The Liberty Gazette
March 11, 2014
Ely Air Lines
By Mike Ely and Linda Street-Ely
Linda: Ken Wittekiend loves flying his Piper SuperCub low and slow over the Colorado River in the lovely part of Texas a bit west of here, around Burnet, in the Hill Country. He’s the son of a WWII P-51 pilot, has been flying a long time and is a Master Certified Flight Instructor with all manner of awards. The view from his office window can’t be beat – except maybe when he flies with the doors off.
I first met Ken seven or eight years ago and trusted him with training and testing me in a tailwheel airplane. His signature of approval in my logbook is a testament to his gift of teaching, and his passion for teaching is evidenced by the fact that his most memorable experiences are the friends he’s made and the satisfaction he receives in seeing someone gain confidence and skill.
His love of teaching and his substantial contributions to the flight training industry, educating the educators, are only part of the story. Beyond the beautiful sunrises over lakes and hills and flocks of Bluebonnets, beyond the heart for his fellow man, Ken was moved to support the work of fellow aviators with the Kenya Wildlife Service, stopping the illegal murder of animals such as elephants, for example, slaughtered for their ivory tusks.
Mike: The Kenya Wildlife Service was established in 1990 as a Kenya state corporation that manages wildlife at most of the National Parks and Reserves in the country. At its inception the service established an air wing in Nairobi at the Wilson Airport. Now with 12 Cessna Caravans and five helicopters the pilots of the KWS patrol the land looking for poachers.
One of Ken’s fellow supporters of this effort is world-renowned aerobatic champion Patty Wagstaff. While one of Patty’s flight suits and her faithful airplane, an Extra 260, are displayed in the Smithsonian National Air & Space Museum, Patty has spent many years of her air show off-season time in Africa, teaching and refining the skills necessary for pilots flying these specialized flights over African terrain. It’s called bush flying and it’s low and slow and requires precision, carrying a higher risk than your average civilian flying. Thanks to Patty’s contributions the KWS Air Wing realized a drop of more than 50% in the aircraft accident rate, and a significant increase in the elephant population.
In addition to the specialized flying skills necessary for successful KWS pilots, the team of 12 must have an understanding of Kenya’s terrain and wildlife. Then they are carefully trained and mentored in security, veterinary support services, animal tracking and game census, fire fighting, rescue (including mountain rescue), and transport of rations and supplies, including ammunition.
Fifty-nine parks and reserves spread over a country almost the size of Texas – about 224,962 square miles – is a lot of area to cover. The KWS Air Wing Unit is on permanent standby to fly into action anywhere in Kenya, whether for routine monitoring, field trips, or security operations and emergency evacuations, helping to protect some of the country’s assets.
That’s one of the most interesting things about the aviation industry, seeing how people combine their talents and passions with aviation to contribute to pretty amazing outcomes.