Ray Watts, my ATC memories (part 3j)

By Ray Watts


As the years have gone by, memories tend to become a little muddled and this is the case with the tale of Luscombe ZS-BTL. This little gem actually belonged to Jacob Kalt, the pilot of the ill-fated DC3 ZS-UAS that crashed at Henneman in April 1988. I mentioned that she belonged to Phil Herselman but, he part owned another Luscombe, ZS-BWI, with John Bonnard - this one became ZS-UKT. Phil also owned a Chipmunk, ZS-JJG.

The Beech Musketeer ZS-ECE was owned by a German lady whose name I cannot remember, but it was flown by Jacob Kalt as well. He was the first vegetarian I had ever met and he introduced me to some very tasty snacks that he brought to the tower.

I was reminded of another Auster that used to live at GC and that was ZS-BXX. This one was owned by Heinz Giese. He also owned one of two 400hp Piper Comanches that lived at GC (ZS-DZZ). I said previously that this one belonged to Dave Charlton, but I was wrong. Dave owned ZS-DZY.

Photo Dr Leitch & Co and GC Flying Club Logo

I've not really mentioned the Grand Central Flying Club as this club was winding down after the 1970s fuel crisis. The last committee was chaired by Dr Ian Leitch with members Dr Greta Drummond-Leitch, Barry Stone, Richard Huggett and Larry Beamish. I was just talking to Larry Beamish and we realised that he's the only member of that committee who is still with us.

Photo Jeff Birch and Laurie Kay

There were two SAA pilots who did a lot of instruction at GC over the weekends - not basic instruction but more advanced stuff like tail wheel conversions, instrument training etc. I had the privilege of flying and becoming house friends with both of them and their sudden deaths were a great shock to the flying fraternity. I was struggling to get a picture of Jeff and managed to contact his widow Gill. She sent me this fantastic photo of the two of them together. Face book has it's uses, as that is how I managed to track Gill down.

Photo old airfield with yellow circle on it

One of the features of older airfields around the world are the flashing light beacons that were on them. Rand Airport is probably the best known one around and was, until about a year ago, still working. Grand Central's one - marked in the yellow circle on the photo, was a flashing light made up of numerous green neon tubes. It wasn't terribly bright but with the low ambient light of the area was visible from at least ten miles away - quite adequate for the times. The beacon was on top of the Multispray hangar and was quite a climb to reach it. Replacing the neon tubes was a hazardous exercise to say the least and one I luckily never had to do. Grand Central was one up on Rand at that stage - we had an NDB - they didn't. The NDB was on 372.5 Mhz and coded GC. The NDB aerial was next to Multispray's hangar which wasn't a good spot as there were trees and the hangar building blanking it off. It was moved to a place on the southern boundary of the airfield, away from all the buildings and was much more efficient. Although this NDB is no longer operational, it was a great help to pilots and their aircraft in its day.

This Cessna 182 was based at GC for many years, where she was owned and flown by a dentist Dr. Hugh Ferri. He became my personal dentist and we became good friends. He used this aircraft to fly to various dental clinics that he operated around the Limpopo (Northern Transvaal) province. He loved horses and I had a very old grey called Woden who I never really rode as he was getting too old. Dr Ferri offered him a home at his place in Wendywood (when there were still plots there) and he lived out his last days as a one horse powered lawn mower.

In 1975/6 Jarlin Aviation, based to Baragwanath, imported seven aircraft from France. These were the Robin and Socata Rallye. They demonstrated the aircraft all over the country and Grand Central was no exception. We had these two aircraft visit us on a Saturday morning and lots of folks had flights in them. According to what I heard later in the clubhouse, the people who had flown them were suitably impressed. However, for some unknown reason, these aircraft didn't sell well here in South Africa. Personally, I think it was because the big three American companies held the market. This was, in my opinion, a pity, because these aircraft were really good.

