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Wilderness Air’s Cessna Grand Caravan flying over the red dunes of the Sossusvlei, Namibia
Wilderness Safaris © Dana Allen

Private Charter Flights on Safari

By Hideaway Report Editor

December 1, 2015

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For a family or a group of friends, the best way to enjoy a complex safari itinerary is by private air charter. This may sound extravagant to some, but on recent trips to Africa, I have noticed that more and more affluent Americans are opting for the convenience and comfort of their own planes. Companies such as Wilderness Safaris, which operates many of the best lodges and camps in Botswana and Namibia, have their own mini-airline, Wilderness Air, which shuttles guests between their properties. But inevitably, quite a lot of waiting around is required, the planes are often full, and you may make four or five takeoffs and landings en route to your destination to drop off other people at theirs. The type of airplane that you can charter is determined by the runways, most of which are graded dirt or gravel and fairly short.

The Cessna Grand Caravan, usually configured for 12 passengers, has become Africa’s safari plane of choice. Although it has a single engine, this is a powerful and reliable Pratt & Whitney turboprop. The fixed tricycle landing gear is extremely sturdy and ideal for rough landing strips; a high wing means that passengers have an uninterrupted view of the terrain below; and an underbelly cargo pod has plenty of room for baggage. The disadvantages of the Caravan are that it is fairly slow — the cruising speed is about 130 knots (149 mph) — and flies relatively low to the ground — between 5,000 and 10,000 feet — which means that during the middle of the day when the thermals are rising, flights can be disagreeably bumpy. The Caravan is not pressurized, so passengers are cooled by gusts of air from ceiling vents. And it is noisy, which can be tiring on longer flights.

The alternative aircraft is the nine-seat Pilatus PC-12, which is also a single-engine turboprop. However, the Pilatus is a pressurized high-performance machine that cruises at about 275 knots (316 mph), flies at an altitude of 25,000 feet (where the air tends to be smoother) and has a range (fully laden) of 1,750 miles. Like the Caravan, it is extremely rugged and can take off from short gravel airstrips. New models of both the Caravan and the Pilatus now come with modern “glass” cockpits and are equipped with state-of-the-art navigation equipment. The chief disadvantage of the Pilatus — aside from the cost — is that the view from its windows is much more restricted and you do not have the same feeling of being in touch with the majestic African landscape. If you are considering a private charter on your upcoming African safari, the Travel Office will be more than happy to provide an estimate. Call (800) 375-4685 or email.

The Cessna Grand Caravan is usually configured for 12 passengers and has an underbelly cargo pod for baggage. - Photo by Hideaway Report editor
The nine-seat Pilatus PC-12 flying over the sand dunes of Namibia's Sossusvlei - © Pilatus Aircraft Ltd.
Our view of the ancient weathered landscape of the Kaokoveld region in northern Namibia from a Cessna Grand Caravan. Taken en route from Hoanib Skeleton Coast Camp to Serra Cafema Camp, near the border with Angola - Photo by Hideaway Report editor

For a family or a group of friends, the best way to enjoy a complex safari itinerary is by private air charter. This may sound extravagant to some, but on recent trips to Africa, I have noticed that more and more affluent Americans are opting for the convenience and comfort of their own planes. Companies such as Wilderness Safaris, which operates many of the best lodges and camps in Botswana and Namibia, have their own mini-airline, Wilderness Air, which shuttles guests between their properties. But inevitably, quite a lot of waiting around is required, the planes are often full, and you may make four or five takeoffs and landings en route to your destination to drop off other people at theirs. The type of airplane that you can charter is determined by the runways, most of which are graded dirt or gravel and fairly short.

The Cessna Grand Caravan, usually configured for 12 passengers, has become Africa’s safari plane of choice. Although it has a single engine, this is a powerful and reliable Pratt & Whitney turboprop. The fixed tricycle landing gear is extremely sturdy and ideal for rough landing strips; a high wing means that passengers have an uninterrupted view of the terrain below; and an underbelly cargo pod has plenty of room for baggage. The disadvantages of the Caravan are that it is fairly slow — the cruising speed is about 130 knots (149 mph) — and flies relatively low to the ground — between 5,000 and 10,000 feet — which means that during the middle of the day when the thermals are rising, flights can be disagreeably bumpy. The Caravan is not pressurized, so passengers are cooled by gusts of air from ceiling vents. And it is noisy, which can be tiring on longer flights.

The alternative aircraft is the nine-seat Pilatus PC-12, which is also a single-engine turboprop. However, the Pilatus is a pressurized high-performance machine that cruises at about 275 knots (316 mph), flies at an altitude of 25,000 feet (where the air tends to be smoother) and has a range (fully laden) of 1,750 miles. Like the Caravan, it is extremely rugged and can take off from short gravel airstrips. New models of both the Caravan and the Pilatus now come with modern “glass” cockpits and are equipped with state-of-the-art navigation equipment. The chief disadvantage of the Pilatus — aside from the cost — is that the view from its windows is much more restricted and you do not have the same feeling of being in touch with the majestic African landscape. If you are considering a private charter on your upcoming African safari, the Travel Office will be more than happy to provide an estimate. Call (800) 375-4685 or email.

The Cessna Grand Caravan is usually configured for 12 passengers and has an underbelly cargo pod for baggage. - Photo by Hideaway Report editor
The nine-seat Pilatus PC-12 flying over the sand dunes of Namibia's Sossusvlei - © Pilatus Aircraft Ltd.
Our view of the ancient weathered landscape of the Kaokoveld region in northern Namibia from a Cessna Grand Caravan. Taken en route from Hoanib Skeleton Coast Camp to Serra Cafema Camp, near the border with Angola - Photo by Hideaway Report editor
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This article appeared in The Hideaway Report, a monthly newsletters exclusively for members.

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