Derek Hopkins – The man behind the cheeky slogan stitched onto his flying suit: ‘I refuse to grow up’
By Cheryl Smit
Born on the 22nd August 1944 Derek grew up in Worcester an hour's drive from Cape Town. The town of Worcester lies in the Breede River Valley, surrounded by the majestic Brandwacht, Overhex and Langeberg mountains. Derek attended SACS which was founded in 1829, it is the oldest school in South Africa and one of four schools expressly named by Cecil John Rhodes. The schools are a combination of the South African College Junior School and the South African College High School.
Derek told me that from an early age he always wanted to fly, but unfortunately the SAAF declined his application on the basis that he was 'colour-blind'. This did not deter Derek and he joined the army at 18 and did his 9 months training as a paratrooper spending 3 months in Oudshoorn and 6 months in Bloemfontein.
He then joined the SAR and did his apprenticeship as a Marine Millwright, Derek went on to complete his diploma in Mechanical Engineering and Draphting. After which he travelled to Port Elizabeth and spent one and a half years there fitting out a yacht for his friend. During this time he met his beautiful little wife Maureen or 'little Mo' as he called her. However, 'little Mo' had other plans to travel to the UK to continue her nursing career.
Derek after pining away for 'little Mo' decided to follow her to the UK where he continued his parachuting. He also worked nightshift as a plant manager for Canada Dry Bottling Company, but after a 3 week strike at the plant he packed it up to drive camping bus tours through Europe.
In 1972 Derek married his 'little Mo' in the town of Newcastle in the UK. Together they returned to South Africa and again settled in PE where Maureen gave birth to their two sons Nigel and Shawn. Today their son Nigel is a well known aerobatic pilot and a SAA training captain with three beautiful daughters and their son Shawn is an Architect based in Durban with a son and a daughter.
Wanting to Power fly more than anything else Derek went to see Dr Harold E Ofsowitz who flew a Baron with the registration ZS-HCO, for a colour blind test. He declared Derek's colour blind test as 'defective safe'.
Until such time Derek had flown gliders at the Uitenhage flying club. He was influenced to do power flying as they were often short of tug pilots for towing at the gliding club.
He decided to see John English at the Power flying Club and informed him that he wanted to fly, John being the 'no nonsense' guy that he was, told Derek that 'everyone wants to fly' and he did not believe that Derek would be an enthusiastic person about learning to fly. Derek being the 'Give It Hell' “no nonsense' guy he is, said well how much will it cost me, to which John replied R500.00. Derek went to his car and took out his cheque book and wrote the cheque for R500.00. That same day Derek flew 3 hours.
Derek continued onto his Power license at Progress Airfield and went solo with George Hoskinson within 3 weeks. Derek then spent 3 months tugging gliders at the costly sum of R11.00 per hour.
In 1977 during the recession in PE Derek moved with his family to a farm 'White Hills' in Pretoria where he built a landing strip and his first plane the 'Teenie Two' a single-seat, single-engine sport aircraft in his bedroom, which he named after his wife, 'Little Mo'.
Derek joined the Smith Mining Company, a Geological drilling manufacturing company about 30 years ago as Engineer and Pilot but says he was more the 'general dog's body' in the early years. He flew the Cessna 210 and Cessna 402 in the beginning and later on flew the E90 King Air Beechcraft and the King Air Beechcraft 200 on which he now has +7000 hours flying Medivac for 15 years in-between flying for Smith Mining to places like Ghana, the Central Republic and Tanzania.
During his career Derek has flown to mention only a few:
The DC 3, The Antonov AN2, The various King Air's, The tail wheel Cessna's, The Harvard's, The Extra 300 and The Pilatus PC-6 and last but not least his own home built Teenie Two. All in all Derek has notched up 14,000 hours in his logbook.
Today Derek still flies for Smith Mining, but mostly spends his time helping and supporting his son Nigel Hopkins, South Africa's very own National Aerobatic Champion, World Rally Flying Champion and Ace airshow pilot as technical support at the various air events.
Derek's most prized possession is his Vietnam helmet which he was offered to purchase from a Vietnam veteran at the Oshkosh Fly-Market for $25.00. Derek was so thrilled about the helmet that he gave the veteran $100.00 for it.
Derek has another hobby and spends as much time as he and his 'little Mo' can spare, driving off into Africa in their rigged out 4X4 Ford Ranger and his 60D Canon with its 100-400 lens shooting the awesome wildlife we have here in Africa. Right now they are planning on leaving early September for another African adventure to Namibia.
A lot of people just think because they get older means they can't do as much. But believe me… This most certainly does not apply to Derek Hopkins. 'Give it Hell' my friend.
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