This Baron 58 was flown by the nicest young Swiss/French lady Pirette Piroz. Everybody liked her. The aircraft was operated by Rennies Air among other charter companies and was based at Rand Airport (where she still is today). Pirette was fairly short and found that the Baron was best suited to her as she could see out of it easily. She eventually joined Rennies full time. With the Rennies fleet being mainly Cessna 310 and 402 aircraft, she had the problem of not being able to see over the panel easily - this was solved by sitting on a large cushion. One could, at times, see the apprehension on the passenger's faces when their pilot walked out to the aircraft carrying a large cushion, however once they'd flown with her, they'd ask for her by name next time they flew. She eventually left Rennies to convert on to helicopters for Republic Helicopters in Cape Town. She eventually went back to Switzerland and flew a few helicopters for the Swiss Mountain Rescue service. I've searched everywhere I can think of for a photo of her, but apparently, she was rather camera shy and I haven't been able to track one down. Anybody got one - I'd love a copy.

This aircraft wasn't actually based at GC, but visited regularly on charter flights. When I knew her, she was painted white with Avocado Green and Gold stripes and I'll never forget one afternoon when she took off on Rwy 35 and there was a thunder storm to the north of the field. The sun shone on this aircraft and the sight of her in the sunlight with the black clouds behind is one I won't forget in a hurry.

Frikkie Moolman

Frikkie Moolman was my best friend ever - we grew up together in Birchleigh, Kempton Park. My family and I moved there in 1957 (I was 6) and our nearest neighbours were the Moolman family. We became instant friends as Frik was only a few months older than me. He joined the SAAF after school as a pupil pilot and then left them to pursue a career in civi street. He worked hard to get his hours up for his Comm license, even building caravans at the Slipstream factory in Benoni. He eventually got his Comm and IF ratings and got a position flying this Cessna 402B for Saget Trust (Pty) Ltd. This company was owned by Charles Wotherspoon and they flew all over the country. Frik also did a lot of outside charters to keep the aircraft busy. We flew together regularly and it was in this aircraft that I took part, as a navigator, in my only State Presidents Air Race (1976). We finished stone last. Our friendship continued until he was killed in Italy during the World Power Flying Championships at Savona on 23 June 1984. I still have contact with his sister Marianna and brother Renier, who flew in the 2021 PTAR race.

One of the absolute characters at Grand Central was Corrie Albrecht. She was an Austrian lady who ran a business importing and exporting African Curios. She bought this Cessna 210 so that she could visit various countries such as Rhodesia and Malawi, where most of her stock came from. Some of the pilots she used to fly her around were Larry Beamish and Peter Marais. She was great fun at the club New Year parties and could almost drink anybody under the table.

This was the first Piper Chieftain to be based at Grand Central and was owned by a farming co-operative called Vetsak. She was flown by an ex-Rhodesian pilot John Smith. His weekly flights took him from Grand Central to Bothaville and then on to either Pietermaritzburg or Ficksburg, depending on where the boss wanted to go. Vetsak's boss was an old WW2 pilot and loved polling the Chieftain along, which John let him do with pleasure. There was another director who used to try to tell John what to do but John had a remedy for this - he'd climb to about 11000 ft without oxygen and as soon as this difficult passenger was asleep, he'd descend to about 8 or 9000 ft and have piece & quiet. John told me about a trip where it appeared as though the gear wouldn't extend and the difficult passenger was sitting in the righthand seat. John made him pump the gear down. This served to shut him up and he never insisted on the right-hand seat again.

On the morning of 6 March 1979, I got a phone call from Rand Airport asking if Cessna 182 ZS-FCM had landed at GC. I told him that the aircraft hadn't landed and had also not established contact. I tried calling him while the controller from Rand was still on the phone but without any contact being established. We were both now worried that something had gone wrong. S&R was activated and it was discovered that the aircraft, flown by an eccentric journalist Ernie Christie, had been deliberately flown into a block of flats killing not only the pilot but the couple who lived in the flat as well. The story goes that Ernie's girl friend had dumped him and he decided to take her out. This was the most horrendous crash I've ever had to deal with.

I hope you've enjoyed this and always appreciate any comments you have. See ya next time.

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