Monday, February 7, 2011

South Africa- Pilot Recertification

As a pilot in Gabon, you must have an annual pilot evaluation for each different Gabonese-registered aircraft you would like to fly. In the US, we'd call this a "type rating". The challenge is that there are no pilots here that are certified to give these evaluation flights, so you have two choices- either have that pilot flown in or go and find the pilot.

Since the aircraft that we normally use (CESSNA 207) is a US registered aircraft, we are happy to not have to do this. However, since our aircraft is down for repairs, we're using a backup aircraft (BEECHCRAFT Baron) that IS Gabonese registered. So...


Our check pilot, Tony S., is a South African pilot of acclaim. He has flown all over the world and the list of aircraft that he is certified to check out pilots in is quite long and includes WWII vintage aircraft up to business jets that cruise along at MACH 0.8- pretty impressive. He has also flown for the CIA during some times of turmoil in places like Angola and also flew for the Rhodesian Air Force (can't find Rhodesia on a map? Check wikipedia).

Hunting Tony down is difficult. The last time we met for a check ride, he happened to be in Libreville and had a free morning for a flight with me a lunch (read about it here). This time, however, he wasn't due to be in Gabon for a few more months, and we ready for our validation flights now. So, it was off to South Africa to find him.


Getting off the red-eye flight early in the morning in Johannesburg, you can still see evidence that the country has recently hosted the World Cup soccer tournament. Posters are everywhere. My traveling companion, Egmont, and I headed through the immigration formalities, picked up our bags, and headed to pickup our rental car. The airport was in stellar condition and so clean. All the spoken and written language were in English! I was feeling very much at home, until... we started driving on the wrong side of the road! Let me tell you, this takes a long time to get used to. Driving down the road, we saw sights that made us wonder, "are we really in Africa?" The infrastructure, the advertising, modern buildings, and cleanliness... we were in a "first world" country, for sure.


Prior to boarding our overnight flight to SA, Egmont informed me that we would be taking our flight check the very day that we arrived! I would have preferred a day to get my feet under me, but Egmont said it was better this way. I didn't question the veteran! So, without delay, we made our way from Joburg (short for Johannesburg) to Randburg, where we checked into a bed and breakfast. Our room wasn't quite ready for us, so we headed down the road to do a little shopping- again, I was amazed at the shopping centers... very American in style. Back at the B&B, I got a shower to get a little revived, and then it was off to the airport in Lanceria for the check ride.

Upon arrival, we couldn't help ourselves and made our way to the pilot shop to check out all the goodies. If you are a person with a particular hobby and you find yourself in a shop that caters to that particular hobby, you know what kind of experience this can be. Basically, if money was no obstacle, you'd want one of everything! I came away unscathed (mainly because I had no money!) and Egmont was able to make some purchases for the company.


We made our way to Gryphon Flight Academy and met our instructor, Anton (with me in the photo). We had some time getting to know one another, discuss some theory on the aircraft, and then jumped in his nice Mercedes to drive to the parking area where the Beechcraft Baron was at.

Egmont was first, and I watched from the back. Then, we switched places and I had my evaluation flight. Both of us did pretty much identical things; touch and go's, single engine operations, steep turns, stalls, etc. We touched back down at Lanceria; both Egmont and I had successfully demonstrated mastery of the aircraft!


So, we had been in Joburg for less than 24 hours and had accomplished our task- getting our evaluation flight successfully accomplished! ...well... almost everything. As with most every job, it's not over 'til the paperwork is done! This would prove challenging.

If you've been paying attention, you remember that the name of our check pilot referenced at the beginning of this post was "Tony", however, we flew with "Anton". Explanation? Sure... Well, Tony was busy doing a seminar and had his colleague, Anton, take care of our flight. Based on Anton's evaluation, Tony would endorse our logbook and fill out the paperwork for us. So, that was the step we now embarked on- finding Tony.

Using a GPS app on Egmont's iPhone 4, we arrived at Solenta Aviation- site of Tony's seminar. After a short wait in the lobby, Tony exited the meeting room and, 10 minutes later, we were out the door with all paperwork signed!


So, now, just a day and a half after arriving in Joburg, we had accomplished our task! Now what!?! A bit of discovery is in order.

Egmont and I ended up touring all the large shopping malls in the area- every floor or every mall! It was excellent exercise as well as a lot of fun to check out the latest and greatest stuff that nobody really needs.

For dinner, it was a tour of the world. Stop off's on the tour included Greece (lamb), Germany (Schnitzel), India (curry), Thailand (pad thai), and basic european! Good eats, I must say. Joburg restaurants are impressive.

Other events included going to one of the areas most famed raceway, Kyalami, and watching high-speed motorcycles speed around the track. Inside the large raceway, was another track for karts where a two hour race was underway. These folks are very serious.

All in all, Joburg is a pretty incredible place. My first visit made me really want to return... this time with the whole family!

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