On Saturday 3 December, I was privileged to join the owner of FliteCare Dr. Eugene Meyer and his family, in flying from Wonderboom National Airport to Combertum lodge in the Timbivati Game Reserve adjacent to the Kruger National Park. The flight there and back was in a Kodiak turboprop, the only one on the African continent.

The FliteCare story

FliteCare was started by Dr. Eugene Meyer, an established Medical Specialist and businessman from Pretoria. He envisaged a company where the owners of charter aircraft and charter pilots will be in a position to work together to establish a professional business for the mutual benefi t of all involved. Most of the pilots at FliteCare are established in their careers elsewhere and share a common goal, an exceptional passion for back-country fl ying to remote destinations in modern, well equipped turboprop aircraft.

The Kodiak manufactured by Quest in the USA and Blackhawk Cessna Caravan, both fi rsts in Africa, will give FliteCare the edge in fl ying in and out of small remote airstrips, previously only accessible by much smaller Cessna 182s or by 4x4 vehicles. FliteCare’s services are aimed at:

  • The business market, catering for the discerning business executive, offering pressurised, air-conditioned, twin turbine engine King Airs
  • The leisure market offering air transport services that include transfer flights to and from various holiday destinations as well as air safaris for groups of people wishing to explore exclusive Southern African ecotourism destinations
  • General charter services specifi cally aimed at ad-hoc client requirements

On the Sunday morning I worked out of the Cessna Caravan over Timbivati to photograph the Kodiak for the cover of this edition. African Pilot will feature a more in-depth article on the first Kodiak to operate on the African continent in a future edition.

The Pilots who fly for flitecare

Dr. Eugene Meyer (CEO) - At 52, Eugene is an eye surgeon, Commercial Instrument rated pilot with 3500 hours. His flying experience includes weight shift microlights, Magni gyrocopters, a Super Decathlon, a Piper Saratoga, a Cessna 182T, a Cessna 402C, a Cessna 208B (Caravan), a Kodiak and King Air C 90. He is presently busy with the complete restoration of a 1959 De Havilland Vampire T55. Most of these aircraft are parked in his hangar at Wonderboom airport.

When he was 13, Eugene flew with his father who was also an ophthalmologist in his Baron B55 ZS-OOG all over South Africa. At the time he wanted to fly, but his 13 years of studying medicine and specialising in ophthalmology absorbed all his time and attention. He started practising as an ophthalmologist in1991 and set up five satellite practises including one in Blantyre Malawi. Presently the practise has ten ophthalmologists at Centurion eye hospital situated next to Unitas Hospital and has 30 satellite practises. Three of Eugene’s partners are Commercially Instrument rated pilots. In 1996 his partner in the practise Piet van Rensburg and Eugene completed their PPLs and purchased a Cessna 402C and a Saratoga to fly to the satellite practises. In 1998 they both completed their commercial and instrument ratings.

In 2005 Eugene flew 450 hours in gyrocopters and also completed a trip through Botswana, followed the Zambezi to Malawi and then up the Mozambique coastline. In 2006 Eugene completed another trip through Botswana up the Okavango River, Rundu, Etosha and Ruacana where he followed the Kunene River to Sosusvlei. Eugene says: “Gyrocopters are a gift to aviation”. He now has two Magni Gyrocopters, one trainer M16 ZU-FUN and one Voyager M22 ZU-PEC. Both have MGL Voyager

glass cockpits. However, Eugene always wanted to fly turbine aircraft and therefore he purchased a 1995 C208B Caravan ZS-NNK with 3000 hours total time which was brought into the medical practise.

Eugene says: “I always had the Kodiak in my ‘sights’ when I first saw the plane in pictures back in 2004 and then again in 2009 at Oshkosh. The performance impressed me as much as the price. The payload is only 50lbs less than a C208B with full tanks and the same range for 60% of the price. The Kodiak has 10% more power and flies 20 knots faster than the C208B.” As the Caravan’s engine was approaching ‘timex’, Eugene and his partners decided to install the new Blackhawk P&W PT6A 42A of 850 Shaft Horse Power (SHP) providing 25% more power, which placed the upgraded Cessna Caravan into the league of the Kodiak. Power to weight ratios show the following: Kodiak is 9lbs/ SHP whilst the standard C208B is 13lbs/SHP and the BH C208B is 10lbs/SHP.

After purchasing the Caravan and ordering the Kodiak, Eugene needed to find hangar space at Wonderboom airport. Fortunately a perfectly positioned hangar became available, but the catch was that he also had to purchase a 1985 King Air C90A with 5 000 hours with the hangar as a package deal. In order to ensure that the various aircraft were not going to cost the company the partners decided to start a charter company. A dormant charter company ‘FliteCare’ was revived and each aircraft owner will have a small share of the larger business that is controlled by the owners of the aircraft. All the pilots operating within FliteCare Charters will have the correct standards and should preferably have tertiary education coupled to their flying.

