What do soaring Botswana’s skies and rough motorbike rally racing have in common? The infamous, adrenaline-seeking Ross Branch, known fondly in rally circles as the Kalahari Ferrari.
The name is well earned for a man who has invested his life and passion into two different modes of exotic travel. This modern-day Indiana Jones has built a reputation on the rally circuit as an excellent rider and in the skies as a well-trained Mack Air pilot.
In a rare moment, we got him to sit still for long enough to share what he enjoys most about his life of adventure, both on the ground and in the air. Get the inside scoop into what makes this man tick, and what to look out for when you join him on a journey over the unbelievable Okavango Delta.
The Action-Packed Life Of Ross Branch
Ross may just be living the dream of every little boy and girl. Beginning his racing career when he was only three years old, his accomplishments both in and out of the cockpit are a thrill-seeker’s fantasy.
Amongst his biggest achievements in rally racing is winning the best rookie category at the famous Dakar Rally in 2019. In 2020, he followed that up by winning stage two of the same rally. Backed by sponsors Yamaha and Monster Energy, he made a name for himself in the discipline.
Before rally racing, Ross competed in multiple motocross events, even securing first place in the South African Cross Country Championship in 2016. His passion for racing suggests that it’s not only blood that runs through his veins.
“I have an adrenaline-fuelled life,” says Ross animatedly. “Rally racing is a high-speed sport. But, what I love most about it is the places you go and see. The time you spend on the bike is amazing. It takes you to a different side of the world and you see so many different things.”
The well-known team Hero Motorsports recently added him to their rider’s lineup. This was a direct result of his performance at the 2022 Dakar Rally where Ross excelled in the first five stretches. Unfortunately, an injury in stage six took Ross out of the race.
Don’t worry, that injury hasn’t stopped Ross from having big dreams for the future. “I want to win Dakar,” asserts Ross. There is no doubt in our minds that our daredevil will reach whatever he sets his mind to.
Rally Racer Turned Mack Air Pilot
Rally racing is just half of what makes Ross the man he is. This skilled speed racer is an exceptional bush pilot too.
“I have always wanted to fly,” enthuses Ross. “When I lived in a small town, they used to fly us into South Africa to attend high school and on weekends they would fly us back home. That was the first time I got into an aircraft and from that moment I loved it.”
It was this dual love for both racing and flying that led Ross to choose Mack Air. Mack Air encouraged Ross’s rally racing and flying dreams.
“Mack Air as a team is like a family to me. I had other opportunities but the family vibe drew me to them. It was also the fastest-growing company in the Delta. They gave me the opportunity to balance my racing and my flying,” shares Ross.
But there is far more to working as a pilot than being part of a supportive and energetic team. Despite his humble demeanour, Ross has worked tirelessly to become the expert pilot he is today.
Behind The Scenes Of A Mack Air Pilot
Becoming a pilot is a rigorous and difficult process. All pilots are exceptional people who put everything into their careers to ensure your safe travels. Even so, bush pilots stand out from the rest.
Due to the nature of their jobs, bush pilots land and take off far more times in their career than most commercial pilots ever do. These short hops consist of 30-minute flights between a variety of tourist destinations. Landing and take-off conditions vary from dirt runways to remote airstrips.
Ross and his fellow Mack Air pilots have worked for years to hone their skills. Ross even spent time in America to obtain his private license and enhance his expertise.
As a result, when you step onto the Kalahari Ferrari’s aircraft, you can rest easy knowing you’re in the hands of someone who knows exactly what they are doing. The pilot’s job is to handle the flight so you can do yours: enjoying the splendour of the Okavango Delta!
The Magic Of A Scenic Flight
The Okavango Delta would be extraordinary from any angle, but in Ross’s own words nothing beats the magic of a scenic flight.
“I love everything about flying the Delta, from the time I take off to the time I land. It’s incredible, every day you fly you see something different. One of my ultimate highlights was seeing a crocodile and a lion on the same kill. The best thing is that we could circle the scene and see it from so many perspectives. You will never see something like that again…I can assure you, it’s a once-in-a-lifetime experience.”
Cruising over this national treasure is hugely appreciated by the pilot, and who can blame him? Flying at such a low level offers travellers bird’s-eye views of the landscape that 4×4 safaris can’t give you. Parks come to life in new and extraordinary ways.
