Ray Watts, my ATC memories (Part 3d)

By Ray Watts

As I mentioned last month, I'd have a look at the companies and characters that were around during my time there.

The main person that I had a lot to do with was the late Jeanette Rennie, who eventually became the airport manager. She joined the Grand Central staff as the accountant in the mid-70s after Des Yaxley left to start his own accounting practice. She moved into the large cottage on the premises known as the Witches Hut. I once asked her if she was related to the Rennie family, but she laughed and said no. She wasn't the easiest person to work with, but as long as your work was done to her satisfaction, then all was OK. She had a way of pushing all my wrong buttons when she tried to tell me how to do my job when it came to the collection of landing fees. We had a perfectly workable system of collecting landing fees either in cash or on an established account. She wanted all the visitors to pay cash and not to allow anybody to charge their landing fees to an account. This was a problem because a lot of the charter pilots, especially from other airfields, didn't always carry a lot of cash on them, mainly just lunch money. At this time, the DCA laid down landing fee structures for all licensed airports and she wanted to scrap that and institute her own, more expensive, landing fee structure. As I was the frontline guy collecting the fees, I would have to deal with any complaints that came in about the amount charged. We eventually sorted this nonsense out when Roger Lea stepped in and explained to her about the regulations from DCA.

When it came to landing fees, at that time, any government owned or Military aircraft did not pay landing fees and the people who leased the T hangars had their landing fees incorporated in their hangar rent. On my own, I decided that all homebuilt aircraft wouldn't have to pay either. Made me popular with the EAA guys I must admit.

She had the habit of taking her dogs for a walk after work and usually wore the tightest of short shorts. Made her very popular with the guys I must admit. Away from work she was actually quite a sweet person.

The Grand Central Flying Club house was the place to be on a Saturday or Sunday night. This was the time when all the "problems" were discussed among the members and a great social gathering was held. It would usually start just after sundown when members had put their aircraft away and settled down for a chat. We'd start by moving a couple of the coffee tables together and putting chairs around them. The waiter would then bring a large platter of the world's best 'slap' chips. As more people arrived the call would be "make the circle bigger" and more chips would arrive. The subjects discussed ranged from safety issues to war time stories from our older members and everything in between. Students were encouraged to join in as their instructors would be there and all sorts of things could be and were discussed. It made for a great learning environment.

Naturally, there were other social events at the club as well. One was the annual darts competition between the Johannesburg Light Plane Club and the Grand Central Flying Club. This evening usually started out as a serious darts competition but by the end of the evening it got to be a lot of fun. Normally, in flying, the rule is 'eight hours between bottle and throttle' but in this competition it was eight seconds between bottle and throttle. One had to consume a beer as quickly as possible, stand up and throw your three darts at the dart board. Many missed of course and I remember seeing Barry Stone walking out of the club with a dart stuck in his shoulder.

We hardly ever had any problems with the TPA cops, but one night they decided to set a trap, just inside the gate on the main road to the airfield, to catch all the drunk drivers. They arrested quite a few guys but had to let them go because the trap was actually on private property and they had no jurisdiction there.

Anneline Kriel-Kerzner used to be a regular passenger on the King Air Beech 90 3D-LKK on trips to Sun City. This aircraft was flown by Dick Pringle, who had a wicked sense of humour. She used to drive a carrot-coloured Ferrari 308 GTS and was habitually late. There was one particular day when Sol Kerzner was already waiting for her and we could hear that Ferrari roaring its way through Halfway House.

Pretoria Aardwerke heli ZS-PAW

Command Airways' Bell Long Ranger ZS-HGG

In the late 1970s, an American Don van Dyke (pronounced the American way) who joined a company, called Pretoria Aard Werke as their helicopter pilot - their machine was ZS-PAW. He eventually bought the aircraft from them and started a scheduled helicopter service from Jan Smuts airport to the centre of Pretoria. This was Command Airways, which eventually brought in Bell Long Ranger ZS-HGG. This company was bought out by Henlook Corp and was eventually sold to Magnum Airlines. Don was an ex-US Army Huey pilot from the Vietnam era and could really handle a helicopter. He joined Comair after this and has subsequently retired.

I remember, one quiet afternoon, sitting doing not much when I got a call from a Foxtrot Oscar Charlie Victor Delta (F-OCVD) who was inbound from Wonderboom and asking for landing instructions.

