Wings Over Tanzania and COVID-19

Jeffrey Barbee showcases a new Tanzanian project on Patreon.

We know, being stuck indoors makes us all long for the outside world again. Trees and mountains, ocean and animals. We can definitely relate. In his latest Patreon update, Alliance Earth’s Jeffrey Barbee tells us about his latest pre-Coronavirus project Wings Over Tanzania, and his catch up with the Director of the project, Haley Jackson.

“Unexpected difficulties, I think, are at once the challenge and the charm of the lives of all explorers.”

– Osa Johnson

Hello everybody. The rain keeps falling down here in Johannesburg. This makes me think of sunnier days, way back last month, before the world changed.

Remember what you were doing before you got stuck inside?

I was working on a story in Tanzania, following the path of pioneering film makers in the 1920s and 30s, highlighting the incredible National Parks of Tanzania with the project Wings Over Tanzania.

Today I am editing some of the images from the project and wanted to share a few with you as a way to escape from our houses and remind us all of the amazing natural world we all share this lovely little planet with.

Wings Over Tanzania is a project that is bringing back ancient planes built in the US in the 1920s. It follows two film makers ahead of their time, one of them female. The project started nearly a 100 years ago with a couple from Kansas called the Johnsons. Now our team is bringing the same planes back to Africa to showcase what countries like Tanzania have conserved.

Thanks to solid environmental work stretching back through generations of communities since then, and the foresight of Tanzania’s government, the places that Osa and Martin Johnson visited are now protected through one of the largest national park systems in the world.

Once the COVID-19 virus has relinquished its hold on our world we are going to bring these planes back to Africa.  The work we were doing until two weeks ago was the groundwork, building the partnerships needed to successfully return these aircraft where they belong: the wild.

Combining the work from the Johnsons with our partners, The Tanzanian National Parks Authority (TANAPA), this film, supported by executive producer Mike Ruggiero, will share Tanzania’s enduring protected places with the world.

The project is the brainchild of Haley Jackson, an award-winning producer, director and writer. She has worked for the best, including James Cameron, The United States Olympic Committee, The XPRIZE Foundation, Mojave Air and Spaceport, A&E, PBS, Discovery Channel, Science Channel, The California Science Center and WIRED.

Her vision is to bring Tanzanian successes together with these one of a kind remaining aircraft. Combing the tale of Osa and Martin and today’s parks by following their journey from Fantasy of Flight’s Kermit Weeks’ collection in Florida to some of the wildest place left on Earth.

We are bringing everyone along in stories, photographs and a large format documentary that will be shared across the world.

Get ready.

I know Haley Jackson from working with her as a director and writer on award-winning projects like 24 Hours of Climate Reality. She is awesome. I caught up with her earlier today:

How did you come up with this amazing idea?

“I was filming a documentary at the Reno Air Races and was lucky enough to fly in Osa’s Ark – a Sikorsky S-38 Explorers Air Yacht. It was the most magical airplane I had ever seen. It is wooden and painted like a zebra, with two gigantic rotary engines, and looks like a vintage Chris Craft boat on the inside.  It was love at first sight.”

“I immediately wanted to know the story behind this beautiful airplane. It turns out that it has an incredible history. The people that had it built were famous explorers and filmmakers. From 1917 to 1936, an American couple named Martin and Osa Johnson from Kansas in the USA had captured the public’s imagination through their films and books of adventure in exotic and far-away lands.” Through years of work in the field, they innovated wildlife film techniques and made documentary movies that were superior to others at the time. It is estimated that they exposed about a million feet of film during their lives. They believed their footage would be an irreplaceable record of our “unspoiled” natural world. In 1933, Osa and Martin Johnson set out on their fifth and final safari to Africa, their most famous expedition. Using two amphibious airplanes (one painted as a zebra, the other, a giraffe), they flew more than 60,000 miles over Africa from Cape Town to Cairo. They spent most of their time flying and filming in East Africa, and their films are an invaluable record of the wildlife and cultures as they were nearly one hundred years ago.”

They include some of the earliest and best quality images of east Africa and the first aerial footage of many iconic landmarks, such as Kilimanjaro and the Serengeti. Their accomplishment expressed the spirit of that golden age of exploration. It demonstrated the courage and resourcefulness necessary to push back the boundaries of the unknown.

Once I heard the story about the airplanes, I knew it was my mission to take them back to Africa and retrace their route. That set me off on a search for the other aircraft.

I have to note here that my husband, Steve, surprised me with another flight on Osa’s Ark in 2009. He proposed to me in that airplane just as we were landing on the surface of Lake Tahoe. A few years went by, and Tom, who was the original owner, ended up selling Osa’s Ark in 2012.

Luckily enough, Kermit Weeks from Fantasy of Flight had the Spirit of Igor (the giraffe airplane), and he ended up buying Osa’s Ark as well. Kermit got in touch with me in 2015, and we’ve been friends ever since. I told him of my desire to take the airplanes to Africa, and he was open to the idea.

That same year, I was at NAB (National Association of Broadcasters) in Las Vegas and quite accidentally sat next to Michael Ruggerio on a bus. We got to talking, and he said he needed to do a documentary in Tanzania. I had just finished up several small documentaries in Tanzania and had a great crew on the ground there. So I told him I could help. I didn’t think I’d hear from him, but he called a couple of weeks later.

We soon became partners. It turns out that Osa and Martin spent most of their flying safari in Tanzania, the project was exciting.

What is your most magical moment working on this project?

“This whole project has been magical. I always say, Sometimes you pick the project, and sometimes the project picks you. This project picked me.

I think the most magical moment was when you and I went on a scout in Tanzania to try and figure out if the Osa and Martin story would work in Tanzania. It was when we thought we would be driving around and camping and instead TANAPA (Tanzania National Parks Authority) sent us their own plane to see some of their diverse parks. It was then that I knew that this documentary could be a reality while also performing a field survey with nearly a hundred-year time span for the National Parks.”

Tanzanian Parks are facing a tough time with the Coronavirus, what have you heard on the ground?

“Tanzania, like many places, gets all of its money for anti-poaching from park revenues. I heard from someone at TANAPA yesterday that at the moment, there is only one tourist in all the Serengeti National Parks right now. There are only three of Tanzania’s parks that break-even, and Serengeti is the biggest with 200,000 visit every year, which more than 500 a day. How are they going to fund the anti-poaching and protect these parks in this uncertain time? The poachers certainly aren’t going to go on lockdown because of coronavirus. I worry about the animals. They will suffer.”

If you have any extra money, even 5 dollars, give it to one of these amazing organizations below. I know them, I helped tell their stories. They are worth it.

Thanks Earthlings, you all are awesome.

(1) Avaaz A Maasai Cry For Help

(2) The Black Mambas: Africa’s Frontline Women Who Help Communities Stop Poaching

(3) The Akashinga women, how to stop Poaching In Zimbabwe.

As you can see, these parks will undoubtedly suffer during this unfortunate pandemic. You can help by donating to the above organisations or to Alliance Earth and become an ally.