But, along with the amazing scenery comes something you might not expect. Ross makes it clear that being a passenger in a light aircraft is nothing like a commercial flight.
The experience of low-level flying takes many passengers by surprise. So, it’s best to know what you’re getting into before you hop on board.
The Workings Of Low-Level Flying
It’s no secret that Africa has some seriously hot weather. The Delta is no different, even in the winter. This intense heat can result in a unique flying experience.
The higher you fly, the colder the air. Mack Air flights take place between 1000 – 2000 ft above the ground. This is low compared to commercial flights that can soar at heights of 38 000 ft.
At this lower level, the heat in the atmosphere creates what Ross calls “hot air pockets”. While the decreased altitude does make for spectacular views, it also means that hot air pockets occur frequently.
In short, this means you’re going to feel bumps and turbulence along the way. This is nothing to be afraid of – if anything it adds to the exciting African experience!
Think of it as the difference between travelling on a smooth tar road versus a gravel road. The trip might be a little bumpier, but the views you experience are beyond your wildest dreams.
The unexpected motion fuels the fun and thrills of the flight. You get to squeeze every moment and enjoy the sights of great herds of wildlife passing beneath you.
While talking about air pockets and turbulence, Ross shared how one of his passengers reacted to the bouncing movements. “Somebody once tapped me on the shoulder asking me to please fly straight and level because it’s way too bumpy. I had to try my best to explain to them that it was not really my fault!”
That said, if it does get a bit rough for your taste, Ross has a great tip to help you stay steady
“When it gets rough, stare at a point on the horizon instead of trying to look at the animals. Focus on a point in the distance and try not to look out the window at the ground.”
This can help with any anxiety you might feel during these turbulent moments.
Delta Travel Tips From The Kalahari Ferrari
How to handle safari plane turbulence is not the Kalahari Ferrari’s only piece of advice. Ross gave us some useful tips in reply to our questions on how to maximise the flight experience and make it more memorable.
What would you tell travellers to wear on an air safari?
“Botswana is super hot. Go for shorts and T-shirts – anything relaxed. Not too formal. Fly in whatever’s comfortable.”
What is the go-to aircraft for flights over the Delta?
“The Grand Caravan EX is the best aircraft for the Delta because of the large windows. You can see so much, especially with the low levels we fly at in the Delta. The wildlife makes a big difference with so many windows. Mack Air Caravans also offer great air conditioning, which helps with our Botswana heat.”
Are there any necessities for the flight?
“Sunscreen. Even though you’re in an aircraft, you can still get burnt as I’ve learned over the couple of years that I’ve been flying! The other thing you need on a flight is a camera. You won’t get the opportunity again so that’s one of the most important things you can take. Make some awesome memories to take home.”
The secret spot for the best wildlife viewing?
“The best spot in the plane for viewing wildlife is the front seat because you get so much more of a view. Sometimes guests are lucky enough to occupy the co-pilot seat, which is really special. If you get that opportunity, definitely take it! You’ll get to see what it’s like up at the front and see what we do.”
Along with the tips, Ross also shared the #1 non-negotiable rule for passengers:
“Listen to your pilot. Your life is in really good hands and our pilots are super experienced. They’ve seen everything and they’ve been through and handled a lot. If they tell you to do something, just listen to their advice because they’re not telling you for no reason.”
Be Prepared To Get Addicted
While some daring aspects of Ross Branch’s life might not be for the faint of heart, taking to the skies with him and the Mack Air family is an experience you won’t want to miss.
“Once you do it once, you open the door to a new world. There is nowhere else that you will see so many wild animals. You won’t just stop with Botswana,” assures Ross.
Fortunately, Mack Air is raring to take you on a multi-country African adventure. Book a trip with us from Kasane to Victoria Falls to see one of the 7 natural wonders of the world. Then, jump aboard our Hwange circuit to see one of Zimbabwe’s famous elephant-filled national parks.
Once you have travelled with Mack Air, there’s no going back. You’ll be addicted to the African flight experience.
Before we go, we want to leave you with some last words from Ross: “It doesn’t happen often that you get a chance to go in a plane across the Okavango Delta or up to the Chobe River. Take in all the memories and enjoy it while you can. Life’s too short to not enjoy once-in-a-lifetime adventures.”