We rarely got foreign registered aircraft on the airfield, so this was quite exciting. I gave him his landing instructions (straight in on Rwy 17) and was surprised to see a Piper Super Cub landing. Once parked, the pilot came up to the box and introduced himself as Hal Lund. His story was very surprising and interesting to say the least. He had been attached to the US Embassy in Madagascar and had owned a Piper Cherokee Six there as well as the Super Cub. The Cherokee Six was very well equipped with Nav Aids. This aircraft was eventually damaged beyond repair and Hal decided to transfer the avionics to the Super Cub. This is the only Super Cub I ever saw that had two VHF radios, HF Radio, ADF, VOR, DME and ILS fitted as well as an eight-track stereo plater.

Hal Lund flew this Piper Super Cub Madagascar via Beira, Lourenco Marques, and Wonderboom eventually landing at Grand Central

Hal had flown the Super Cub all the way from Madagascar via Beira, Lourenco Marques and Wonderboom. This aircraft eventually became ZS-JEC. This little aircraft had quite a history, having started out life with the Madagascar Air Force (ALAT) before taking up the civilian registration of 5R-MDE. Hal registered her in France as there were still sanctions against South Africa in place. The picture shows her in her ALAT colour scheme.

Hal and I became firm friends and flew all over the countryside together. There was one memorable trip that we took to Durban. We stopped off in Ladysmith for fuel (and a pee) and on the apron was a Cessna 206 belonging to Maluti Air, which was being loaded for a trip into Lesotho. The cargo was cabbages and a coffin and the loader had put the cabbages in first then the coffin which had caused the aircraft to sit down on it's tail. The pilot's language cannot be repeated in decent company but to say the least, was colourful.

ZS-JEC was part of the Multi-Spray fleet as a crop duster at some stage and eventually went to the USA as N49JC when her owner, Ben Meyer, emigrated to the USA in 2015. Hal went on to establish an electronics business in Pretoria but I've lost track of him.

Thursday mornings were quite busy as this was the day that the DCA flying inspectors were there to renew IF ratings and do new comm and IF pilot flight tests. This is where I got to meet people like Arthur Thomas, Carl Sembach, Des Grace, Al Koleski and Robbie Robinson among others. The DCA inspectors, although strict, were very nice people.

Robbie Robinson was an ex SAAF Canberra pilot and had initially come to Placo Grand Central to acclimatise himself to civilian instruction before joining the staff at DCA. I clearly remember one day when Ian Dornan and I took him flying in a Piper Cherokee 140 to show him the GF area. He sat in the back on this flight as it was also a flying lesson for me. After we landed, he was looking rather pale and when we asked him if he was OK, he said that if it hadn't been for the calm, serene look on our faces on take-off he would have aborted the take-off. He was experiencing first-hand, how low the power of the 140 was compared to the military jet he was used to and that Cherokee 140s at this altitude are not really meant to be flown three up.

Eric de Chalain's delightful Turbulent ZS-UJE

One of the regular visiting home built pilots was Eric de Chalain, who owned a delightful Turbulent ZS-UJE, which he kept at White Hills Farm and which was north of Grand Central.

Alan White's Taylorcraft ZS-ARZ

Bob Ewing with a Beech 17 Staggerwing ZS-PWD and which now resides in a museum in the USA

Derek Hopkins's Teeny Two Little Mo ZS- UHC

A Headwind B ZS-UHD

Nick Turvey's Tailwind ZS-UAT seen here with Noel Otten

Dr Mickey Finn's Breezy ZS-UDH which was often flown by Brian Stableford

John Bonnard's Luscombe ZS-UKT

The EAA chapter 322 was very active and some of the members were Alan White with his Taylorcraft ZS-ARZ, Ian Harvey with Stinson ZS-UKD, Bill Keil, who owned the Auster ZS-IZK (Isaac Newton) and which became ZS-UKD, Bob Ewing with Beech 17 Staggerwing ZS-PWD and which now resides in a museum in the USA., Derek Hopkins with Little Mo ZS- UHC and Peter Hengst, who owned two CASA built Bucker Jungmann aircraft. A Headwind B ZS-UHD I unfortunately can't remember who owned this one though it may have been Jimmy Popham. Nick Turvey's Tailwind ZS-UAT (seen here with Noel Otten), Dr Mickey Finn's Breezy ZS-UDH and which was often flown by Brian Stableford. Other pilots were Dave van Rensburg with Piper Vagabond ZS-UKX, John Bonnard with Luscombe ZS-UKT and many others. These folks were our weekend entertainment and they enjoyed every minute of their flying. Often the radios in some of these wouldn't work but this wasn't a major problem. As long as I knew what they wanted to do, then all was fine.

