Images from the past featuring local Grumman aircraft.Learn more
How I went flying - on my own terms! 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!
With a freshly minted Private Pilot Licence in my hands and 43 hours of training behind me the next question that arose was "What now?" - a question that must occur to many a sprog who intends to fly for pleasure and who knows they will pay handsomely for the privilege!
I of course went the conventional route which was to begin hiring aircraft by the hour from the flight school where I had trained. The disadvantages of this became apparent very quickly. Within the radius of action allowed eventually one has been everywhere one can think of going. As for landing alsewhere for a look around, or any reason at all, time really does not allow. Thus all that is achieved is to repeat flight practice exercises in aircraft control, navigation etc endlessly!
After perhaps 10 hours of this over maybe two or three months, something had to be done. As Sir Francis Chichester says in his book "The Lonely Sea and the Sky" which tells the story of his remarkable long distance flights in a Puss Moth in the 1930s, "To many a man, a map is a window to adventure!" - and so it was with me. Adventure beckoned, but not at the rate of an hour at a time or within the limitations imposed by hiring aircraft which had to be returned within some arbitrary fixed period.
Thus I found my way in late 1976 to "The Biggest Aircraft Auction ever held in South Africa" at Wonderboom Airport near Pretoria. There were indeed a large collection of aircraft on offer and I spent the morning looking around. I had identified the type of aircraft I felt was suitable, practical for my uses and hopefully affordable to buy and operate and that was a single-engined piston type with 2 or 4 seats, which was not likely to be maintenance-hungry and probably in the 100 hp to 180 hp power range.
There were a few such aircraft offered at auction but most were very old, some had bad reputations as maintenance-hogs, such as a North-American Navion I liked and a Cessna 175 with the unreliable geared engine.
Leaving the area of the auction I took a wander around the hangars of the airport and saw a group of three brightly coloured Grumman-American small aircraft parked outside a hangar with "VIP Aircraft" on it's signboard. I enquired of the guy in there, who was the manager, Marthinus de Beer, and he enthusiastically set about selling me an aircraft! These however were new aircraft and beyond my measly budget.
Some weeks later I saw an ad in the now-defunct "Wings" magazine for a Grumman-American AA1A and called the number, arranging to meet and view the aircraft a few days later at the old Baragwanath Airfield.
The seller of the aircraft was Tom Zeederburg (The First Homebuilt) who had flown it up from Durban. I took a careful look at the 1972-model aircraft which had a total time of only 590 hours on engine and aircraft from new. At his price of R 7500 it seemed fair value and was clearly in excellent condition being only about 5 years old with low time. That price was about equivalent to the cost of a new Ford Granada Ghia, a large fairly luxurious family sedan of the day.
Negotiations commenced a few days later and the aircraft was purchased finally for R 7250 and Tom threw in a Bendix T12 ADF which needed to be installed.
The pictures here show the aircraft at Baragwanath just a few days after purchase with myself and Ann, my wife.
Of course I had to find someone suitably rated to give me conversion-to-type training and sign-off in order to,legally fly the aircraft and I found an instructor-rated pilot who flew for Safair, Peter Nicholas, to train me on the aircraft. Off we went from BaraG for about a one hour session until he was satisifed that I knew the aircraft well enough not to crash and burn. He signed off my logbook and the necessary Department of Civil Aviation form, departing then with the words "Don't try turning this aircraft steeply near the ground, it will kill you!"
Wow! - what a confidence builder there! That's all I need I thought, I have bought a death-dealing machine here!
Of course this was not the case at all. The Grumman AA1 had and to this day has a reputation as a machine with a high stall speed, sharp stall characteristics and generally "squirrelly" handling. This is mostly nonsense as I discovered in time, but so affected was my thinking about my airplane that for rather a long time I became anxious about the possibility, as warned by an experienced instuctor (who surely must know these things!) that I could at any moment be caught out by some untoward behaviour of the aircraft!
Whilst is is true that the Grumman has a stall speed which is rather higher than many General Aviation aircraft and does exhibit a sharp break at the stall, I wondered then how mere mortals handle aircraft such as jet fighters etc. with stall speeds of 130 or 150 kts such as the F104 Starfighter?
For more on the Grumman - click HERE
So for the next two years or so, I flew rather cautiously with niggling anxiety my companion in the cockpit. This was not the way I wanted to fly - not at all! But salvation was, unknown to me, at hand, as a bi-annual licence-renewal flight test was looming
This flight test changed everything for me. I met with the instructor, the late Jeff Birch, ex-SAAF, SAA pilot and then member of the Winfield Aerobatic Display team of Pitts Specials formed by Scully Levin, at Grand Central Airport and after briefing we took off on Runway 35. I climbed out at the recommended speed and shortly after Jeff asked me to demonstrate Rate 1 turns, then Rate 2 turns, finally an incipient stall.
He then proceeded to deliver a lesson in aircraft handling - no longer was this a "test" of my abilities - the like of which I had not experienced before and one not restricted by the formal training curriculum laid down for standard flight training of PPLs!
He had clearly picked up my tentative and unnecessarily cautious manner of handling my own aircraft and determined that this would be corrected! His words were "Let me take it and I will show you what this litle bugger can do!"
We spent the next hour doing stuff with that aircraft, not in any handbook and doing many things which were warned against in fact - such as using aileron whilst descending fully stalled, departure stalls with full power, straight stalls with full power, low-speed handling and maneouvring in level flight just above the stall but fully in control at all times, accelerated stalling at speeds of around 120 mph in a screaming level or climbimg turn - and of course he showed me the ease and speed of recovery that this aircraft could offer from all such regimes of flight!
This was truly a revelation to me, with perhaps 100 hours total time in my logbook. Without that lesson I think, in fact I know, that I would have given up flying as I had just months before, advertised the aircraft for sale. No buyers came along who were prepared to offer full price of R 9500 and I therefore did not sell. After Jeff's training I went out by myself and rejoiced in practicing all that he had shown me, gaining immense confidence in my new skills and losing all previous anxieties. Finally flying became a hugely enjoyable activity and from that time I never suffered a moment's doubt about ny own abilities or the ability of the aircraft to allow me the kind of flying experience I wanted.
Like a fledgling who had grown up and was ready to leave the nest, I was now ready to spread my wings and for my real flying to finally begin!"