Ever since the beautiful flying scenes in the movie “Out of Africa” were first screened in 1985, aviators have wished they could fly low and slow over the mountains, plains and waterfalls of the “Dark Continent.”
Soon, a group of vintage aircraft owners will do just that as they embark on a journey to celebrate the golden age of aviation and the early aviators who opened the skies of Africa to the world.
Organized by Prepare2Go, a Brussels logistics company, the upcoming five-week Crete2Cape Vintage Air Rally will involve a maximum of 15 antique biplanes from all over the world, plus a fleet of support aircraft and helicopters.
After first gathering at the Shoreham Airport near Brighton, UK, tour participants will leave in late October and fly cross Europe to the Greek island of Crete.
The official tour starts there on Nov. 11 and then crosses south through eastern Africa, with a planned arrival in Cape Town on Dec. 18. Among the biplanes scheduled to participate is the actual 1929 De Havilland Gipsy Moth used in filming “Out of Africa.”
The short-range antique planes will make numerous stops during the journey of nearly 7,000 miles and the pilots and crew will have plenty of time to see the sights and meet local pilots.
An American film company will be on the tour and produce a six- or eight-part series for release internationally next year.
After a more than 40-year career as an airline pilot and manager, 67-year-old Nick Oppegard of Anchorage, Alaska, was ready for the adventure of a lifetime when he heard about the Crete2Cape Air Rally last January.
He needed to get buy-in from his wife, Lita, a former flight attendant, history teacher and writer, but a bout with breast cancer inspired them both to seize the moment. Lita is also a pilot and grew up riding in her family’s Stinson Station Wagon.
Once the decision was made, they still lacked the main requirement to participate — a pre-1930 biplane. The search for just the right plane was challenging because Oppegard wanted to buy a Travel Air 4000, which has a two-passenger front cockpit.
Only about half of the 80 examples of that Travel Air on the FAA registry still fly, but he finally found N6263, a 1928 model powered by a 220-hp Continental W670 radial engine.
A significant plus was that Ted and Pamela Ruminski of Cadiz, Ohio, had recently completed a four-year restoration.
Sadly, the Travel Air was for sale because Ted died suddenly at age 54. But on a happier note, Pamela has accepted Nick and Lita’s invitation to join them in England and South Africa and to fly over beautiful scenery in the front seat of the plane she helped restore.
Prior to its restoration, the 88-year-old Travel Air had not flown since the 1960s. However, it has an interesting early history, including being owned at different times by famed aircraft racer Matty Laird and aerobatic pioneer Frank Price.
Perhaps the most interesting bit of history comes from its days as a rental aircraft owned by Newark Flying Service, when the plane was confiscated and sold at public auction after being used to smuggle booze during Prohibition.
Like many biplanes of its era, N6263 ended up as a crop duster and it did not have a standard airworthiness certificate and electrical system when purchased by Oppegard. However, he soon hired Jon Foote of Elevation, Inc. in Winchester, Tennessee, to install the systems and equipment needed for the air tour. In addition, a Designated Airworthiness Representative (DAR) helped obtain a new FAA Standard Category Certificate.
After leaving Tennessee and waiting out Hurricane Hermine in Peachtree City, Georgia, Oppegard flew to Saint Petersburg, Florida, where the plane will be disassembled and containerized for shipment to England, along with a second Travel Air 4000, N8708, owned by Keith Kossuth, an A&P/IA from Chino, California. The Oppegard’s 30-year-old son, Colin, will accompany his parents on the tour and fly with Kossuth.
As the date for the Air Rally draws near, Nick’s enthusiasm grows.
“Can you just imagine flying in an open cockpit biplane up the Nile River by the Egyptian pyramids, over the antiquities of Khartoum in Sudan, by Mount Kilimanjaro, over Victoria Falls, out to the spice island of Zanzibar in the Indian Ocean, and landing on the great Serengeti Plain before reaching the vineyards of Cape Town, South Africa?” he recounts.
Asked why he wants to make the trip, Oppegard answered, “Because it is the chance of a lifetime to see these great expanses of wilderness and history — and to do it with style.”