An ambitious project to stimulate interest among high school learners in science, technology, engineering and mathematics, in general, and in aviation, in particular, has reached an advanced stage of development. It is the ‘U-Dream Cape 2 Cairo’ project, which involves some 20 teenagers in the assembly of a kit-build aircraft and then flying it from Cape Town to Cairo, with 15 stops in other African countries. The originator of the project, Megan Werner, is herself only 17 and the only member of the group who was a pilot before the project was launched.
“The teenagers were selected from schools around Gauteng; they were mainly selected on attitude and enthusiasm, [and] not on technical ability,” she explains. “They are roughly an even split of boys and girls. The group was split into two sections: the builders and the pilots. None of the teens have any flying training, but a good few of them have developed a love for flying during the build and are considering a career in aviation. The pilots had a separate selection that involved a technical exam as well as evaluation in a simulator. No sponsorship has been raised for flying training.”
The plane chosen for the project is the Sling 4, selected because this type has already been flown twice around the world. The Sling series of two-seat and four-seat light general aviation aircraft was designed and built by South African enterprise The Airplane Factory, based in Johannesburg. The company’s range comprises the original two-seat Sling 2, its derivative Sling LSA (for Light Sport Aircraft, also a two-seater), the four-seat Sling 4 and its derivative, the more powerfully engined, but still four-seat, Sling TSi. All four are single piston-engined, low-wing aircraft made from aviation-grade aluminium. Most are fitted with fixed tricycle undercarriages but fixed tail-wheel versions of the Sling 2, the Sling LSA and the Sling 4 are available. All four types can be supplied in kit form. The original Sling made its maiden flight in October 2008. Since then, more than 350 have been built and are flying around the world. Slings have been exported to customers, and the company has dealers and distributors in North and South America, Europe, Africa, East Asia and Australasia.
The Sling 4 model is powered by an 86 kW turbocharged engine, fitted with a three-blade constant speed propellor. It has a cruise speed of 130 knots (true airspeed – nearly 241 km/h), a ceiling of about 4 570 m, an endurance of eight hours and a range of 1 110 km. It can carry a maximum useful load of 450 kg and has a maximum takeoff weight of 920 kg. A Sling 4 has a wingspan of 9.93 m, a length of 7.125 m and a height of 2.45 m. Its cabin has a width of 1.15 m.
The airframe was assembled during the school summer holidays last year, being completed in July. The assembly took the teenagers only two-and-a-half weeks, a much shorter period than would normally be the case. However, the fitting of the avionics and the engine had to be carried out by specialists and this was done earlier this year. The aircraft successfully made its maiden flight in April.
The mission starts in July. The first phase will see the aircraft fly from Johannesburg’s Lanseria Airport to Cape Town, stopping at Port Elizabeth and Mossel Bay. Then the main mission, to Cairo, will begin. The route will be from Cape Town to Luderitz (Namibia), then to Walvis Bay (also Namibia), to Victoria Falls (Zimbabwe), Likoma (a Malawian island close to Mozambique), Zanzibar (Tanzania), Arusha (Tanzania), Nairobi (Wilson Airport, Kenya), Lalibela (Ethiopia), Asmara (Eritrea), Aswan (Egypt) and finally Cairo (Egypt). The aircraft will then be flown back again, from Cairo to Luxor (Egypt), Aswan, Asmara, Addis Ababa (Ethiopia), Entebbe (Uganda), Kigali (Rwanda), Mfuwe (Zambia), Harare (Zimbabwe), Maun (Botswana), Victoria Falls and Lanseria. Voluntary support for the bureaucratic and logistical aspects of the flight is being provided by CFS, ExecuJet, World Fuel and by Mike Blyth, founder of The Airplane Factory.
“The plane will be crewed by two teenage pilots,” reports Werner. “There will also be a second Sling 4, a support plane, which will be following, with exprienced pilots on board. There will be a total of six teenage pilots who will relieve each other from time to time.”Creamer Media Senior Deputy Editor