"Children see magic, because they look for it." - Christopher Moore
Today was that day, where our Pilots got to show underprivileged children a little something of the magic which is aviation. Hosted at the Orient Airfield (FAOI) by Steve Mommen and Andreas Siebold of the Magaliesburg Gliding Club, this was the 8th edition of the annual Children's Flight, the vastly successful initiative driven by CEO Felix Gosher, a man who needs no introduction to the aviation community.
I have never met a person who has more passion to a cause than what he has for the Children's Flight, and as the saying goes, "Behind every great man is a great woman", could not be more true than for Felix and his dynamic wife Belinda. These two form a formidable team as the massive success of this year's event, giving more than 500 children the chance to fly on more than 100 aircraft, clearly highlighted.
The day was blessed with amazing clear skies, albeit a little windy, just to add a bit of turbulence to the mix. I smiled when we were flying through the turbulence and thought that the turbulent flight is a good metaphor that life, even when everything is good, is not without its turbulent moments.
The day started off early with a balloon flight by Bill Harrops Balloon Safaris, giving 30 children the chance to experience the magical tranquil experience of a balloon safari. The opening ceremony then followed with the safety briefings and the Lord's Prayer by Felix Gosher, starting the day with blessing from above.
Arrivals of the many participating aircraft continued against the backdrop of the rising morning sun. One of the very special SAAF guests who arrived on a SAAF CASA 212, was the Chief Director of Force Preparation of the South African Air Force, Major General Lancelot Mathebula. Together with him were other high ranking SAAF officials, highlighting the SAAF's commitment to supporting the Children's Flight initiative and the critically important development of our youth.
A two ship Chipmunk formation led by Grant Timms flew straight over with a break followed by the parachute jumpers who took a lift up high with the AN2 "Anuska" and the SA flag drop together with the SA National Anthem. Unfortunately, the windy conditions prevented the massive flag from opening; however, nothing could dampen the excitement and enthusiasm of the many children who had already arrived at the venue, for many this was the first time they have ever been this close to aircraft.
The unmistakable sound of Harvard radial engines rumbled into view as the Flying Lions team led by Captain Scully Levin filled the early morning air with thick white air smoke trails, finishing off their display with some spectacular low level fly pasts to give the children a good look at these magnificent machines and their pilots.
The flying circuits then started and the children were grouped at the Flight Control station and registered on flights by Marie, Ronell, Daniel & the Musket Team. From there they were escorted by the ground crew team to the particular aircraft they would be flying to be safely loaded for their once in a lifetime experience of flight.
Myself and Uhambo the Lion, were privileged to take a flight with Menno Parsons and his Tiger Huey, since Uhambo wanted to know how it feels like to fly a Tiger; who am I to argue with the Lion's logic. He quickly made friends with a little lady and her friends in the aircraft. The anticipation on their faces and then the reaction when the Huey eventually took to the air was priceless. For those who haven't flown in a Huey, it is quite the experience!
And then a moment happened which could not be scripted by the best film producer in the world - the little lady sitting next to Menno in the co-pilot seat got scared soon after take-off and Menno, without a moment's hesitation reached out over to her and firmly took her hand and held it for the duration of the flight. This beautiful moment captured the essence of what The Children's Flight is all about, the special bond of trust which establishes in that short flight where these pilots share the magical experience of flight with these children and they in return unequivocally place their lives and trust in those of these capable pilots. Menno, if any photo could ever try to capture your massive caring heart, this is the one.
For those who don't know Uhambo the Lion yet, he is the great aviation adventure extraordinaire and his love for aviation runs deep. Uhambo is the son of the famous Wilbur, better known as the King of the Skies. He is on a new adventure to explore and promote Recreational Aviation in Southern Africa and invites all the Pilot's Post readers to like his Facebook page and follow him on his adventures through South Africa. You can book Uhambo through the Aero Club of South Africa to join you on your latest aviation adventure and then to complete his flying adventure logbook.
Uhambo had a great day with Pilot's Post and spent quality time with the children, the pilots and the aircraft. He even tried his hand at commentating, however he quickly decided that despite his magnificent roar, Brian Emmenis IS the REAL voice of aviation commentary!
Brian and his team of Capital Sounds provided the local commentary for the day and the familiar voice of Brian added to the magical experience. If it wasn't for Brian, we might just have missed that "Stealth Gripen's" fly past.
On the airwaves, the best local radio station in South Africa, HOT 102.7 FM provided the live commentary of the day's events. Steve Bishop manned the broadcasting station and Tara Penny was the lady on the ground. HOT 102.7 FM's founder and managing director, Lloyd Madurai, was also there to share the caring and love from their side.
The flying continued non-stop; at one point the flight que was 17 fixed wing aircraft long waiting for their chance to take to the air. The helicopters also cycled constantly, flying in a separate circuit away from the main runway. In total an amazing 109 aircraft flew in to Orient Airfield, clearly demonstrating the heart and caring of all these pilots to make themselves and their flying machines available for the day. Managing the airspace with all this activity is no simple task and it deserves a massive round of applause to the air traffic control team up in the tower.
The South African Air Force contributed to the experience by sending a Hawk Fighter Jet from Makhado AFB to do a few special fly pasts. Painted in the spectacular South African Flag paint scheme, it amazed children and adults alike. It is very good to see the commitment of the SAAF in their support of these kind of aviation events.
When the last of the more than 500 children had taken to the air and received their Children's Flight Wings, the children and all the organisers and other support teams were treated to a Mini-Airshow which could easily have rivalled any of the other local Airshows.
We were treated to flying displays by some of the best air display pilots in South Africa, with displays flown by the RV Raptors, Tiger Huey (Menno Parsons), L39 Jet (Mike Weingartz), Good Year Eagles Pitts, Gyrocopter (Andre van Zyl), Nashua Extra 300 (Andrew Blackwood-Murray), Gazelle (Juba Joubert) and finally Two ship Extra's (Nigel Hopkins & Jason Beamish).
The Children's Flight of 2023 was a spectacular event which will leave the fondest memories in the hearts of these children and the pilots, for many this was most likely the best day of their lives. Pilot's Post wants to congratulate Felix, Belinda and The Children's Flight team for organizing the event and also to the Aviation Safety Control Team who ensured that all flying activities were done safely and responsibly, ensuring the safety of all involved. Also many thanks to all the countless sponsors who contributed to the success of the event. Pilots Post is humbled to have been part of this year's event and Deo Volente, we are already looking forward to the next.
In closing, some wise words by Mother Theresa to remind us that we all have a massive responsibility to the youth of today, helping them to become the legacy of tomorrow:
"You will teach them to fly, but they will not fly your flight.
You will teach them to dream, but they will not dream your dream.
You will teach them to live, but they will not live your life.
Nevertheless, in every flight, in every life, in every dream, the print of the way we taught them will remain."