Images from the past featuring local Grumman aircraft.Learn more
Welcome! Thanks for visiting.
This website contains some reminiscences of my own flying over 30+ years as a licenced PPL - hopefully some of the interesting bits! As you may know flying is not all drama and excitement, but there are times....
Also some reflections, mostly just my personal opinions, on aircraft flown and some exciting aircraft, old and new, civilian and military, which I have not flown but would love to!
"There are old pilots and there are bold pilots - but there are no old, bold pilots!"
Usual Disclaimer Goes Here: Whatever I may write here should not and must not be taken as advice or recommendation, and indeed may even be a pack of lies (for the purposes of this disclaimer) - so anyone acting on anything said here does so at his own risk etc,etc,etc,yadda,yadda and so on!
Read on - have fun!
I always wanted to fly - as a kid of 8 years, I would watch DeHavilland Tiger Moths doing aerobatics over hills visible from my back yard in Cleadon, County Durham, fascinated.
My late father used to tell me stories about his own flying in the 1930s in England - he obtained his Private Pilot's Licence (PPL) at Newcastle Airport way back when and used to hire Auster airplanes there to bumble about the sky - even as he told me, once crossing the Irish Sea to visit Ireland!
Eventually however he packed it in, as it became too expensive - which of course is a lesson to all who claim that flying is too expensive today compared to the past - it has always been expensive relative to earnings! - what is that old saying "what does it take to fly airplanes privately? - answer - everything you've got!" About right!
I seriously wanted to fly since being exposed to aviation at school in the UK. We had the Combined Cadet Force - great fun each Monday afternoon, (beats sitting in a classroom anyway) dressing up like a soldier in an itchy brown battledress and slinging a Lee-Enfield .303 rifle (mine was stamped 1911!) - all of which, uniform, kit, rifle and boots had to be spotless, ready for inspection as well - and marching around like toy soldiers. However being a "brown job" soon lost it's appeal, I much preferred the sartorial elegance and 'blueness' of the uniforms of the RAF section of the CCF - and what is more they could wear ordinary shoes (any colour you like as long as it is black) , not great clumpy army boots which had to be shone like mirrors (hot-spoon technique took hours) each week!
The RAF section actually did do RAF-type stuff - sure there was some parading and marching - without weaponry which proved to be a relief, those old .303s are heavy things to lug about! - but we got to go to RAF bases now and then and sit in on lectures on navigation and so on - and even to actually get close to real aircraft.
My first flight in a light aircraft happened as a member of the RAF (Royal Air Force) section of the Combined Cadet Force - previously termed the Officer Training Corps - we were taken to RAF Station Newton-le-Willows which is located somewhere in the Midlands area.Each cadet got a flight in a DH Chipmunk, which I think was part of a university air squadron, and I remember my flight of 30 minutes so well The instructor asked what I would like to do, so I said 'aerobatics, since I had just finished reading Neil Williams' book “Aerobatics” which was a handbook on how to do aerobatics. Magic stuff, we did everything a Chippie can do and I think the instructor enjoyed himself too.
That was so much fun and quite exhilarating. I recall some lads were sick as dogs even without the aeros, but I was not affected at all in this way - so I thought I was really cut out for the life of the dashing aviator!
Another time we went up in a Vickers Valetta aircraft - like a little twin-engined airliner but kitted out with plotting tables etc. They used these to train sprogs how to navigate I think and we had to plot courses and such like while airborne. Much less fun than aerobatics!
We also had at the school, a weird contraption manufactured by Slingsby called a "Grasshopper" primary glider - this device with a single seat was positioned at one end of a meadow or rugby field, then two huge elastic bands (bungees) were led out at 45 degrees with about 8 lads pulling each of them - once tight enough a tether at the tail of the glider was released and one shot forward at a high rate of knots. I managed to get to about 30 feet high one time before the momentum ran out at which point it simply landed itself. Once someone managed to crash this device and it was out of action for weeks - and the 'pilot' in the school sick bay for a day or two!
Occasionally propeller airplanes, helicopters, even jets on two occasions 'beat up' the school at very low level - we schoolboys were mightily impressed and found that the pilots of these were 'old boys' who had joined the service and were just paying a nostalgic visit. I recall the jets being a Gloster Meteor and a Gloster Javelin - in those days these were the bees -knees! Nobody complained, not even the school authorities, when the Javelin came past at the level of the upper-floor windows! All just jolly good fun I guess! Today a jail sentence would be in order I expect.
