One of the big surprises Chantelle had organised for my big birthday weekend away in Franschhoek was a private flight with the Stellenbosch Flying Club over at the Stellenbosch Airfield. Needless to say, she was devastated when we arrived there on the Saturday morning only to be told that it had to be cancelled due to the heavy cloud and mist conditions.
In fact, the next couple of reschedule attempts also fell through due to bad weather, so in the end we instructed them to rather contact us once the weather finally looked good – which is exactly what happened this past Saturday!
With the flight scheduled for 12:00, Chantelle, the girls and I arrived at the Stellenbosch Airfield (just off the R44 to Stellenbosch) with plenty of time to spare, signed all the papers and met my pilot for the day, a young 22 year old chap by the name of Benrico Vermeulen.
Chantelle and the girls settled down over by the clubhouse on what truly was a gorgeous winters day – lots of sun, no wind, not too cold, and plenty of grass for the girls to run around and play on – whilst I headed off with Benrico to inspect what would the very first small plane that I’ve ever flown in before!
The Stellenbosch Flying Club own quite a few light aircraft which they utilize as trainers, and my plane for the session was to be their little (actually, not really that little) Cessna 172 Skyhawk – which as Wikipedia tells me is actually the world’s most successful light airplane ever:
The Cessna 172 Skyhawk is a four-seat, single engine, high wing, fixed-wing aircraft made by the Cessna Aircraft Company. First flown in 1955, more Cessna 172s have been built than any other aircraft… Measured by its longevity and popularity, the Cessna 172 is the most successful aircraft in history. Cessna delivered the first production models in 1956. As of 2015, Cessna, and its partners, had built more than 43,000.
(This particular one was built in the 1980’s as far as Benrico knows – which makes sense considering that the interior reminded me of that of an old Datsun bakkie!)
Some instructions, a lot of interesting things pointed out, and the next thing I knew I was seated next to Benrico and being asked whether I would prefer a normal take-off or a short take-off as we taxied into position. Not knowing the difference, I replied “whichever is the most fun one”, and after an incredibly short run up we were aloft in the air, with my mouth hanging wide open in disbelief at how utterly effortless the flaps take-off had been!
We weren’t up in the sky for more than a minute or two before Benrico urged me to take the controls. (Also, I didn’t know that pretty much all planes have twin sets of controls, but in retrospect, it certainly makes sense for trainer craft to have dual controls).
Take the controls?!?
I hadn’t been counting on that, and after a moment or two of backwards and forwards thought I did nervously and gingerly take them – oh my word, what an unbelievable rush! I was piloting a plane through the sky as if it was the easiest thing in the world! (True, I didn’t have my feet on the foot controls, but it counts so I’m taking it.)
What an indescribable feeling of joy and freedom! No wonder I’m grinning like an idiot in this snap that Benrico took of me!:)
The scenery on such a beautiful day was absolutely stunning. Clear blue skies, mountains all around us, initially the farmland of Stellenbosch below us, before giving way to the tennis courts of Somerset West and then finally the overhead magnificence of Strand, the deep blue ocean stretching out for miles in front of us.
Absolute heaven on earth in terms of landscape beauty!
We did some tight turns, flew over the beach and the sea, lazily circled around the Strand, Benrico answered my hundreds of questions, and eventually I turned us back towards Stellenbosch, before relinquishing the controls and shutting up in order to let Benrico concentrate and bring us back down to earth safely.
Seriously, what an amazing and highly recommended experience.
If you have some extra cash lying around (the 1 hour session cost about R1,400) and have never done this before, then you are missing out big time.
Definitely something that is worth ticking off one’s bucket list! :)
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Needless to say, Chantelle was relieved to see me back safe and sound on the ground, the girls were excited to see their daddy back, and so to end off what had been a truly amazing afternoon for me, we headed off to the Root 44 market (literally on the airfield’s doorstep) for some coffee, sweet treats and playtime in the sand pit!
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Oh, and just in case you were wondering, you need about 60 hours of flight time to qualify for your licence. In other words, tempting as an option for when I eventually reach my midlife crisis period I think…