 

As we reached the east coast of Africa, the Indian Ocean revealed itself, for the first time since we left home. Off the coast, we could see a pretty lump of clouds marking Zanzibar. It’s my first time to Zanzibar, but Edge is a regular.

We made a beeline for the Zanzibar Coast, then turned south towards the airport. The colours of the Indian Ocean are amazing. We were cleared inbound on a very long final and the flight is done and dusted in a touch over 2 hours.


Zanzibar is a great place to visit, but when you’re chomping at the bit to get moving, it does not let go easily. Stone Town has a complex allure. Every time you get lost there, you discover another little gem. Finally, after a wonderful few days of holiday, the time came to leave. Armed with all our permits, plans, backpacks and documents, we set off to the airport, to fly to Blantyre in Malawi. 

We initially were routed straight out to sea, in the direction of Dar Es Salaam. As we headed inland Lake Malawi, the cloud formations changed and we found ourselves flying between long furrows of cloud, with beautiful clear views in between them. The first sight of Lake Malawi was pure magic. Vast and tranquil, this mass of water is like a small sea. 

Leaving the lake behind, we made our way to Blantyre airport at low level under a darkening sky and joined on a right downwind for runway 33. Downwind, base, final, and we’re on the ground. So many of these runways have optical illusions and require extra care if you’re not familiar with them. Landing into the setting sun, the runway at Blantyre falls away from you, demanding all of your attention, just when you’re tired, hungry, managing a lame butt and just want to finish. But it’s a good landing. We backtrack and park next to a SAAF helicopter. And so the routine restarts itself. Fuel. Immigration. Documents. Payments. Taxi. Another hotel…


Due to weather coming in from the East, we decided to skip Vilanculos and route straight for Kruger International Airport instead. The challenge would be to circumnavigate the weather systems and get past the narrow waist of Mozambique, abeam Beira. Based on our weatherman’s forecast, it looked like we would be OK but soon after we took off, we realised that there was more cloud than had been forecast. 

The terrain was climbing and the gaps in the clouds getting smaller …. and smaller. Cloud banks closing in, oxygen running out, eager to get home… many a pilot’s demise. This long leg had its risks, and we managed them as best we could, keeping a back door open at all times. 

After a few hours of intense flying, we reached SA airspace and finally made the turn westwards towards Kruger International. We are back in sunny SA… and get-there-itis is the new enemy.


After nearly two months of hotels and guesthouses, we were keen to get home via the shortest route possible. So, after consulting the met forecasts, we decide on the ‘boring’ route, via Bloemfontein, instead of the scenic coastal route. An early but easy start to the day – no immigration, no customs, dressed in civvies (casual clothes)… the joys of flying in our home country! To top it all, it was Edge’s birthday. What a feeling! 

After an uneventful flight, we were safely on the ground at New Tempe. The helpful people from Westline Aviation drove out on good Friday to fuel us up, process landing and parking fees, and point us in right direction for taxis and an early start for the next day…


No run feels better than a home run! It had rained heavily overnight but we arrived early at New Tempe, ready and eager, tip-toeing through the puddles of water like two street cats. We took shelter from the rain under the thatch boma, obsessively checking for updated weather forecasts, as if doing that would change the status quo.

Eventually I skulked to the plane and went rumbling through its hold to find our emergency grab bag which contained our rainwear. Naturally this bag “which we’ll never use again” was stowed in the furthest cranny of the luggage area. And to get there, you have to stand on your knees on the soggy ground, with your head deep in the hold, while the rain trickles down the nape of your neck and finds its way down your spine. Just my kind of early morning fun.

Finally, the wind and rain died down and it was light enough for takeoff. As we taxied out to runway 19, we discussed the flight ahead. The final leg, after two months of flying through foreign lands, seems like an easy one. It’s our home turf, after all. But we were mindful of the danger that complacency brings, and anxious not to drop the ball at this late stage in the game. We were taking no chances today.

Finally, a few hours later, we crossed the last ridge between Tulbagh and the Voëlvlei dam, with Kasteelberg and Paardeberg presenting themselves as beacons marking the way home. Heart rates were elevated and smiles were broad as Morningstar came into sight. 

Overflying the field to have a good look at the windsock, we realised that there was much more to see! A small crowd was waiting for us the hangar. Now that we knew everyone was watching, we were keen to make a good arrival. Downwind, base, final. Edge went for a short field landing approach, no hesitation, full 40° flaps and puts it down on the gravel leading up to the threshold. “Just in case I duff this one, so nobody can see!”, he laughs.

As we cleared the runway, we could see all the familiar faces. Friends, family, and loved ones were waiting for us. This was emotional! A big sign on the hangar doors read: “WELCOME HOME EDGE AND JAAP”. We park, go through the shut-down procedures and give each other the usual fist-pump.

“We made it!”


Duration: 61 days 

Distance: 15,000 Nautical Miles 

Countries visited: 

20 (6 countries overflown) 

Fuel burned: 5,966 Litres