Ray Watts my ATC memories (part 3h)

By Ray Watts


"There's nothing like the smell of burnt Jet fuel in the morning". As time went by, we got more and more King Air 90s and Aero Commander turbines visiting us and although some folks found the smell of burnt jet fuel to be unpleasant, many of us did not. Just walking across the apron in the morning one would catch a whiff of that heady smell and that reminded one that this was aviation heaven - the apron on an airfield, I loved that smell as it still brings back memories of the happiest ten years that I spent at Grand Central. This was my home from home.

There were two odd ball aircraft at Grand Central. One was the very old Twin Bonanza Be50 ZS-CDM. This was a 1956 model which came to South Africa in 1956 and was then sold in the Congo as 9Q-CTH. She came back to South Africa in 1980 and was owned by a gentleman based in Potchefstroom. Ken Heuer, a local aircraft dealer, flew the aircraft up to GC in 1984 and she was left standing on the apron for a long time. Dave Becker tried to get her transferred to the SAAF Museum, but seeing as she had no SAAF or other military history they were not interested. I'm not 100% sure what happened to this aircraft as it was still standing in the same spot when I left GC in 1985, but I think she may have been scrapped.

ZS-IGZ was a Fuji FA200 Aero Subaru. This one was imported by the GC Flying Club who wanted to become the local agents for the aircraft. It was touted as an aerobatic trainer and also as a cruiser. Fitted with a 180hp Lycoming IO-360-B1B, it had a reasonable cruising speed of about 125 kts. She could carry four people but was underpowered at the altitudes we have here on the Reef. The club decided not to apply for the agency and she remains the only one of her tribe here in SA. She is still around as ZU-ASM and I believe is based at Zynkraal near Pretoria. Ian Harvey used to use her for business trips when he was working for LECO (Pty) Ltd and servicing the laboratory equipment on the various mines that use LECO equipment. He loved this little aircraft and would sing its praises regularly.

Robina Anderson

In a previous article I mentioned the ladies who worked for Rennies and the only picture I've managed to track down is one of Robina Anderson that I took in 2008 when she was working for Heliquip. She is still around although now very much retired and I still have contact with her through Face Book. I've not been able to track down Sue Vosper at all as she has emigrated with her husband Dick to the UK.

Another rather unusual aircraft (as compared to the numerous Cessna's' and Pipers) was the Beagle Pup ZS-IGY. She belonged to a Mr John Whittaker (who also owned the Lake Buccaneer A2-ZIF and the Beech 18 A2-AOS mentioned in an earlier article). The only reason I didn't mention her then was that I didn't have a photograph of the aircraft, but now thanks to Alan Taylor at the SAAF Museum, I have one. I flew with John in this aircraft quire regularly and it was a delightful machine to fly. A little bit under powered but with excellent handling qualities. She was semi aerobatic but, here I must admit that I don't enjoy aerobatics at all, so we never put her capabilities to the test. Fitted with a 150hp Lycoming IO-320-A2B and capable of carrying four people, she was a bit breathless at our altitude. This aircraft is still around as ZU-AIR and the last time I saw here was at Petit in 2015 when she was under rebuild and looking very smart.

This aircraft belonged to Brian Zeederburg and was based at Grand Central for a short while. It is a Procaer F.15B Picchio (which in Italian means Woodpecker) and this one was an early one. She had a wooden construction. Although I have stated before that I don't enjoy aerobatics at all, on one particular flight Brian and I threw this aircraft around the skies. The scary part was that a week later she was permanently grounded due to glue failure. Scary thought - thank goodness nothing broke while we were flying.

John Pocock was the manager of Rennies Air and one day he arrived - literally - in a Piper Family Cruiser ZS-DAW. The reason for the arrival was, I believe, that somebody had over tightened the new bungee cords that had been fitted - a likely excuse. The aircraft was parked in one of the T-hangars and John set about restoring her to her former glory. She didn't see the light of day for months but eventually emerged in a very neat blue & white colour scheme. Very smart. John sold her on and I lost track of the little one until recently when she appeared at Stellenbosch in a very smart red & white scheme as ZS-VPK. This aircraft arrived here in South Africa in November 1948 and it's fantastic to see her so well looked after even in 2021. This makes her seventy-three years old.

