Ray Watts my ATC memories (part 3s)

By Ray Watts


Greetings again folks.

Last month I made an error with the Grob registration and picture.

I mentioned ZS-UZU as the first Grob I'd ever seen but I was wrong; the registration was ZS-URW as seen in the pictures. ZS-UZU was the second one and she belonged to Frank Rerhl. Frank now lives in Adelaide but still visits here regularly.

In early 1980, a Rhodesian registered Piper Tri-Pacer landed after a flight from Messina and parked on the grass triangle in front of the tower. The pilot came over to me to settle his landing fees and asked if I had a hammer to knock his tie-down pegs into the grass. I had a two-pound hammer in the tower specifically for that purpose. (I'd been asked many times). I lent him the hammer and then proceeded with looking after the rest of a rather busy circuit. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw him bashing the leading edge of the left wing. I didn't say anything at the time, but when he brought the hammer back, he explained that seeing as the aircraft was now damaged, he could not fly it back to Zimbabwe and would be forced to sell it here. He succeeded in finding a buyer locally, but I lost track of the aircraft over the years. Earlier in the year there was an advert on an on-line forum for a Tri-Pacer for sale and the owner had put in the registration but no photo. I had a photo of the aircraft and phoned him. In our discussion it turned out that this was the Tri-Pacer that I'd seen at GC.

One of my favourite Piper Arrows was ZS-ICY. She belonged to Placo Grand Central and was used for advanced training. This aircraft was the 200hp version and could easily carry four people and lots of fuel out of GC in the summer. Part of the training was max all up weight flying and I therefore got to ride in the back quite often. At this stage, she was still in her factory yellow and white colour scheme, but I must admit I much preferred her current colour scheme.

This Cessna 170 was based at GC, but we seldom saw her out of her hangar. As a matter of fact, I'd been at the airfield for more than a year before I actually knew she was there. As you can see from the photo, she was all red. She was one of the aircraft that was damaged in 2000 when a tornado tore through the airport and demolished a lot of the T hangars. This aircraft was painstakingly rebuilt at Rand and painted in a very attractive blue & white colour scheme. She now lives in Finland.

This was a most unusual looking aircraft and visited us on several occasions from her home on Bobby Oltoff's farm, which was roughly where Tedderfield is today. This aircraft was a Republic RC3 Sea bee and as you can see, she was an amphibian. This aircraft had a 200hp engine, but really struggled out of GC on a hot day with a max load. This aircraft was prepared at Grand Central for a flight to Kariba and was flown by Mark French with three passengers. This aircraft unfortunately crashed on take-off from Kariba and all aboard were killed. A sad end to a rather unusual aircraft.

People who know me will know that I just love the Piper Super Cub and I was very excited one morning when this brand new one arrived at Grand Central. She was flown by Jeff Earle, a friend of mine and was being shown to Jimmy Popham (he of Multispray fame). Jimmy had a number of Super Cubs in his fleet. He didn't buy this one and she was subsequently sold in Botswana. I didn't actually know that Piper was still producing Super Cubs at that stage, so seeing a new one was a thrill.

Some of the instructors at Grand Central during that period were real characters. I never heard a complaint against any of them with regard to the quality of their instruction. However, when it came to club house life……. that was a different story. One often hears of the Saturday or Sunday night discussions between older and more experienced pilots and the students. Many good points were discussed and I feel the students learned a lot from this 'hangar talk'. On the odd occasion, someone would disagree with a point and a heated discussion would follow with the instructors putting their points across and the older guys putting in theirs. It was all in good spirits though.

One of our instructors was James Orr, a very likeable man. When I met him, he was single but very cagey about his girlfriend. Then one day I saw James walk into the flight office with the prettiest lady by his side that I'd ever seen. This was Mary-Anne. She worked for a short while in the flight office and then suddenly they were married. They were a wonderful couple, always willing to help out at club functions etc. They left South Africa in the 90s and immigrated to the UK. Another instructor was Gordon Hollingsworth. He was a Jordy and his Jordy accent was quite thick. As a result, he spoke quite slowly when giving instruction so that the student (and I) could understand what he was saying, but once in the pub, his accent really came out and it was hilarious. The other full-time instructor was Peter Marais, who became a firm friend of mine until his untimely death in 2019.

One group of enthusiasts that met at Grand Central regularly was the Aviation Society of Africa. I was one of the founding members of this aviation enthusiasts' group (membership #4) and we'd gather once a month to view the latest photos & slides and discuss the latest aircraft sightings at the various airports. Karel Zaayman & Harry Clare were founding members as well and we are still good friends. The late Dave Becker was also a member and was most entertaining, not only on the aviation side, but was also an accomplished jazz pianist.

One of the things that we saw on a regular basis were children with Whooping Cough being taken on flights. These flights would go out west till clear of the Johannesburg airspace then climb to about 14000 ft. The child would be on oxygen at this stage and this high flight was supposed to clear up the coughing. I don't know if it worked or not, but it was a quite popular treatment among some doctors.

I will never forget one Sunday when I had a dad and his young son visit me in the tower. We were talking to each other and I had to answer the radio, which I did. We had a handheld microphone and I picked it up upside down. The little son was most worried because he said that the pilot wouldn't understand what I was saying because my words would come out upside down. That young man went on to become an airline pilot.

Folks there will only be one more of these articles - see ya next month.

Aviation Personalities

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