Taking flight to greater heights

By Shaun Gillham

WHILE gravity has always been one of earth's biggest drawbacks, the rewards for the thousands of aviators and their passengers who have overcome it have been heavenly.

And thanks to massive technological strides made over the last century, the skies have been thrown wide open for aviation.

The developments have also put the pure joy and thrill of flying and its sporting, commercial and practical applications within relatively easy reach.

This is an ever-increasing reality in the skies above Nelson Mandela Bay where the aviation industry is literally taking off.

Boasting a number of flight schools and airfields, and offering pilot training in various flight disciplines, the region is fast becoming an epicentre for flight in the province, with perhaps the industry's only significant inhibitor being the costs of both training and flying itself.

Enter Port Elizabeth Airport-based Helicopter Charter and Training owner John Huddlestone, who is one of the most experienced aircraft and helicopter pilots in the city.

Immensely passionate about flying and introducing the skill to new enthusiasts, Huddlestone is in the advanced stages of introducing two new, significantly cheaper and quicker, options for budding air aces to earn their wings.

And not only is Huddlestone bringing the unique opportunity to learn to fly Light Sport Aircraft (LSA) and gyrocopters to the Bay, but he also plans to widen the local aviation frontier by increasing the usage of the under-utilised Uitenhage aerodrome.

Quick to quote one of his favourite aviation tag lines, "To fly is heavenly, but to hover is divine," the pilot told Weekend Post that having the gyrocopter and light-sport aircraft training in Uitenhage was aimed at increasing the aviation footprint in the Bay, through usage of the airfield and the training itself.

"The airfield is currently under- utilised and the introduction programme there has many benefits. In terms of the gyrocopter and light sport aircraft training, not only are those aircraft substantially cheaper, but the pilot training for them is also substantially less expensive than that of traditional aircraft and helicopters.

"This, essentially, means that we are offering a quick and cost effective entry level into learning to fly," explained the pilot, who has about 40 years local and international flying experience.

"What we are commencing with now is light sport aviation, using a LSA aircraft like a Skyranger. We, which includes pilots like Phillip Darne, Colin Dettman and Ds Lourens Kruger, who are actively involved in the Uitenhage Aero Club, will be involved.

"For an LSA or National Pilot Licence (NPL) one only requires 35 hours at our introductory rate of R800 per hour, which totals R28000 for the flying only. The medical, radio licence, exams and license fees are extra, and are approximately R2000 to R3500," he said. Huddlestone added that this could be compared against the approximately R65000 it would cost to train in a traditional PPL entry level aircraft which requires 45 hours minimum of training.

Huddlestone is a qualified Micro Light Aircraft pilot who also holds a helicopter and fixed wing (aircraft) commercial and instrument rating, which he'll continue to operate from the Port Elizabeth Airport in terms of his helicopter charter and training offerings.

Explaining how his new venture had come about, the pilot said that during 2010 he had found it difficult and expensive to hire a two-seater aircraft in order to maintain the currency of his fixed wing commercial licence and instrument rating.

"So I began to look for a suitable aircraft. We also needed a light-sport training aircraft to provide an inexpensive opportunity for people to achieve their flying dreams and at the same time revive the light-aircraft school in Uitenhage.

"I eventually bought the Skyranger from the Grahamstown Flying School for only R220000. I had tons of fun flying this magnificent aeroplane. My wife and I flew to Uitenhage every Sunday until she eventually got tired of flying seven days a week and wanted a break.

"After waiting two years for the civil aviation LSA licence, and having invested in the specific aircraft a whole year prior to this, we eventually obtained permission to begintraining a month ago, during December last year," Huddlestone said.

He said that demonstration flights for the LSA and the gyrocopters – considered one of the safest rotary wing aircraft and which have massive potential for both recreational flying and practical applications such as crop spraying and game capture – were scheduled from February 15 at the Uitenhage Aerodrome.