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Hangar Talk October 2016

Superstitious? Who? Me? by Tom Chalmers

IT IS now nearly sixty years since I made my first solo flight in a tail-dragging Piper Vagabond from the then Stamford Hill Aerodrome, in Durban. At the time I was doing my flying instruction with Natal Aviation under the watchful eyes of Peter Savage, the CFI, and his partner, Alan Williams and my regular instructor, Arthur Morris.

About two years later I did my Commercial Pilot’s Licence test with the then Division of Civil Aviation’s Chief Inspector of Flying, Jacques Germishuys, from the new Virginia Airport. All went well until I was instructed to join the circuit for some landing and take off tests. Joining overhead at 1 000 feet for a right-hand downwind, I caught sight of movement – a SAAF Dakota was coming down the coast and was on a collision course with me. He had obviously not seen me.

My reaction was instinctive as I took evasive action, much to the surprise of Germishuys, who had not seen the Dakota, which fortunately passed below me.

Shaken, I continued the circuit and did a touch-and-go – the first of several which included short landings and takeoffs, precautionary landings, forced landings, glide approaches, flapless landings – Germishuys threw the book at me.

On short finals on my last glide approach to landing, a man suddenly ran across the runway followed close on his heels by a police van – the airfield had yet to be fenced. Again I was forced to take avoiding action. Opening the taps, I flew over the van and performed another circuit, this rime without incident.

“Jock” Germishuys got out of the aircraft and, without a word, went in to see Peter Savage at Natal Aviation, leaving me to sweat and wonder whether or not I had passed. I was called into the office soon afterwards by Peter where Jock congratulated me on earning my CPL.

Then Peter produced a photo album saying: “I want you to see this.” He then started turning over page after page of gruesome pictures of air crashes showing not only wreckage but also the victims. “This is what happens when you ignore flight safety,” he said. “If you are ever tempted to do something foolish, just remember what you have seen here today. That corpse,” he said, pointing to the dead pilot in the photograph, “could be you one day if you ignore the rules of safe flight.”

I have never forgotten those words, nor those which followed: “You may not believe this, but there is a superstition which warns pilots to expect a crisis at various points in their flying lives – at 200 hours, 500 hours, 1 000 hours, 5 000 hours, 10 000 hours and it goes on until you either succumb or retire. Believe it or not.” Reflecting on the two incidents which had occurred that morning, I was inclined to believe him.

Three hundred flight hours later, I was flying in the mountains of Lesotho (Basutoland at the time) and “nearly lost it” as the result of a careless landing on an airstrip.

Shortly afterwards, I accepted a flying job with Suidwes Lugdiens based in Windhoek. Its chief pilot was Marnie Maritz, a former Chief Inspector of Flying in South Africa. He was a real hard task master not accepting anything but the best in flying.

Once I had a charter with two passengers in a Cessna 182 Skylane to a desert airstrip. After landing, my passengers were picked up in a 4x4 to be taken to a mine. I remained behind. On landing, I had been worried that the runway was actually a lot shorter than it looked, so remembering Marnie’s warning about always double-checking the figures, I dug out the POH and started checking.

I still had sufficient fuel for the return flight, and both my passengers were of average weight, so we were OK for takeoff, but it would be wise to check the runway length, particularly as there was a row of fair large thorn bushes near the downwind end. In view of the temperature now pushing a midday 37 degrees, I decided to check the runway length – just in case. So off I trotted “guestimating” the length of my stride. Turning to recalculate the runway length on way back to the aircraft, I saw my passengers arriving. They unloaded a box from the 4x4 which then left while they waited a few minutes for my return..................................................To read the full article please subscribe to our E Magazine Here.

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