Main photo – Jo Ferreira
In 2010 Allan Fergus with co-pilot Terry Redman and Dave Mandel with co-pilot Richard Butt flew to Rostock with two fighter jets – LET L39s – manufactured in the Czech Republic. Here they are landing expertly on the 1,6-kilometre sand strip.
Text Riéth van Schalkwyk
Starting in 2004, over a weekend in June, light aircraft such as Cheetahs, Lambadas, Sambas, a Bravo, Wilgas, a Trinidad, Technams, Cessna Caravans, Cessna 182s, Cessna 172s, Cessna 210s – and on occasion even fighter jets – fly in from all over Southern Africa to participate in Namibia’s Oshkosh, an event touted as the world’s greatest celebration of aviation. Aviators set their GPSses at S23˚32.275 E15˚50.335 to find their target for the annual Rostock Fly-In hosted by an equally passionate aviator, Kücki Kühhirt.
When it is winter in the Namib, the sky is blue and the grass golden yellow.
Flight plans for the Rostock Fly-In are filed in Cape Town, Port Elizabeth, Britz, Clanwilliam, Johannesburg, Swakopmund, Windhoek and Omaruru. The destination? Rostock for a weekend of pure flying indulgence!
“Flying embodies the pure joy of overcoming gravity,” says Kücki. After he opened Rostock Ritz, his lodge on his desert farm, the next natural step was to grade a landing strip for his own pleasure and to be used for emergency flights.
Kücki continues: “Namibia had hosted fly-ins for many years, including large air shows in Windhoek. But they became fewer and further in between. By the turn of the century, they had stopped altogether. It was then that I decided to introduce Oshkosh in Namibia, using my runway and accommodating the airmen in my lodge. Thus the annual Rostock Fly-In event was born. Needless to say, I was egged on by my pilot friends who shared my passion. We worked hard to realise our dream. In 2004 the first eight pilots arrived in their microlights, gyros, motorised gliders, singles and twins, and the foundation for a tradition was laid down.”
The only year Oshkosh Namibia didn’t take place was when Kücki, in his own words, “…had a hole-in-one on the Windhoek Golf Course.” When taking off from Eros Airport, he had to make an emergency landing on the fairway. “This was a victory for gravity. My bones were still trying to find each other in 2009, so there was no fly-in that year.”
Flying to get there
Why would anybody fly six hours to the Namib Desert for a weekend and on arrival continue to fly, navigate, land and take off before taking the sticks out again for a six-hour flight home? “It’s not only about the weekend of flying and talking flying and talking aircraft. It’s also about the pure joy of flying to get there,” says one of the old-timers from South Africa. “To leave the crowded airspace south of the Orange River behind, fly into Namibia, and realise that you may be the only ‘bird’ in a hundred mile radius, hearing hardly anyone else on the radio. Now that’s what I call freedom. Not to mention seeing herds of zebra and gemsbok running over desert plains. It’s nothing short of spectacular.”
“Rostock is also about airmanship,” says Mike, a lawyer from Windhoek, who has missed only two events. “Young and old, seasoned pilots and rookies – they all learn from one another. It’s a demonstration of airmanship in the old-fashioned way.”
Heidi Snyman, who has been Kücki’s right hand from the outset, ensures that safety first is practised at all times. Heidi is chief judge and Hans Möller chief safety officer at Rostock. Heidi and Hans are assisted by professional air-traffic controllers, who are on duty all day, every day. These experts also judge the winner of the Radio Procedure Trophy. “It’s great fun to plan the navigational exercises where pilots must fly the correct coordinates exactly within the given time, while finding ‘treasures’ on the ground and reporting on objects and activities.”
To organise a race for 29 different kinds of aircraft, is no mean feat. Just to line up every aircraft on the starting line for take-off at the right moment takes considerable planning and requires able assistants. Micha Stiemert and his colleagues have put together fun tasks for the pilots, because as seasoned traffic controllers, they know what the challenges are.
“It’s not as serious an event as the President’s Air Race,” says Heidi. Rostock is a weekend of testing skills in a fun way. Landing on a particular spot and dropping a balloon on a target sounds like child’s play to the uninformed. When talking to the experts, however, you’ll realise what skill and discipline it takes. In the end it’s the love of flying, the camaraderie, and Kücki’s warm hospitality combined with the beauty of the desert, the wide horizons and the blue skies that engender the migration of the Rostock flock year after year.
There’s more to Rostock than flying
During the Rostock Fly-in event that takes place each year in June, guests at Rostock Ritz have time and eyes only for aircraft. For the rest of the year, however, they can walk along demarcated hiking trails for some 60 kilometres through the mountains and valleys of the Gaub and Kuiseb canyons, or – accompanied by Kücki or one of his expert guides – visit the rock-art sites in the area and go on sundowner drives. The same hospitality that made Kücki a legendary host at Kücki’s Pub in Swakopmund is evident in the way guests are treated at his inimitable desert lodge.
Watching the sun set over the desert from the deck, or lying in the pool in the middle of a sizzling hot summer’s day, is as pleasurable as spending an active day on foot or on horseback exploring the eastern fringes of the Namib. Rostock is situated just off the C14, and is a welcome stopover between the coast and Sossusvlei. A top option is to make it your base for exploring the Namib-Naukluft Park to experience its many and varied dramatic moods.
Photos: Jo Ferreira, Teunis Keulder, Kücki Kühhirt, Matthias Roettcher, Heidi Snyman
This article was originally published in the Travel News Namibia Winter 2013 publication.