The school was very keen on military careers and it was suggested that I should apply for Cranwell, which was officer training school for the RAF - spent a day there doing aptitude tests and stuff, but later found I had failed on the eyesight tests - no 20/20 vision here I am afraid.
All in all I reckon this is then were it all started for me - brain-washed from an early age!
Later on after school I did a few hours of gliding in a Blanik - good fun, but discovered that simply jumping in and turning the key was preferred, rather than spending the day humping gliders around in order to fly for 30 minutes in the club environment.
Later still clocked up 400 hours on hot-air balloons here in SA - this came about after organising the importation of second balloon ever imported in SA with a nice sponsorship from Afrox for running costs etc - and IIRC they paid to buy and import this Thunder 77 balloon as well - a real freebie for several years! Way to go!
I have been lucky to have done plenty of flying of light aircraft around SA and neighbouring countries, and in the US - all for my own enjoyment and travel - I can't imagine how much money it has saved me in speeding fines!
I won't say it has ever been 'easy' - for many reasons not all financial - but today, onerous new requirements and regulation, supposedly to make things 'safer' are a great hindrance, to the extent that I know a few owners who are thinking of selling their aircraft and bailing - just cannot be bothered with the bullshit anymore.
If you want 'safe-as-houses' - stay in bed.
One fact about gliding that I did know, and which attracted me was that it was a much less costly way to get into the sky and took far less initial training, or so I was led to believe! - thus I found myself at a place called Chopwell in Northumberland which offered the only gliding training near my residence.
Nowadays they even have a website - Northumbria Gliding Club - but in 1972 they were lucky if they had petrol for the winch-engine! There was no aerotow aircraft that I recall - I certainly never experienced an aerotow behind another aircraft, only launching off the winch. One was also expected to 'drive' the winch from time to time as a volunteer - this was an experience of note!
The winch consisted of the entire front end of an old double-decker bus, housing the driver's cab and a big V8 engine - you could even walk up the stairs to the top deck for a better view! Whether this was somehow fixed to the ground I do not recall but I think not - one sat in the driver's seat and cranked up the motor once the line had been fixed to the nose of the glider to be launched. The winch-driver could not see the glider, since the 1000 ft line went over a rise in the ground to the launch point. On the signal by two-way radio, you would use light throttle to take up any slack in the line, then simply booted the throttle while in second gear and with a mighty roar the line started to reel in, on to a massive drum which was driven by the V8 engine!
While this was happening the entire contraption shook and rattled as if it was getting ready to take to the air like the glider. After a very short time, the glider could be observed appearing from behind the rise in the ground, seemingly climbing almost vertically!
Once at 1000 feet AGL the glider pilot would pull his release and 'cast-off' and the next glider would hook up for a launch.
When one was not actually flying a glider or preparing for the flight (preparing = waiting, there is a lot of waiting around at gliding clubs, I learnt!) one might be called to volunteer as winchman, so I got quite skilled at this job!
On the other end of the winch-cable the experience was awesome however! That big old V8 hauled gliders into the sky at a prodigious rate on a good day - and the take-off was dramatic, with an angle of climb approaching that of a Space Shuttle! I particularly recall the sound of the rush of air when on the tow, contrasted with the sudden and dramatic reduction in sounds once the tow-cable had been released at 1000 feet, when all became serene!
The glider available for training flights was a Blanik identical, even in colours to the one shown above- in those days quite an advanced machine and all-metal construction rather than wood and fabric construction as gliders then mostly appeared to be. I think I did about 8 hours of flight in this with an instructor and it was an enjoyable learning experience.
One thing that bugged me was that the weather simply never allowed for much more than a circuit or two of the field and then down to a landing - there simply was little lift about whenever I flew! Given this fact, it seemed to me that it would take years to get licenced to fly solo!
Along with all the heaving gliders around, winch-driving and general volunteer-stuff one was expected to do, as well as paying for the flights, I fairly quickly realised that 'club' gliding was possibly not for me, and gave up driving out to Chopwell each weekend, in favour of other pursuits.
Nonetheless that little bit of gliding experience whetted the appetite and I think, provided useful knowledge which served me well in later times, when flying hot-air balloons and powered aircraft. They say that the best thing a learner car-driver can do is to first learn to ride a motor-cycle. This gives a true appreciation of the forces involved, road-surfaces and so on - and gliding I think helps impart similar background knowledge to any aspirant aviator.
England in the early to mid 1970s was not a good place to be - economically depressed, particularly in the northern regions, and fast coming under the thrall of the 'alternative' government of the labour unions things were about to go from bad to worse!
