The Observer (Kampala)

Uganda: Air Show Offers Rare Opportunities

Last weekend will be etched in many Ugandans' memories forever as Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) gave them a chance to take to the skies in an air show dubbed 'Fly at 50 for 50k'.

People streamed to Entebbe airport from various parts of the country to experience a joy many could only dream about. And who said Ugandans are poor time keepers? Hundreds of people were already queuing up as early as 8am for a show meant to start at 10am. When the gates opened, we did not waste time in booking our tickets.

After getting through the security checks and a little struggle at the ticket booth, I joined a few others on a small Eagle Air plane that was going to take us over Kampala and Entebbe for the next 30 minutes.

I was a bit disappointed because I was expecting a Boeing with personalized TV screens and great interior furnishing. This particular aircraft was more like a taxi with nothing eye-catching, but of course the thrill of knowing it was going to take you to the sky could not be underestimated.

Joy and anxiety were imprinted on every face. The noise of the engines came on and in a matter of minutes, we had broken contact with the ground and hit the skies. Passengers waved like they were never coming back. Those who could not afford the Shs 50,000 fare looked on admiringly.

On my right, a lady of about 40 years even came in a special dress for the occasion: a shiny purple gomesi complete with a silver sash and silver shoes and a matching handbag. She had come all the way from Mubende.

"I am the very first person to fly in my clan," she bragged.

It was such a sight to behold as people kept congratulating one another upon their achievement.

"I don't mind dying now that I have boarded a plane," remarked one young man seated behind me.

It was a thrill as the pilot kept tilting the plane every now and then, much to our enjoyment. I saw some people close their eyes - hopefully to savour the moment. Maybe it was in fright that some eyes closed. For a few minutes into the flight, someone shouted, "Omuntu afa! (Someone is dying)". A middle-aged man had fainted.

The flight attendants calmed down the alarmed passengers as they administered first aid. Within minutes, he had regained consciousness. His fainting was a blessing in disguise as we were added 15 more minutes to make up for the inconvenience.

Back on the tarmac, those who could not afford the fare decided to take photos standing next to small immobile aircraft. Jackets and neckties were borrowed as people posed on the steps of planes and in cockpits.

"I look like someone coming from America!" shouted one excited young man on seeing the express photo that he had just taken.

In the cargo plane, I found a group of exhilarated men and women taking photos. I wonder if they were aware it was not a passenger plane.

One old man in a poorly tailored suit, clutching a Mountain Dew in one hand and a bag in the other, shouted, "Banange tukomyewo okuva e Sausi Afirika! Mutukuliseeyo! (Comrades, we are back from South Africa. Welcome us back!) Seriously? On a cargo plane?

The sky divers put up quite a show as they came down with their parachutes, something that most Ugandans have only watched in movies. A UPDF team showed how the rescue team works during war time. It felt like watching a Chuck Norris movie.

Captain Davenport wowed the crowd with his aerial aerobics. He sometimes flew the plane upside down, making various shapes in the air with the coloured fumes from his jet. Our own Lieutenant Colonel Kiyingi got adrenalin rushing as he pulled some aerial stunts with one of the fighter jets.

Sadly, many people did not fly because the available slots were too few. But CAA plans an encore soon due to popular demand.

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