Text Garth Calitz. Images Trevor Cohen and Garth Calitz)
Very few people in the aviation community would have dared imagine that even the indomitable Felix Gosher could pull off his extraordinary the Children’s Flight in 2020. Nonetheless, Felix inspired his team to once again share the joy and thrill of flight with under-privileged children.
The Children’s Flight for 2020 may have smaller than previous years but what it lacked in numbers it more than made up for in spirit and love.
The day began at dawn early for the children and the pilots repositioning to Orient Airfield. Some of the pilots were delayed slightly due to a large mist bank that covered a major part of Gauteng. Fortunately, the mist burned off pretty quickly, leaving a beautiful day to share the wonders of flight with the children.
A non-existent wind blew dust in the eyes of the pilots causing a few tears.
Orient Airfield became a field of dreams for the day, a day that will hopefully inspire the children to believe in and more importantly, follow their dreams.
Most of the children chosen for flights had been through horrors that most of us cannot comprehend. Some were victims of abuse and others were had been burnt in shack fires that left them permanently scarred. The resilience of these young souls was an inspiration to all that spent time getting to know their circumstances.
The Children’s Flight Motto is “Fly Feed Love Inspire” and this year I believe the majority of the inspiration and love was supplied by the kids, rather than the other way around.
After a welcome from Felix to everyone and a briefing for all the pilots by Safety Director Francois “Hosepipe” Hannekom it was time to get the flying under-way. The first aircraft to take to the skies was an Atlas Angel carrying the skydivers to altitude. Ralph Ridge and his team exited the aircraft and displayed the flags of key sponsors and of course the massive South African flag – to the sound of the national anthem.
Once the skydivers were safely on the ground it was time to give the children their first taste of flight. But before they could take to the skies they had to undergo a quick medical at the ER24 tent. Each child received a medical certificate then it was off to the waiting aircraft for a flight of a lifetime.
When you meet these children and hear about their lives, it makes 2020 look like a picnic.
A continuous stream of children meeting pilots continued for most of the morning, some of the pilots performed rolls with the more daring children. The joy on these young faces when they landed was so humbling and some of the pilots could be seen swallowing the massive lump in their throats. It seems a non-existent wind blew dust in the eyes of the pilots causing a few tears.
The flying programme was paused for a special treat at 11:30, The Puma Energy Flying Lions joined from Rand to thrill the young ones with their polished display of graceful Harvard aerobatics.
Once all the fixed-wing flights were done the kids were treated to a helicopter flight as well, Charles Fuller and Rob Osner made their ex SAAF Alouette II and III available for yet another unforgettable flying experience.
The younger children were encouraged to take part in a colouring competition while the older children built balsa wood gliders. The winners of each competition were taken for a flight in a glider by members of the Orient Gliding Club. It is believed that a world record may have been set by these children having flown in a fixed-wing, a helicopter and a glider on the first day they had ever flown.
The line-up of pilots that stepped up to the plate for this year’s Children’s Flight read like a who’s who of the aviation world: ranging from Red Bull Air Race pilots to National Aerobatics Champions as well as a number of international airshow pilots. The effort from all of these pilots was amazing. Patrick Davidson travelled all the way from Port Elizabeth just to be a part of the event, then flew all the way back the same afternoon.
After the flying, all the pilots were individually called to the stage to receive their commemorative wings, something I’m sure will find a place of honour in their homes or hangars. To try and single out anyone at an event like this is almost impossible but Felix’s right-hand lady, Laurien Kemp, deserves a special mention, here is a note to her from Felix. “I want to thank Laurien before you all…. she was the difference between good and outstanding…. never known a person who wears responsibility and creativity all in one…. never known an organizer who cares more for the event than what the event can do for them…. Laurien is a person who climbed from three decor challenges to Organizer of Children’s Flight… she has earned it, without a cent paid to her… she gives from the heart”
Some notes from the Pilots:
“What a fantastic day it was and to be a part of bringing so much joy to the little ones that would not ever get the chance to experience the aviation we take for granted. Felix and his team have done wonders to put the day together.” -Derek Hopkins Vans RV7 Veteran pilot and mentor to many.
“I had the honour to be part of the Children’s Flight. We are all going through turmoil in our lives due to the Covid-19 epidemic and it is easy to let despair into our hearts. To experience the love and happiness of these beautiful people in need has given me a new perspective of my own situation. To bring joy into their lives was an experience of serene fulfilment that I will carry in my heart for a long time.” – Johan von Solms Vans RV7 Airline Captain and Goodyear Eagles Display Pilot
We have all had challenges in 2020, with what the Civil pandemic dished up to us. When you meet these children and hear about their lives, it makes 2020 look like a picnic. What a privilege it was to be involved and fly 8 children who touched my life profoundly. Our challenges are tiny compared to what these children have endured and it made me more grateful for all I have. Great to be a part of it. – Ryan Beeton Vans RV7 Raptors Display Pilot
“The Children’s flight is an event I been looking forward to since 2019. The big difference between 2019 and 2020 is that this year I was able to not only show the kids what flight and aerobatics is all about but actually let them experience it with me, which was amazing! The enthusiasm and energy from these young kids really inspire me and reminds me just how lucky I am to do what I do and to have the ability to give something back! Here’s hoping that I have inspired them as they have done me” – Patrick Davidson National Aerobatic Champion and Red Bull Air Race competitor.
“Chatting to ‘parents’ of some of the safe homes quickly helps one to see life through a different lens. It was wonderful to share our passion for things aeronautical with children of a variety of ages. The smile of a child is a great tonic. Watching children delighting in the freedom of flight is a real privilege. Thanks to all involved for a great event.” – Trevor Warner Vans RV7 Raptors Display Pilot.
“I was really moved by the day. Most of the children were understandably a little apprehensive before experiencing their first-ever flight, but once we got up into the air, their reactions were all pure joy! Several kids even started laughing with total delight, this was touching to experience first-hand. It is a gift to be able to take another person into the air for their first time ever. Well done to Felix and his superb team”. – Elton Bondi Cessna 140 and National Aerobatic Champion.