Combertum lodge is a family owned property situated on 2 000 hectares within the magnificent Timbivati Game Reserve and is the southernmost boundary of the greater Kruger national Park. The lodge has an excellent grassed runway of 1000 metres that is completely fenced for safety. There are a total of 14 bungalows each with two to three beds set in a ‘laid back’ rustic environment, tennis court and swimming pool. The reserve has the ‘Big Five’ and is natural as it has been since the beginning of time. This property is a true retreat where time stands still, unless one is surrounded by enthusiastic pilots eagerly waiting to tell their individual stories.

Ruan Schoeman (Operations’ Manager) says “my passion for flying started at an early age at Wonderboom Airport. My uncle and a cousin both received their pilots’ licences at the age of 17.

I did my PPL at FTC in George in the December holiday of 2006 at the age of 17 years, but then I needed to complete my matric year before starting with my Commercial Licence.” Ruan completed his instrument rating at Cape Town Flight Training Centre in Fisantekraal, Cape Town and finished his Commercial Licence and Instructor’s rating at the Worcester Flying Club. As a Commercial Pilot for three years and a Grade Three Instructor, Ruan enjoys freelance flying more than instructing at this time. He often flies a new Cirrus SR22, which is his favourite piston engine plane. Presently he is rated on the Caravan and the Kodiak, but he prefers to fly the Kodiak.

Ruan’s duties at FliteCare involve taking care of the operational side of the business. He says: “I am a passionate aviator and really take my career seriously, but at the same time enjoying flying to the fullest. I am only 22 years old and I have a long and challenging road ahead.”

Patrick Shannon (Chief Pilot) holds a Commercial Pilot’s Licence, multi-engine instrument rating and Grade 2 instructor’s rating with tail wheel endorsement. He is rated on 24 aircraft types, from humble single piston types to multi-engined turbine types. He started his aviation career in agricultural aerial surveying and then moved onto instruction and charter operations. His total flying time is 1032 hours where 370 hours have been instructing. He has passed all his ATP exams and would eventually like to join an airline. Before he started flying, Patrick received an honour’s degree in Mechanical Engineering. He started his career with Ford as an apprentice fitter, completing a National Diploma in Engineering, before moving into management at a chemical manufacturing facility. After completing his honour’s degree, government certificate of competency (factories), he managed a chemical manufacturing facility for three years, before becoming a commercial pilot.

Emile Dellieu (CFI): Prior to his flying career Emile was a network consultant and information technology project manager. His interests include martial arts (black belt for JSKA and another for Taekwondo and a grading for MMA, kickboxing). He is a keen golfer, whilst enjoying fishing and the outdoors as well as most ball sports. Emile says he is not the most sociable person around and has difficulty in remembering jokes, but he enjoys a good laugh with like-minded people.

He started his training at Blue Chip Aviation as a ground instructor presenting all CPL subjects prior to qualifying as a flight instructor and after a year he was promoted to the position of operations’ manager. He continued providing instruction on single and multi-engine aircraft as a grade 2 instructor. Emile left Blue Chip aviation and started his own school providing lectures to CPL and ATP pilots and wrote course manuals for all subjects. He started 1st Airborne Training where all instruction is provided by competent lecturers and the focus remains on high efficiency ground school. During this period he made himself available to the charter pilot freelance market and flew various aircraft. He then joined Simuflight as a flight instructor on the C208 and King Air range of aircraft.

Emile was appointed CFI at Simuflight in December 2010 with his core business being C208 and B1900 conversions. In addition, he is involved in developing and teaching SOPs and has promoted and instructed on MCC in the charter industry, which is a project that was pioneered by Simuflight and introduced into the industry with a view to closing the gap between the airlines and the charter industry. Presently Emile has a total time of 7 500 hours, of which more than 2000 hours is on the Cessna Caravan and over 3000 hours is turbine time.

DR. Daniel van der Merwe (Safety Officer)

Born in Pretoria in 1966 and schooled in Pretoria, Daniel matriculated in

  1. He attended the University of Pretoria where he studied medicine and qualified as a medical doctor in 1991. He worked at various medical emergency departments and for Flight for Life Helicopters as medical crew before immigrating to Canada in the year 2000 where he worked as an emergency physician in Winnipeg, Manitoba. Daniel took up flying at the Winnipeg Flying Club, at St Andrews Airport, north of Winnipeg. He immediately fell in love with flying and started working towards his PPL in 2002 and CPL in 2004.

