Sun Africa Hotels very recently relaunched their balloon operation out of Keekorok Safari Lodge in the Masai Mara, running under the name of ‘Balloon Adventure‘ – www.balloonadventure.co.ke
Notable is their balloon flown by the first African female pilot, Capt. Joyce Beckwith, no doubt a novel experience for tourists and onlookers who are otherwise used to the kind of rugged bush pilot character standing in the balloon basket one would see in an adventure film.
However not when taking a balloon ride these days from Keekorok, Kenya’s oldest safari lodge now owned and operated by the Block Hotel successor company Sun Africa Hotels.
Here Capt. Joyce rules the skies over the undulating plains around Keekorok and her support crew is reportedly very happy with her landing the balloon time and again smoothly and at suitable spots, for the basket and envelope recovery and the champagne bush breakfast.
ATCNews had the opportunity to hear directly from Capt. Joyce and this is what she had to say to our questions:
Where did you train: I did my Training in Albuquerque New Mexico with Airborne Heat Balloon School, with Captain Beth Wright Smith, Captain Ron Sachez And Captain Randy.
I attained my Kenyan Commercial Balloon License with Kenyan Balloon examiner Captain Ian Maimano and Captain Michael Carnevale.
Where did you work before: This is my 1st balloon pilot job.
I am a Hotel and Tourism Management Graduate.
Do you also fly fixed wing or rotor or just Fly balloons. No I don’t fly any other aircraft, but balloons. I am a fan of Paragliding and a dream of flying helicopters someday. They are a fascinating aircraft.
How do you like life in the bush, having to get up in the wee hours of the night to take off at the crack of dawn: I am a lover [of the] Masai Mara and I love being a bushgirl. It’s a very simple way of living. No traffic no noise pollution. And the feeling of living among Lions is overwhelming.
Balloon Life especially in Kenya, Masai Mara is a kinda gypsy life. You don’t know where you gonna be next season.I have been flying with my husband who is also a balloon pilot for almost 10yrs now, I got used to waking up early even before I started flying myself. It’s part of my daily routinenow.
It’s also very refreshing to start your day early, that means we finish our working hours earlier and have time to do other things the rest of the afternoon.
Given that flying balloons has been a male domain here in East Africa, how does it feel to break the glass ceiling: It’s an amazing adventure, I saw an opportunity to better myself and be an example to many and I took it.
Elly Kirkman has been the queen of ballooning for many years, she is my mentor and a great advisor. You know we Women need to support each other.
I am lucky to have been exposed to the balloon industry, and that’s how I gained interest to learn how to fly.
Many Locals don’t have the privilege that i got. All pilots are expatriates from different corners of the world.
They have been my mentors, with ballooning you never stop learning, everyday is a different experience.
All the Kenyan Balloon pilots have studied abroad, not to mention Ballooning is an expensive investment and you must be cut out for the BUSHLIFE, or it’s just gonna be a waste of resources.
It’s also very secluded and a lonely lifestyle. So you really have to be ready for being away from your family, and normality for a long time.
And what message do you have for young ladies who want to get into aviation: Be brave, follow your path and excel.
An Aviation License is like a world passport, you can travel and work all around the world.
Grab the opportunity, run with it and fly safe.
Then did Capt. Joyce add some hashtags readers can follow to stay informed of her daily adventures and work:
#Comeflywithme #Balloonadventure #Sunafricahotels #KeekorokLodge #Masaimara
Find me on Instagram: @smilesbeckwith
Find me on Facebook: Joyce Beckwith
Happy Landings always to Joyce and her passengers!
The cost of the balloon safari presently stands at US Dollars 450 per person, the trip can be pre-booked with Sun Africa Hotels when booking accommodation and other services like game drives and airstrip transfers.
Source: Prof Wolfgang Thome -ATC News