Tales from the Cockpit

By Salome Maree


From students who find new and creative ways of trying to kill you with every single session, to students that become friends for life, flight instruction has its own challenges.

One of my first students was a lawyer, who obviously loved his profession. After take-off you would do your take-off checks which includes positive rate of climb, flaps-up. Instead of climb, he used the word crime. So, it became a standard saying, instead of positive rate of climb it became positive rate of crime, flaps up.

I had another lady student who left me flabbergasted every time with her ingenuity of finding new ways of sending us to that big hangar in the sky. With every flight I came back white as a sheet. I then handed her over to one of the other senior flight instructors. He also came back wide eyed. The Designated Examiner, who took her for an assessment flight had a similar wide eye seen a ghost stare and an extra 50 grey extra hairs on his return.

As part of the training, I used to take my commercial pilot students on a flight to Gaborone in Botswana, so that they could get the experience of an international flight while I was still there to guide them with all the planning and the paperwork. The student and I then agreed on who would bring lunch and who would bring the snacks. After landing safely in Gaborone this specific student proceeded to prepare lunch. He spread a tablecloth over the horizontal stabilizer of the aircraft and produced a freshly baked bread that he had baked that morning with preserves and jams and cheeses. It was a lunch fit for a king!

One day I had a flight with one of my regular students out to the general flying area. On the way to there, he looked a bit uneasy, which was unusual for him as he is one of the calmest people I knew. About halfway through the lesson he started looking very pale, then started complaining about nausea and a severe headache. So, we turned the aircraft nose towards home, but I asked him to continue flying so we can at least keep him busy, and his mind occupied to stave off the nausea a bit. I told him that he must tell me if he was unable to continue. Just before landing he indicated that he was unable to continue and that I should do the landing, which I subsequently did.

After landing, I helped him out of the aircraft and asked him to sit down on the tyre so that he could just take a bit of a breather. He was sweating profusely and as white as a sheet. He declined medical assistance.

Since I already had another student waiting for me, I asked him to stay put as he lived far away from the airport. I did not want him to drive in the state that he was in and as it was in the days before Uber, I would take him home. Unfortunately, by the time I returned about an hour later, he had already left.

A medical examination later showed that he an aneurysm in the aircraft, unbeknownst to the both of us. He continued to practice his flying on his flight simulator at home. When he started flying again about a year and a half later, he knew his checks and procedures so well that he would have been the dream pilot of any airline.

At Brakpan Airfield, in the days before the lovely facilities today, we used to line all the green paraffin storm lanterns up on the stoep of the flight school, fill them up and pack them and the guards on the back of the Kalahari Ferrari. We would light them (that is the lanterns, not the guards) and drop them off two by two, one on each side of the runway. We spent many nights flying with the light of the storm lanterns depicting our runway. Without the guards the storm lanterns would walk off into the night and all you would see on final approach was the scattering of your runway lights into the distance.

Brakpan then got a set of fancy working runway lights, which we utilised to the fullest. I was flying with one of my female students for her first night circuits. During an approach we came in slightly high. I guided her down a little bit and pattered all the way. We flared rather flat and did a uhmm positive landing. She looked at me and I looked at her and I said, "Wow! A little to positive!" She looked at me and said, "but I thought you were flying!" I looked at her and said, "no, I thought you were!" Confucius was definitely in control of the good old, steady Piper that day. We became great friends through her training, and we are still great friends 23 year later.

Flight instruction brings a new challenge every day in many shapes, forms, and studentsÖ

In our next story we will be exploring the African Continent a little bit.

EAA Young Eagles Flights Brakpan Airfield 25 Feb 2023

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