5Y ACE flying over Tsavo with Mt Kilimanjaro in the background

ACE

ACE on Tsavo SoilThere is one member of the Tsavo Trust Team that deserves a special mention. She has been operating in conservation for nearly 50 years. In her younger years, she partnered famously with Bill Woodley and together they took part in mountain rescue missions, armed poacher attacks, fire fighting and so much more. She has looked after royalty and has done thousands of hours monitoring wildlife over the decades. She has most likely seen and taken part in more anti-poaching operations than any other living sole in the country. She has a mind of her own, no question about that but, she knows Tsavo like the back of her wings and her name is ACE..

We are incredibly privileged to have on board this aircraft who comes with such high qualifications and credentials in the world of conservation. Her C.V. exceeds all our requirements and she is invaluable to our operations, foremost the Big Tusker Project. Stuart Herd, her fond owner is responsible for this opportunity of having such a distinguished Super Cub on the team, kindly donating her to the Tsavo Trust… so long as she remains willing of course!

ACE final approach to Tsavo Trust’s airstrip before touching down for the first time in 20 yearsHowever, It did seem at first that she was not willing, returning to work a little reluctantly and Richard Moller had his doubts as to whether the “old bird” was up to it. In ACE’s defence, she was being dropped in the deep end because after removing a birds nest from the engine and replacing a few parts, her first job for the Tsavo Trust was to take part in the Samburu/Laikipia Game Count! That’s no small ask for a pilot and aircraft who have only just met and it requires a great deal of stamina, patience and skill. On the way there her ticker stopped no less than five times (I think Richard’s ticker also skipped a few beats as a result) … but luckily, after being gently coaxed she coughed back to life and they made it to the Shaba airstrip exhausted but relieved to be there. The real test would be over the next week, where she would be required to fly up to nine hours each day, only stopping to be refuelled on hot dusty airstrips. After the journey to Samburu and her initial antics, Richard was unsure whether to continue in the count, however, he worked late into the night and finding nothing obviously wrong and therefore deciding that she was probably ‘trying it on’, he had her warming up on the airstrip at day break the following morning and off they went. That day she flew nine hours without complaint and continued in this fashion for the rest of the count. By day three Richard exclaimed that “she is growing on me!” and by the end of the week, there was no doubt that he had become very fond of her and a partnership was formed, despite the fact that he could barely walk due to spending many hours in the incredibly uncomfortable and bony cockpit.

With a few of the old cobwebs blown away and some cushions added to the seats, ACE was ready to take to the skies of Tsavo once again and on the 1st of February 2013, she and Richard took off on their first official flight with a KWS officer on board. They covered an area known as the Tsavo Triangle and went in search of the big tuskers. Without the support from SAVE THE ELEPHANTS who are paying her salary (such expertise in her field does not come cheap) amongst other things, it would have taken a lot longer to get this project up and running and very possibly too long for the big tuskers.

Any Valuable member of an organisation must be provided for accordingly. Somewhere nice to live is usually one way of showing appreciation and for ACE; it is vital that we look after her to the best of our abilities. Again, SAVE THE ELEPHANTS generously donated the funds for a fine hanger to be built here in Tsavo that provides a safe and comfortable resting place for her.

A brief history

“the most remarkable combination of man and machine”

was how the partnership between Ace and Bill Woodley was described in Anthony Dyer’s book ‘EAGLES’. This remarkable little Super Cub, began her work in Conservation in 1966 on the Mountain slopes of Kenya. She reached altitudes of 17,000 feet and over and together with Bill Woodley, she flew just under 6,000 hours without an accident. She took part in Royal visits, fought fires on the slopes of Mount Kenya, assisted in rescue missions and medivacs and has dodged hundreds of bullets during armed poacher attacks.

5Y ACE Air Search and Rescue article - page 1     5Y ACE Air Search and Rescue article - page 1

Sadly, in 1982, the partnership of Bill and Ace came to an end. ACE however continued to take part in operations over Tsavo, being piloted by several different people. On 21st September 1990 she was to have a terrible accident that would leave her crippled for some 20 years, her future looking very bleak! However, in the mid 90’s, Lewa Wildlife Conservancy purchased Ace from KWS along with two other wrecks and they sat there in a heap for a number of years. In a strange turn of events, Richard Moller, who was then working at Lewa, came across the wrecks and shortly afterward sent the broken fuselages down to Allan Herd, an incredibly skilled aircraft engineer to be rebuilt.

It took many years and a lot of hard sweat for ACE to become once again airborne in 2010, a legend rebuilt she took to the skies, however, she did not return to Lewa or into Conservation. By then she was owned by Stuart Herd, Allan’s son and she enjoyed the next few years being flown only occasionally for leisure. Upon hearing about the BIG TUSKER PROJECT proposed by the Tsavo Trust, Stuart decided that ACE should once again be put to work and thus, she is back in Tsavo, teamed up with Richard Moller to work in Tsavo as ‘eyes in the sky’ for the unforeseeable future and long may their partnership continue.

Since her redeployment back into Tsavo, she has done a further 15,000 hours. As we speak ACE is undergoing a total rebuild at the KWS Air wing in Nairobi.

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