In 1980, I got married to Debbie Anderson and she became a regular visitor to the tower and to the airport in general

Ian Harvey's Stinson ZS-UKD in which the author and wife Debbie flew as passengers to the Ranch Hotel

Dave van Rensburg's Piper Vagabond ZS-UKX

ZS-VMF (Beech V35 Bonanza)

ZS-UKB (Auster) flown by Bill Keil

Chapter 322 organised regular fly-away trips and the only one Debbie & I went on was a weekend trip to Ranch Motel. There were some nine of us in six aircraft. The aircraft were ZS-PWD (Beech 17) flown by Bob Ewing, ZS-ARZ (Taylorcraft) flown by Alan White, ZS-UKB (Auster) flown by Bill Keil, ZS-VMF (Beech V35 Bonanza) flown by Russel McKenzie and ZS-UKD (Stinson 108) flown by Ian Harvey, with Debbie & I as pax and Dave van Rensburg (Piper Vagabond) ZS-UKX. Debbie sat in the right-hand seat and Ian told her to take the controls and fly the aircraft. This lasted for a few seconds until we hit a little turbulence where she simply let go everything and said, "I can't do this". Very amusing indeed.

When we got to Ranch Motel and checked in, the manager became a little flustered with the sudden arrival of all these people. A funny side of this was Bob Ewing, who had signed in with his initials and surname (R.J. Ewing) and the manager wanted to know from us which stupid person had signed in as JR Ewing. Bob was not a small man and he stood up and said in a loudish voice "I did". The manager backed down immediately.

I became the liaison person between the GC management and EAA 322, and as such, attended all their committee meetings. This formed a vital link between the two organisations and all sorts of issues were sorted out amicably.

Escom's Aero Commander 980sÖ.

Ö.and Cessna Turbo 310Q (ZS-EVK)

Escom had some of their fixed wing fleet based at GC during this time. Their pilots were Tony Clegg, John Waller and Claus Hilderbrandt. They had two Aero Commander 980s (ZS-KZY & ZS-KZZ), an Aero Commander 690 ZS-JRC and a Cessna Turbo 310Q (ZS-EVK) and were very busy. Later, after I'd left GC, they also based some of their helicopter fleet here.

In the late 1970s we started to have a spate of fuel thefts from various aircraft that were parked outside and one particular owner who was hit regularly was Dr Freddie Herbst and his Cessna 401 ZS-IAV. His hangar was right at the end of the row near the fence on the south western side of the airfield. The airport didn't have any sort of security at the time and it fell to me to organise SAP patrols past the airport on a nightly basis. This wasn't always successful and Freddie and I decided to spend some nights keeping watch ourselves. We never caught the culprits, but with the increased activity around the hangar, the thefts stopped.

Bob Hoover with Aero Commander ZS-IZN that he used while in SA

One of the highlights of my time there was in 1975 when I got to meet the great Bob Hoover. He was here during the 1975 Aero Africa show at Lanseria and he came over to Grand Central with Aero Commander ZS-IZN to practice. He was surprised at the temperatures and density altitudes that we experience in this country. He was an absolutely professional gentleman and a pleasure to deal with. I watched him thrill the crowds at Lanseria with his show.

In the early 80s, Fedfoods and EL Bateman construction built two new hangars on the airfield and housed their aircraft there.

Fedfoods based their Aero Commander 980 ZS-KZN which flown by Don Rothero at GC. His young son Chris used to visit me regularly. Chris has just left Cathay Pacific as a Boeing 777 captain (COVID-19 retrenchment) and Don has retired in Australia.

The EL Bateman an Aero Commander 980 ZS-KZW

The EL Bateman hangar initially housed their Cherokee six ZS-ELB, but they soon acquired an Aero Commander 980 ZS-KZW and this was flown by Cam Walker. Cam went on to fly the weather modification Aero Commanders out of Bethlehem and now lives in the Western Cape

We didn't have nearly as many helicopters at GC as there are now. There were only two based there that were airworthy and as mentioned before, there were three Sikorsky 55s stored there. One of the Jet Rangers that lived at GC was Command Airways ZS-PAW and there was ZS-HIA, but I'm damned if I can remember who owned it. This was flown by Alan McDermott who, after flying, went sailing. When I last heard of him, he and his wife Julie were living in New Zealand.

The Sikorsky S55 CR-ALO which had flown down from Mozambique via Wonderboom to GC

One afternoon I was sitting around not doing too much (afternoons were a quiet time) when I heard a very strange and loud noise approaching. Looking around, I spotted a large helicopter approaching from the north. It was a Sikorsky S55 CR-ALO which had flown down from Mozambique via Wonderboom (for customs), but whose radio had failed en-route to GC. This was the first time I'd ever seen one of these flying. Quite spectacular.

Dr Ian Leitch's Meyers 200C (ZS-EAZ)

One of the more unique aircraft was the Meyers 200C (ZS-EAZ) which belonged to Dr Ian Leitch, seen in the picture with his wife Dr Greta Drummond Leitch.

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