They are risky missions with an important purpose. The brave, committed game wardens who fly for the Kenya Wildlife Service routinely fly low and slow in small single engine airplanes over the spectacular parks of Kenya to protect their endangered inhabitants from the threat of poachers and human encroachment.
The flying is demanding and the caliber of training required to do it safely is hard to come by in that part of the world. Over the years, KWS pilots have crashed or made emergency landings with alarming frequency.
But air show superstar and environmentalist Patty Wagstaff has changed that. Acting on a invitation from KWS advisor and supporter Bill Clark, this year marked her 6th trip to Kenya to put these pilots through their paces – making them much safer doing their risky business saving the elephants, the rhinos and a host of other animals on the brink of extinction.
Funded this year by the Charles A. and Anne Morrow Lindbergh Foundation, Patty’s expedition was the most ambitious and successful ever. In the air, she was joined by airshow performer, vintage airplane owner and backcountry flying virtuoso Rich Sugden. The airwork was buttressed with intensive classes from the foremost ground school instructors in the world, John and Martha King (Chairman and Secretary of the Lindbergh Foundation respectively).
My wife Sandy and I documented this remarkable mission every step of the way. Viewers of “Over Africa!” will be treated to the remarkable stories of these determined pilots – some of them from nomadic tribes – who pursued their dream to fly against steep odds – and who consider it a great privilege to receive the best training available anywhere in the world. We also captured great interviews with Wagstaff, Sugden and the Kings – who have tremendous fondness and respect for their pupils – and whose enthusiasm for the mission is infectious.
Their insights are set against stunning High Definition images of Kenya’s Tsavo West National Park – replete with all manner of wildlife – including elephants which are mercilessly hunted by poachers for the ivory.
Sandy and I flew with the KWS pilots on patrols – and installed cameras on the Super Cub, Husky, 180 and Decathlon used during training.
The Lindbergh Foundation funds endeavors that attempt to find technological solutions to environmental problems. It honors Charles Linbergh’s philosophy of stewardship of the planet which was forged as he flew the world over in small airplanes. The Foundation heartily supports this effort to train the KWS pilots – with the certainty Lindbergh would embrace it as the case in point for his “balanced” approach to environmentalism.
“Charles Lindbergh is up there somewhere smiling on this project,” said Lindbergh Foundation President Knox Bridges.
“Over Africa!” is a wild, fun ride – with a serious purpose – filled with some larger than life characters who, in their own small way, are helping save the planet.
It will premiere at the “Sun ‘n’ Fun” Fly-In in Lakeland, Florida on April 21, 2009.
All Photos By Sandy O’Brien