One of my earliest childhood memories regarding aviation, but too old now to remember how young I was then, was watching in awe, as my father flew his control line PT19. My awe, without fail, turned into mild amusement as he lost control of the little blue and yellow monoplane before the baby bee engine ran out of fuel. Some years later I saved up bought and flew my own PT19, had a Fokker triplane as well but she didn’t last long (about a minute I recall).
Just before I was old enough to attend school, my dad took me to an air show where I saw a crazy flying act in a J3 Cub; he later told me that I was fascinated by the effortlessness in which the pilot handled his plane.
Looking back over my career I realise that these events laid the foundation for my love of flying. Watching a home movie ‘Those Magnificent Men In Their Flying Machines’ did little to make me consider other careers.
My parents being of moderate means were not able to sponsor my urge to fly. Although the passion to become a pilot was derailed slightly, I used most of my spending money to buy aeroplane magazines, balsa wood model aeroplanes and plastic models to satisfy my curiosity. At the end of my school career, Mom and Dad realised that their dream of me becoming a famous heart surgeon was just that, a dream. They gave me their blessings to apply to the South African Air Force to become an aviator.
In 1982 I joined the Air Force and started my training towards the much coveted Air force pilots wings. I soon discovered that my flying abilities were average at best and I had to work rather hard to please my Instructor. It also, at times, was clear that I just could not please the Harvard which was the basic trainer used at the SAAF’s Central flying school either. I fly her at air shows in South Africa 35 years later and still haven’t mastered her!
In a bid to save myself embarrassment of not being selected to continue the second part of the pilots course on the Air Force’s Aermachi jet trainer, I requested to follow a career in the transport line. I failed to mention that my aerobatic abilities, or lack of, was cited by my Instructor as a rather good reason not to request to fly jets. Oh, I also got air sick on every aerobatic flight with my Instructor!
My solo flight was a sedate affair, cruising around the general flying area with the canopy open. Fortunately I’ve been able to overcome my air sickness issues later in my career. If I, at the time, owned up about my problem, I would have been removed from the pilots course. The DC3 therefore, I decided was where my future in the Air force was to be. Ironically she was referred to by most as the ‘vomit comet’.
I never got to fly the Dakota unfortunately. The career path to the Goony bird was a tour through a light aircraft squadron. This I duly did but the air force had different plans for me. I was posted back to Central Flying School to become an instructor on the Harvard. My time teaching new pilots was brief as the next chapter in my flying career was about to begin.
In 1990, South African Airways needed pilots and I was employed by the national carrier in July of that year. Twenty seven years later I have been privileged to fly the Boeing 737-200, 737-800, 747, Airbus 320, 330 and 340 for the airline. I’ve also had the good fortune to be entrusted with some of these wonderful flying machines at air shows, for both solo and formation displays.
Back in 1995, five years after leaving the Air Force, I was once again reunited with the Harvard. This kick started my air show career and I have been blessed to fly wonderful aircraft at air shows throughout South Africa. This includes the L39 Albatross, T28 Trojan, Yak3, Yak18 and 52, Extra 300, Thunder Mustang and let’s not forget, the Harvard!
Formation aerobatics was a natural progression for me in the air show environment and I have done that in all but the Thunder Mustang and the Yak 3. Lovely Russian that one, she almost killed me once however, and we weren’t even air borne yet. But that is a story for another time!
Since January 2015 I’ve been the leader of The Raptors Aero team. Flying the VAN’s RV7 and 8 series aircraft. The team has been doing formation aerobatics on the South African air show circuit for 2 seasons now.
Since October 2016 our focus has been on the Formation Aerobatic Championships taking place in Zhengzhou during April 2017. I am looking forward to competing in this grand event with a fantastic team!