Cape Town, Tuesday
An aircraft built by South African teenagers has successfully landed in Egypt three weeks after it set off from Cape Town.
The four-seater Sling 4 plane was assembled by a group of 20 students from vastly different backgrounds.
The crew landed in Namibia, Malawi, Ethiopia, Zanzibar, Tanzania and Uganda during the 12,000km trip. Pilot Megan Werner, 17, founder of U-Dream Global project, said she was thrilled by the accomplishment.
“I’m so honoured to have made a difference around the continent at the places we’ve stopped. The purpose of the initiative is to show Africa that anything is possible if you set your mind to it,” she said.
Another Sling 4 plane, flown by professional pilots, accompanied the teen flyers, whose goal was to give motivational talks for other teenagers along the way.
The teenagers built the aircraft in three weeks from a kit manufactured in South Africa by the Airplane Factory. Construction included assembling thousands of small parts.
Megan’s father, Des Werner, a commercial pilot, said it would normally take 3,000 man hours to assemble a Sling 4. Megan said the impressive feat has had its challenges.
In the Ethiopia’s capital, Addis Ababa, they could not get fuel. “When we eventually got it, the support aircraft started leaking fuel so they couldn’t fly with us and only two people—Driaan van den Heever, the safety pilot, and I—carried on,” she said.
“We were concerned about flying across Sudan because of the political unrest in the country,” she added.
Megan was one of six in the group to have obtained a pilot’s licence, and the six shared flying duties in their silver aircraft, which is emblazoned with maps of Africa and sponsors’ logos on both wings.
Their basic pilot’s licences presented a further challenge as they only allow flying at a height where the ground is still visible. The last leg, from Addis Ababa to Cairo via Aswan, tested the pilots’ mettle.
“Driaan and I flew alone for 10 hours, without the support aircraft, so it was two teenagers, with no support,” Megan said.
The two pilots encountered a problem with one of their avionic systems about an hour into Egyptian airspace. They decided it would be better to land at the closest domestic airport in Cairo, instead of the international airport as planned.
“That created a little chaos but it was done in the interest of safety,” Des Werner said.
“In the end it was just a loose connection which they sorted out but the bureaucratic process took a while to sort out because they had to complete a report,” he added.
“When we landed in Egypt the authorities wanted to arrest us, take our passports and licences but luckily after about four hours, everything was sorted out and we carried on to Aswan and then Cairo and it was a really awesome feeling,” said Megan. – BBC