Along with all that it looked certain that Britain was about to join what became the European Union - and the downsides of this were apparent even then to anyone with half-a-brain! Today almost 50 years later, people in the UK are agitating to get out of that bureaucratic and oppressive mess, so I was not wrong in my opinion.
But the tipping point for many was the "Winter of Discontent", characterised by constant labour strikes, shortages especially of electricity leading to the government-imposed resriction of the "3-day work week" as a result of electricity rationing!
Of course the previous year 1973 saw the OPEC nations increase the prices of oil to the point where petrol was more than doubled in price - this had a major impact economically on all nations and led to a lot of grumbing!
In 1974, in order to buy off the workers after the big strikes of the early 70s against PM Heath’s Tory Government, the incoming Labour Government printed money in order to pay for the - virtually across the board - wage hikes of 30%. These hikes were not backed up by productivity deals and together with printing money, became a significant factor in the subsequent much higher inflation. This was against the backdrop of economic recession after the ill-fated Barber boom of 1972/73 and the OPEC oil price rises.
It became obvious that this was all totally unsustainable and a recipe for economic and social disaster across the land! I called it then "The Last Push of Communism" designed to foment revolution, as also previously happened in 1919-1920.
In the winter of 1974 a decision had to be made - stay or go? A simple question, brought about, for me at least, as a result of labour unrest throughout the land, a miner's strike which meant that no coal was being produced to fire the coal-burning power stations, which in turn meant that people had electricity only three days each week!
My own small business, a car body-repair and engine shop in South Shields, doing well until this point, suffered badly as a result. Along with the nonsense going on with the miner's strike, the appalling violence on the picket lines, the intimidation and the unacceptable face of unionism appearing regularly on our TV screens in the form of union 'leaders' posturing and grandstanding and generally doing everything possible short of calling for armed rebellion against the government of the day, the weather was appallingly bad that winter with rain,sleet and snow and freezing cold - this when heating by electricity was not an option for much of the time!
It is often little things that can create the final impetus for big decisions in life - in my case I went to the movies, and came out having made a momentous decision as a result! The movie I saw was called "Gold" and starred Roger Moore (later he played James Bond in various Bond movies) - the movie was not all that good, but it was made in South Africa and featured a lengthy scene with a Piper PA28-140 Cherokee flying over bushveld terrain - nice air-to-air footage indeed over spectacular countryside, and along with the fact that the weather in SA, if this movie was any guide, appeared to be quite wonderful, led me to think of investigating the place.
Sure enough - just a few months later in March 1975, I was on a plane heading south, leaving the 'last subversive push of Communism' behind me - or so I thought!
Wherever you find yourself, there you are!
Stepping off the SAA 747 at Jan Smuts Airport on March 18, 1975 was a thrill! Having left England in a blizzard - literally - and in what seemed to be endless winter, what a joy to see cloudless blue, sunny skies and a temperature which to me felt like high summer in Britain!
Once ensconced in a 'residential hotel' in the infamous place called Hillbrow, a part of Johannesburg renowned for it's 'polyglot' population (read 'pimps, prostitutes and seedy layabouts') even in those days (shudder to think what it is like nowadays) I set about finding paying work - not difficult in those days at all if one had any skills - and I parlayed my motor-car fixing skills, self-taught though they were, into a job with a Ford auto-dealer as a mechanic. Good enough for a start.
ASAP, I found an ad in the paper for a flight school at Brakpan - and not being familiar with the local geography I set out to drive to this establishment from central Jhb in my newly acquired but quite old-in-years Vauxhall Viva. Of course it was quite a drive, about 60 kms perhaps, and having arrived and chatted to the boss inctructor, I signed up to learn to fly. The following weekend I attended my first lesson only to be somewhat disconcerted by the fact that another student piled aboard, so now we had the instructor and myself up front and this other student in the back seat. Odd I thought, well maybe it is a good idea for a new student to simply observe?
No not at all - that was not the plan! The plan included me and the other student swapping places after I had flown for my hour - you can imagine the contortions as we executed this task at 2000ft AGL, in a tiny Piper Cherokee 140! I then of course had to wait whilst the other guy did his hour - good thing I was not in a rush to get to another important engagement.
On mentioning this slight oddity and the discourteous waste of my time to the instructor after the flight, he became quite huffy, which decided me to seek tuition elsewhere - perhaps a flight school where one received the one-on-one training that I had thought I was paying for?