In 2004 Daniel returned to South Africa due to family commitments. Once back home he worked towards his SA CPL, which he obtained in 2006. His first turbine rating was at Wonderboom in ZS-VAN with Francois Naude and his first aviation Job was as a Geophysical Survey Pilot, for Fugro Airborne Surveys from 2006, flying on contracts in Africa. He initially flew C208s for about 700 hours and then advanced onto the ‘Twin Caravan’ F406, continuing with more advanced mountain and off-shore survey in Africa and Madagascar. In 2009 Daniel joined Solenta Aviation flying the Raytheon Beach 1900, flying for the oil & gas producing companies in Africa and the (Red Cross) ICRC in the Middle East.

In 2010 Daniel joined African Medical Investments as first officer on the Falcon 20 jet and acting as Chief Medical Officer for Allegiance Air’s Part 138 Air Ambulance operation in a joint venture with ER24, establishing a state-of-the-art Air Ambulance operation, capable of transporting two ICU patients simultaneously. (Article in February 2011 African Pilot). In 2011 he became involved with FliteCare as Safety Officer, flying the King Air 90, Cessna Caravan and Quest Kodiak. Daniel says: “We aim to grow FliteCare from a Private Part 91 operation into a successful Part 135 Air Charter Operation.”

Apart from Flying for FliteCare, Daniel continues to practice as emergency physician, lecturing on various advanced life support courses and consulting for Allegiance Air / AMI’s Air Ambulance operation. Daniel has a total time of 1800 hours, of which 1500 hours is turbine time.

Jurie du Toit (freelance pilot) - Born in Port Elizabeth in 1969 Juri matriculated in 1987 and then studied electronic engineering at the University of Stellenbosch between 1988 and 1991 after which he completed his master’s degree in electronic engineering in 1994. As part of his thesis Jurie designed the primary computer on-board the University of Stellenbosch’s satellite project (SUNSAT). He started work in Pretoria 1994 as junior and later as Senior Engineer (Pr. Eng) at Siemens Telecommunications, NIA, Nokia Siemens Network, Siemens Ltd and Cinterion Wireless Modules. Jurie is presently a senior design engineer at Zitera Holding (Pty) Ltd. (Hardware and software development). Jurie says he loves the outdoors, mountain biking, camping, swimming, motocross riding and obviously flying.

Schalk van der Merwe (free-lance pilot) - Schalk matriculated in Somerset West in 2000 and between 2001 and 2004 he studied for his Bachelor of Commerce degree at Stellenbosch University. At the same time Schalk completed his PPL at the Good Hope Flying Club in Cape Town whilst working as a ‘flight operations’ clerk’ at the Cape Aviation Business Centre. In 2005 Schalk moved to Johannesburg where he joined Mission Aviation Fellowship (MAF) where he was the safety officer. Here he built his hours at Learn to Fly Academy based at Lanseria, whilst working for Absolute Aviation during the weekends. Towards the end of 2006 Schalk began flying a Cessna 210 for Fugro and then the transitioned to the C208 Caravan and the Cessna 406. At the beginning of 2009 Schalk started flying the King Air B200 and LearJet 45 at Absolute Aviation where he worked until the beginning of 2011. From July 2011 Schalk joined FliteCare as a freelance pilot.

Blackhawk engine transplant

As the Cessna C208B’s PT-6 engine was ‘timex’, the shareholders decided to install a Blackhawk 850 shp PT6A-42A factory-new engine with a new engine warranty from Pratt & Whitney Canada. Blackhawk president and CEO, Jim Allmon accompanied us on this trip, which was the first long flight of the Caravan fitted with the new engine. Jim told me that to date Blackhawk has supplied kits to re-engine 290 King Airs of all makes, including 12 in southern Africa. Blackhawk engines have also been fitted to Cessna Conquests (30) and Cheyennes (25) and now the first of eight Cessna Caravans in southern Africa. Apparently this was the fastest engine exchange to date taking just three weeks to install which included painting the new carbon fibre engine cowls.

According to Jim the African market is wide open due to the many Cessna Caravans that are operated in the region. Apart from a noticeable increase in power the Blackhawk conversion takes the Caravan’s cruise speed up from 165 knots to 190 knots whilst the take-off roll is noticeably shorter due to the extra 25% power. These factors change the characteristics of the Caravan from a rather underpowered people and freight carrier to a wellbalanced performer in the harsh African environment. The South African Civil Aviation Authority has already accepted the FAA’s Supplemental Type Certificate (STC) and Blackhawk provides the best of customer support for its operators.