The operations of GRU Wing are incorporated into GKEPF

In September 2013 the aircraft manufacturer, Jabiru SA, deployed a specially kitted out Jabiru J170, call-sign ZU OPS, in the Hoedspruit area to assist in the war against rhino poaching. The beneficiaries of its services are the participating reserves of Game Reserves United (GRU) being the private and provincial reserves to the West of Kruger National Park and the KNP itself.

From a roster of five volunteers and two instructors, pilots are dispatched by GRU to fly missions in support of ground forces. The pilots, as they gain experience are “signed off” for three mission levels: Patrol, investigation and reaction:

Patrol missions, although being the easiest level, require careful planning and skilful flying. These are usually flown by the lower-hour pilots (200+hrs) with a high-hour pilot in the right-hand seat as mentor and minder.

“Reaction” missions carry the highest risk since there is an element of urgency and little time for planning and orientation. During a reaction flight, briefing is usually done once airborne and the cockpit gets to be a busy place as pilot and crew toggle between frequencies whilst taking down coordinates and being given descriptions of the quarry. Presently these missions are flown by the high-hour pilots who usually pick up one of the ground force members at their nearest airstrip. This procedure works well because a local ranger has knowledge of his terrain and can deploy his ground assets in concert with the aircraft to best effect.

The capital cost of the aircraft was entirely sponsored by Jabiru Aircraft S.A. and Jabiru Australia. Insurance is sponsored by Dynamic Insurance Brokers, Santam and Dennis Jankelow & Associates with contributions by the pilots themselves. Hangarage and maintenance is sponsored by Wynand Uys, who manages the day-to day operations of the aircraft and pilots.

The only operating cost to this project is the fuel and oil bill. With an increase in flight requests as the Rhino Jab proves its worth, we are facing a fuel bill approaching R 20 000 per month and due to escalate. Toward the end of 2014 we found ourselves limited by a shortfall in fuel sponsorship. GEMFIELDS answered our call for help with a generous pledge that will cover a major portion of our anticipated fuel costs in 2015. Patrols and investigations are flown at low power settings, giving us 6-7 hours aloft and landing with 30 liters spare in the 130 liter wing tanks. The hourly operating cost of the aircraft at current fuel and oil prices is less than R400 per hour. Good value, indeed, for sponsor’s investment.