African Flying Safari 1933
In 1932, the Johnsons purchased two amphibian aircraft from the Sikorsky Aviation Corp., a twin engine S-38BS which was painted with zebra stripes and named Osa’s Ark, and a single engine S-39CS painted with giraffe spots and named Spirit of Africa. The planes were flown from the Sikorsky factory at Stratford, CT, to the Brooklyn docks where they were hoisted aboard the City of New York ship.
The sea voyage to Cape Town, South Africa, lasted from December 31, 1932, to January 23, 1933. They reached Nairobi, Kenya, on February 8, 1933, despite 4,400 miles of dense fog, heavy rains, mountainous terrain, and expensive, but nearly useless maps.
Using Nairobi as a base of operations they were able to coordinate their trips across East Africa. This safari was quite a departure from their earlier ones; with a small African ground crew, they were able to establish a series of basic airfields at strategic points allowing them to reach remote areas of Africa without the large number of porters required in previous safaris.
At Garba Tula near the Lorian Swamp in eastern Kenya they filmed the now well-recognized scenes of an immense herd of elephants. In September 1933 Martin and Osa Made a return visit to the Mbuti of the Ituri Forest whom they had previously filmed during their “Congorilla” trip of 1930-1931. An improvised landing field was built at Gombari in the eastern Congo where they were greeted by 200 of the local natives.
Using newly constructed runways in central Kenya at Nanyuki the Johnsons’ party, in January 1934, became the first to fly over Mt. Kenya and film it from the air. Similarly, they used as a runway the dry lake bottom of Lake Amboselli in southern Kenya to film Mt. Kilimanjaro.
Because of concern for Osa’s health the Johnsons decided to conclude their trip. They left Nairobi on July 15, 1934, for London following the Nile River to Egypt, then across north Africa and France. They returned to New York City on August 9 aboard the S.S. Manhattan.
The “Flying Safari,” which involved traveling 60,000 miles, stretched the length of Africa from Cape Town to Cairo and is covered in Martin’s classic 1935 book “Over African Jungles” and in their movie “Baboona” released in the same year.