The Cessna 206 was known as the Sky Wagon as it had a large door on one side for ease of loading.
Charlie, my Boss said that there was a broken down scraper* at Solwezi and could I load some spares onto his pickup before we both drove out to the dirt airstrip at Nkana.
The Cessna was sitting on the grass and we proceeded to load some five gallon drums of engine oil, tools and spare parts for the GM 4-71 Scraper engine.
“Put a couple of drums of diesel in too Steve, we’re getting a bit low on the new road we are building”
"But Charlie. the plane is full enough, it will never take off with all this extra weight”
Charlie response was to reach into a pocket behind one of the two seats and pull out a dogeared sales brochure for the Cessna.
He pointed to the sales blurb which stated “If you can get it through the door, you can take off with it”
“Put another drum of diesel in Steve” he grinned..
So, we took off eventually and a quick turn through 180 degrees took us over the Nkana Copper Mine and we headed off to Solwezi.
Now, I had been previously warned by others who had flown with Charlie that he had the habit of falling asleep at the controls after setting the auto pilot.
Aware of this I asked him how long it would take us to get to Solwezi, about an hour he replied and I made a note of the time on my watch.
Just as I had been warned, Charlie nodded off as the Cessna droned on its way to Solwezi, or so we thought…
On the hour, I gave Charlie a nudge at pointed at my watch.
“OK” said Charlie, searching the horizon ahead, “You see that hill, well Solwezi is just over the other side”
So we flew over the hill but there was no Solwezi.
“Perhaps it’s this hill” said Charlie as he banked the Cessna over in another direction - Nope
“Perhaps it’s this hill” said Charlie as he banked the Cessna over in the opposite direction - Nope
It was becoming obvious that we couldn't find Solwezi and that we were lost !
Charlie spotted a dirt road in the distance with a puff of dust obviously being made by a vehicle.
He made a quick pass and saw that the vehicle was a large truck.
“Right” said Charlie, “I think I know what road this is and if we could see who the truck belongs to, I will know where its heading”
With that, Charlies banked the Cessna round and we came up behind the truck at zero feet.
Now the stall warning horn started to blare out as Charlie throttled back as we flew along side the truck.
“Quick Steve, read me the name on the side of the truck”
“ I cant Charlie”
“its all in French” !
“Eissh, were over the Congo” and with that he gave the Cessna full throttle and banked sharply away to the East…
Once we calmed down and had hopefully resumed our flight in Zambian airspace we cruised around until we spotted a grass air strip in the distance.
Charle quickly put the Cessna down as as he switched off the engine a figure in white flowing robes approached us followed by what seemed hundreds of small children .
We had landed at a missionary…
“Greetings my Son, how may I be of assistance” the white robed figure asked ?
“Can you direct me to Solwezi please ‘? asked Charle
“”Well, it is about ten miles due East” was the reply.
“Thank you Father” Charlie replied as he fired up the Cessna frightening off many piccanins who had by now surrounded the aircraft.
We took off and sure enough, there was Solwezi exactly where the White Father said it would be.
* The scraper was a LeTourneau-Westinghouse (Wabco) with a General Motors two stroke diesel engine
There will be a sequel to this story about returning to Kitwe at night and landing on an airstrip with no lights.