Like most pilots, Nico's association with aviation started at very young age when his father would take them to Rand or Baragwaneth airports as wall as to every military air show that he could. The live firing displays by the Sabres at AFB Waterkloof have fueled a passion for Warbirds that has remained with him to this day. He fondly remembers from the hundreds of visits to the Saxonwold war museum how the collection grew and has been meticulously refurbished through the last 50 years.
In those days one was still conscripted into the forces and so had very little to say where you ended up and much to his dismay he was not chosen for the Air Force but ended up in the Armoured Corps instead and sadly, for the next twenty three years, because of other commitments, he did not pursue his passion for flying.
However, one day in November 1995 whilst driving out of a construction site in Babsfontein a Trike passed low overhead, the pilot waved and on the spur of the moment he decided to follow and soon arrived at Microland. Here he met Steve Roe who gave him his first impromptu lesson in a Windless Trike. Nico was hooked and after ten hours and fifty minutes he soloed in ZU-ARM got his MPL soon after. Seven years later on his 50th birthday his wife treated him to a flight in ZS-ARM, a Tiger Moth and the relationship with similar registration was to repeat itself some years later. Today, ZS-LLV, his Maule M6 shares the hangar on his farm to the south of Johannesburg with ZU-LLV the Bushbaby Explorer.
In February 1996 he purchased a Windlass Streak, ZU-AGW and flew 390 wonderful hours in her before developing an itch for fixed wings. Six years later in 2002 Capt. Sandy Kirpatrick took him up in Avid Flyer ZU-WSC and 4H50min later sent Nico solo. Two months later he bought Avid Flyer ZU-BJE from Sandy and after 98 hours and some memorable adventures with her, he started with his next love affair. A Maule soon afterwards joined his stable.
His passion for Warbirds and youthful attempts at building stayed with him and so did the dream to build his obsession, a Spitfire. The Loehle Corporation in America had what he was looking for, a kit build Spitfire which they called the 'Spitfire Elite'. This was a development from their 5151 Mustang and P40 Warhawk. In December 2004 he purchased the wood and fabric kit and about 25% arrived on the 9th June 2005. It took three months to build the fuselage but other than the tail feathers arriving in 2007, nothing has been forthcoming since then. Nico does not believe that their prototype has flown and they do not respond to any communications at all, and the many promises that have been made for further parts have been reneged upon leaving him with an expensive aborted project gathering dust in his hangar.
Having purchased a Rotax 912S for the Spitfire project in 2005 and being required taking delivery of it in January 2008, he started looking for a project to build around the Rotax which was now gathering dust in a corner of his hangar. The 912 that was to power the WW II fighter replica now powers the more sedate Bushbaby Explorer. Nico bought kit number 130 in April 2008 and started work in that October. The build took about 750 hours over 14 months, much of it being built by Peter Magnus at his home in Edenvale, the rest in Nico's hangar at his farm in Alewynspoort where he painted and they assembled her. Already having two white aircraft with either blue or red trim, he decided to go for a warbird scheme and painted the Bushbaby a drab olive green. There were many revisits to the instrument panel which he tried to keep as similar to the Maule's as possible, the switches and fuses are in the same sequence as is the Gps, transponder and radio which are centrally placed under the compass.
On the 9 September 2009 Mike Cathro took ZU-LLV up for her maiden flight and Nico did his first conversion flight with him on the 22nd September once his test flight snags had been sorted out and finished his conversion with Mark Gregson a few flying hours later.
Nico says “It was a fun project, and there was no need to rush as I could fly my Maule whenever I wanted. The Explorer is an absolute delight to fly with more than sufficient power with the 100Hp. She takes off in less than 90M when at maximum weight, lands on a tickey and responds to every input instantly and without any vices. The stall is a non-event and she recovers with a trickle of power back to level flight. For anyone wanting to start off with their first build project, the Explorer is a winner. Easy to build, a gentle lady to fly the Bushbaby uses about 13L/hour at cruise which is about 95Mph TAS at 5000Rpm.”
Nico still has both the Trike and Avid and admits that it is its time to finish their refurbishment, which he started some time ago. He is one of those fortunate individuals that can walk from his back door, open his hanger and go fly at a whim. His home strip, Jenico, a mix between his and his wife Jenny's' names is only 45 meters away from the house and is 535m long. The take off is down a 14m decline at 06 deg. and the landing uphill at 24. The prevailing cross wind keeps him in practice and Nico says, “It is open to anyone as long they have done the necessary inspections and have a suitable aircraft. What adds the cream on top is that it's within the JHB helicopter GF and I have aircraft over head all the time and seem to have my own aerobatic display whenever the Pitt's, Harvard's and others come out this way to practice.”
My thanks to Mark Gregson who flew Nico's toy to perfection as he formatted the stunning Bushbaby on the Maule piloted by Nico himself for the early morning photo shoot over the hills to the south of Johannesburg.
For more information on the Bushbaby range contact Stefan at Kit Planes for Africa.