Piloting the bush skies
SANParks helicopter pilots Grant Knight (Chief Pilot), Brad Grafton, Jaco Mol, Charles Thompson and fixed wing pilot Robert Baxter are bush pilots.
They love what they do.
Whether it’s doing a game census, flying for a medical emergency, doing anti-rhino poaching work, game capture or animal relocation, every day is an absolute adventure, with no two days the same.
The helicopter the guys fly is the AS350 B3 Squirrel – which everyone simply calls ‘the squirrel’. “It is a really powerful single engine helicopter that allows you to take maximum fuel and passengers. It’s simple to operate, reliable and allows you to focus on the job at hand – whether that’s following an animal or chasing poachers”, explains Brad. Jaco says nothing beats it. “It’s like a workhorse. It’ll give you anything you want during the week. You can wash it on Saturday and take it to church on Sunday!”
The fixed wings are both Cessna’s – the 4-seater 182 and 6-seater 206. “For anti-poaching the 182 is ideal as it allows you to go slower and it’s not as heavy to fly. It’s also very forgiving and you don’t constantly have to look at your airspeed – you know how the aircraft is flying by sound of the engine,” says Baxter.
Safety is paramount and Grant says they have very strict safety policies and training. “In aviation you don’t get old, bold pilots. You cannot be complacent. Having an experience that scares the living daylights out of you (that often no-one else will even notice), provides perspective and reminds you of the risks involved in flying. Also, we’re remote and we generally fly solo, so there’s no-one to keep an eye on you. Safety has to be top priority.”