I then discovered Lanseria Flight School - established at a brand new airport north-west of Jhb. Unlike Brakpan which was a typical small 'club" airfield, Lanseria (FALA) was the 'real thing' in my sprog eyes because it was a 'big' airport, with all the 'big-deal', "sky-god" trimmings!
This then became the place to which I would travel every weekend, spending money I could not afford. However there were some good instructors and the school itself was run efficiently, so my progress towards a licence, although slow due to finances, was at least steady and reliable. The two instructors who I found far the best of all those I ever flew with, whilst being skilled pilots had the ability to impart their knowledge much more effectively than the others - this is surely what instructing is all about after all?
The very first lesson I ever did at FALA was done with another instructor who in fact never permitted me to touch the controls at all during the hour-long lesson! When I enquired of the office manager if this was normal, he told me that some instructors do this and other do not - so I asked him, for my next lesson, to assign me an instructor who did not! I ended up flying with Brian Manthe some of the time and Paul Botha for the rest - and they both were superb at their craft - thanks guys, I owe you!
I have never flown commercially - only privately, on my after-tax Rands! This is the hard way to go flying!
I learned to fly by going once per week - for one hour of training to Lanseria Flight School in 1975. That was all I could afford from my weekly pay - R22.00 per hour - it was a blow when they increased the rate to R23.00 I can tell you! Flew mainly Cherokee 140, ZS-FAC and ZS-FWP.
It was pure tragedy when I got lost on my solo x-country and instead of taking 1.3 hrs, I floated about the sky for over 4 hours getting more and more 'unsure of my position' - until I finally stumbled upon Lanseria Airport (a really, really hard-to-find place!) and landed with about 2 litres of fuel in the tanks!
Another tragedy to my finances (if you can call them that at the time!) occurred, since having failed my first x-country ( I did not agree since I argued that actually I had gained a wealth of experience from my first one) they sent me off again solo - this time I landed because of thunderstorms at Parys and sent a pleasant hour chatting to an instructor there - until, about to take off since the storms had passed, he kindly pointed out that I could not as it would be illegal - I would have to obtain a new flight authorisation for a new flight back to FALA. This necessitated my instructor having to fly down to Parys to re-authorise me - and of course I now had to pay for two aircraft! Well at least I passed the exercise this time as I did not get lost! But my new wife and I did not eat for a week - as I pointed out to her, all important endeavours in the affairs of man require sacrifices!
So this all took 13 months and more money than I wanted to lay out - and many times I felt like packing it in, for example when I just could not seem to get the flare right on landing. Luckily I had two good instructors who did not lose patience with me. I finally did the GFT with IIRC, about 43 hrs in the logbook.The obstacles in flying privately, and I expect commercially, are always there and they perhaps never go away - but of course the major and perennial obstacle to the private flyer is money - as the old saying goes "If God had meant man to fly, he would have given him more money!"
That also brings to mind a placard in a friend's aircraft, a vintage Beechcraft Staggerwing (we used to call it the 'Staggering" as the cost of running it was just that!) inscribed with "This aircraft does not run on thanks - it runs on money" - this aimed at those who cadged a ride in that aircraft from time to time!
13 months and 43 hours of flight later (13 hrs dual) I was deemed ready to take a flight test for the Private Pilot Licence with Graham Tickton who was a rated examiner at the school - to my great relief and joy I managed to pass this, which now authorised me to travel to Pretoria and actually obtain the licence document - all official nogal!
What now? I asked myself - thoughts of continuing training for a CPL (Commercial Pilot Licence) began to intrude, but the cost and effort remained daunting - and enquiries led me to understand that even with a new licence, jobs were few and far between - for instance at that time SAA the national airline would not hire anyone with less than 1000 hours in their log book, along with a CPL and IF (Instrument Flight) rating and some twin-engine time.
However I did embark on study towards the CPL with Avex Air Ground School. Completing that I then sat the exams whilst on a visit to Capetown at the University of Cape Town. Of the six subjects in the curriculum I passed 5, failing on only "Instruments, Magnetism and Radio".
With only one subject to study I booked another examination a month or two in the future and started to swot.
Then just before my next attempt, at which I was confident to pass the final subject outstanding, they went and changed the curriculum - now there were seven, not six subjects and I would therefore have to swot for the additional paper. At this point I had already decided that commercial flying was not what I wanted to do anyway, so I gave this a pass, happy to at least have studied and gained knowledge at an advanced level.
I would certainly recommend to any PPL-holder to do these studies in any event - you will end up with a much greater depth of knowledge than most PPL-holders, almost all of which is useful and beneficial in your flying.
..More to come!