Tuesday, October 8, 2013

A Bantam to save a rhino

How I do love it when this happens! Trawling through a whole notebook of crabbed-written notes on the South Africa trip, as well as transcribing three hours-plus of interviews, I went off on a bit of a side-track to find out more about the NZ-built Bantam that was referred to by Lawrence, below. He's the operations manager of ZAP Wing, which flies surveillance over 24 game reserves and responds to incident call-outs (read: ambushing rhino poachers armed with guns). It's one of their two fixed-wing aircraft, supplementing two helicopters, one of which I flew in.

Now, the Bantam is another of those heart-warming stories of Kiwi ingenuity that I also love so much. In this one, Max Clear got the flying bug as a boy from a passing crop-duster that waggled its wings at him, and went on to build his own planes. When he fancied something completely different, he couldn't find any plans to suit, so he designed it himself, and so the first Bantam was born. It became hugely popular, and he built and sold over 300 of them, of which almost half ended up in South Africa being used by farmers and game rangers to keep an easy and close check on their land and stock; which is how ZAP Wing came by theirs.

And here's the connection: Max died in 2011 and the business was taken over by Croydon Aircraft at Mandeville, where I went this January. Booked to fly in the yellow Tiger Moth in the background of the (supplied) photo above, I didn't notice the Bantam at all - but if I had, and had read the info board displayed inside the hanger, I would have learned all about its use in the fight against the rhino poachers. The people who own Croydon are on board with the cause, and there's a chance that I've been able to bring together people who could really make a difference to the rhino's looming extinction. So that's an even better kind of link.

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