Last month I said I was lucky to have a photo of ZS-RAT, the C310 in both Rennies and Capital Air colours. Well, as I mentioned then, she was sold in Namibia - here she is in her Namibian registration of V5-RAT. She was unfortunately written off in Namibia. It's amazing what one can find if one asks.

EAA 322 Club House

The first club house that EAA 322 had at Grand Central was one that was built onto the end of a block of T hangars. This one was built over a single weekend by almost all the members of 322 (me included) and served for quite a few years. It was during this construction that I managed to singe Bob Ewing's rather hairy legs when he walked past behind me just as I was cutting an 'I' beam with an angle grinder. I'm not sure who threw a glass of beer on his legs but that stopped any further injury. He never let me forget that incident. There were many memorable parties held in that club house and it was here that I was introduced to Peter Hengst's Glühwein - very potent indeed but warming in the winter. This club house was eventually replaced by a brick structure on the southern boundary of the airfield, A very nice club house but subject to many robberies as it was rather isolated. The Chapter now meets at the Dickie Fritz Shell Hole in Edenvale.

Placo GC Formo

Placo GC were quite intent on putting together a Piper Cherokee formation for air shows and quite a lot of practice was put in. However, there were no experts in formation flying on the Placo staff to coach the instructors and after a few practices, the idea was abandoned. The manager of PGC decided that seeing as Placo Head Office were not paying for the formo practices, it was too expensive.

In a previous article I mentioned an EAA member called John Bonnard. When I first got to know John, he owned a Luscombe ZS-UKT and eventually he decided to upgrade to a bigger aircraft and bought Cessna 180 ZS-DNC. She was neat when John bought her, but he really went to town with the polishing of the aluminium and turned her into the beauty that you see here. John flew her for many years and then when the engine needed an overhaul, he put her into storage on his plot near Lanseria and that is where she sits today. John says that he's going to get her flying again. I really hope so as many folks have tried to buy her from him but without any luck. He also has a Luscombe stored there which he imported from the USA some years ago and which also needs some restoring.

Bill Keil's Auster is better known as ZS-UKB, but was first registered as ZS-IZK when she was imported from Rhodesia as VP-YNO. I haven't been able to track down a photo of her in that registration. When she first arrived at Grand Central, she was patched up with Duct-tape as she'd been caught outside in a hailstorm. The aircraft was originally fitted with a Blackburn Cirrus motor but the availability of spares for this one in SA was severely lacking and Bill decided to fit a Lycoming 0320E2D 150hp engine. This engine came from a Cessna 177 Cardinal ZS-EWW which crashed into the valley off the end of Rwy 17 on 6 Sept 1971. This engine made all the difference to the performance of the Auster. Bill eventually sold this aircraft on to Mark Sahd in Queenstown, who had her rebuilt and repainted in her original Southern Rhodesian Air Force colours as SR28. She is now part of Mark's collection on immaculate aircraft.

One of the best-known Cessna 206's on the airport must have been Jimmy Pophams ZS-EDG, alternately known as Jimmy's Bus. I have struggled to find a decent picture of her but here you go. This was the aircraft that I took the Spitfire photographs out of. She was used a lot by Jimmy in support of his crop sprayers that were out in the field doing what they did best. It was rumoured that he never carried an aeronautical map with him, just a Caltex road map.

Eric de Chalain and I hired this aircraft to go down to Virginia for a long weekend. My uncle & aunt from Rhodesia were spending a holiday at Salt Rock and the intention was that my sister Tracy & I would spend the weekend with them and fly back on the Monday afternoon. We also had Eric's wife Mary and Charles Bucklow and his wife on board. On the trip down we got as far as Harrismith and the weather ahead didn't look good. Eric managed to contact an SAA aircraft and get a weather report from him. The weather was clampers all the way to the coast, so Eric made the decision to turn back. Charles got most upset about this decision because he'd put a deposit down on hotel accommodation. He was insisting that Eric follow the Tugela valley all the way to the coast. The atmosphere on the aircraft got quite heated when Eric and I over ruled him and went home. Just as well we did because there was a report later that day of a fatal accident in the Berg.

ZS-EDG now serves with Working on Fire as a spotter and transport aircraft. It's great to see her still going strong.

That's all for now folks. See ya all next month.

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