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A ferry flight to Africa: Part I – Darkness over the desert

The only light is a soft glow coming off the two dimmed displays. Minutes earlier, we had turned their brightness all the way down. As our eyes slowly get used to the darkness, the stars reveal themselves in the night sky over the desert. For a moment and with the adrenaline that comes with a night departure in the pitch-black darkness of Southern Egypt wearing off, the rhythmic hum of the two engines becomes a mere background noise. Behind us the lights of the city of Aswan, the ancient source of the rocks that build the Pyramids, fade away. As we push onwards across the border to Sudan, I pull the throttles of the Austro engines back to cruise power. 12,000 feet above Africa I can’t help but wonder: What got me here? - Read the first part of a story by Stefan Jäger, a passionate pilot and marketing specialist

The magic little lady
The story of this trip that took us all the way from Diamond’s headquarters in Wiener Neustadt to Kigali, Rwanda goes back more than six years to 2016, when I received a call that would change at least my aviation life. “I bought a plane. You’ve got to come and see it.” It was hard for my friend to suppress the excitement in his voice on the phone. We had met by chance a year earlier on the apron of our home airport. Both of us had zero multi-engine experience, but with some solid hours on our club’s DA40, and unbeknownst to me at that time – he felt it was time for the next step.
For the life of it, he wouldn’t tell any details on the phone. I had to come and see it myself. Just half an hour later, I walked multiple laps around a brand-new DA42-VI parked on the ramp of Klagenfurt Airport in Southern Austria. I had never believed in love at first sight, but right there, and then, I guessed the time to change my mind had come. It was gorgeous.
Over the next years we’d fly our trusted new companion across Europe, and in the blistering heat of Southern Spain and the harsh winters of the Austrian Alps. He’d fly, and I’d take along with us, swapping seats sometimes. We quickly put a few hundred hours on the plane and, as our experience grew, so did our taste to explore the capabilities of the “magic little lady”, as I had come to call the DA42.  
Unbeknownst to me, down in Kigali, Rwanda, someone else had grown a taste for Diamonds as well. Akagera Aviation, a flight school with its roots in helicopters, had started to expand its business with fixed-wing instruction and was looking for single- and multi-engine aircraft. Ultimately, they decided to buy a DA40 Tundra and a DA42-VI to start with. Later, they would tell me it was love at first and second sight too, as the two Austro Engine equipped aircraft would fulfill their two main criteria: to perform in the thin air over Kigali, located more than 5000 feet above mean sea level, and to be able to fuel their fleet with Jet A1 as AVGAS had become a hot, and unfortunately very rare commodity in the heart of Africa.
As their instructor pilots completed their conversion training at Diamond’s home base in Austria earlier in 2022, a different set of pilots got ready to deliver the planes on one of the more unusual routes in their busy schedule: Martin Scherrer and Micke Lang. And for that matter: myself.
With more than 7000 hours on Diamond aircraft under his belt, Martin (41), the company’s chief pilot, is easily one of the most experienced Diamond aviators in the world. Micke, 14 years Martin’s junior, has been delivering aircraft all over the world ever since he completed his commercial pilot training in Vienna.
And me? Well, years earlier Diamond and me, a journalist by training, had started to talk about joining one of their delivery trips – and to tell the tale through a podcast (more on that coming soon!), blog entries and videos (more on that coming soon, too!). A few more conversations and a global pandemic later, the time had finally come. “Rwanda?”, I asked and paused to pull up my inner Google Maps. “All across Africa. One hell of a trip.” It was no-brainer and the trip of a lifetime. “Okay, let’s do it.” We would ferry Akagera’s first-ever Diamond aircraft to the heart of Africa.
A few weeks later, and on a gray, rainy fall day in Wiener Neustadt, three sets of eyes were repeatedly scanning the satellite images of the weather around the Balkans. An intense cold front was making its way across our flight path, and with the tight schedule of a delivery flight over multiple countries and two continents, tensions were running high to come up with a plan B to depart in time. As options were wagered, you could hear the proverbial pin drop
Finally, we settled for a more easterly route that would take us from Wiener Neustadt to Burgas, Bulgaria for a first quick fuel stop en route to our night stop of Heraklion, Greece.
With fresh fuel in the DA42-VIs tanks and Micke trailing us in the slower DA40 Tundra, we set our course to Crete. Off to our right, a long line of monstrous CBs was proof we had made the right call by taking a little detour. Below us, the islands of Paros, Mykonos and Naxos appeared in the Aegean Sea, and passed below the plane’s belly as we planned for our descent into Heraklion.
Martin and I had only met in person one day earlier. He had just returned from a family vacation, and whichever way he put it, he would have to spend his 25 flying hours over the next days in the cockpit with me. Luckily, our winged speed-date turned out fine, and friendly banter kept us awake for some of the rougher times to come over the next days.
With both planes safely parked at Heraklion’s general aviation ramp, we scrambled for dinner. The real adventure would only start the next day as we were scheduled to leave early to make it to Cairo for immigration, and then on to Aswan, historic Egypt’s Southern frontier located at the river Nile’s first cataract.
To be continued…

About the Author
When he’s not busy hosting podcasts or consulting through his content agency Mindwork, Stefan Jaeger a native of Klagenfurt, Austria spends his time in the cockpits of a DA42 and a PC12.

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