Guy Leitch.

Guy Leitch – It is an old truism to say that it is in giving that we receive – and flying gives us a great opportunity to do just that.

IT IS IN GIVING OF WHAT WE HAVE, and then a little bit more, that we grow. It is therefore remarkable that for many career pilots, flying can become a routine chore. Retired SAA Training Captain Scully Levin calls such pilots – ‘stock-fish’. They just sign on for their flights, fly, and go home. They stop growing the moment they succumb to this routine.

The opposite of these stockfish are those who are predisposed to operating at some sort of hyperdrive speed. One of these is the indomitable Felix Gosher. Felix may not have the poise of the classic super-cool airline pilot, or the demeanour of Iceman the fighter pilot, yet he has what it takes to be 120% engaged in flying. And his cup overflows

Felix’s background laid the foundations for the remarkable impact he has made on so many young lives. He is the son of an irrigation entrepreneur who had the flying bug. (Back in 1988, Felix’s father Boaz, flew a Mooney 201, while I flew a Cessna 210, to the Bruce Springsteen concert in Harare). Felix had the good fortune to attend Treverton School in the Natal Midlands – which has its own airstrip. Here his geography teacher was Trevor Warner – who went on to become an SAA captain and formation aerobatic pilot.

Felix is also passionate about sport and so he earned a degree in Sports Science in 2005. However the flying bug had embedded itself deep in young Felix. Soon after he finished his Sports Science degree he earned his PPL by working as a waiter. Given his commitment to everything he takes on, he must have been the best waiter the Ocean Basket in Pretoria ever had.

Armed with his PPL, he set forth for the wider world and two years later had earned his CPL – by working as a barman in the UK, as a fitness instructor in the Caribbean and as a gardener in Canada.

‘Felix seems to vibrate with the energy of his passion’

The first Children’s flight was in 2016.

The first eight years of Felix’s professional flying were spent as a typical experience-building bush pilot, flying the famed Cessna 206 Okavango “Delta donkeys” and then Cessna 208 Caravans. Felix earned his airline transport pilot licence in November 2015 and now has more than 7,800 hours.

Despite his thousands of hours, Felix’s passion for flying courses through every molecule of his body. He seems to vibrate with the energy of his passion. There is however a downside; perhaps it is the blazing intensity of his gaze, or his disarmingly open and honest engagement with everyone he meets, but the stockfish of aviation often battle with Felix. He has had to run the gauntlet of those who do not understand him. This led to the monstrous travesty of some having questioned his fitness to be a pilot.

Five years ago, a befuddled former employer questioned Felix’s mental stability. This is the most diabolical of all attacks on pilots as it hits them where they are most vulnerable. Felix was by then flying Let 410s for Susi Air in Indonesia and he was peremptorily grounded and ignominiously flown back to South Africa. Yet he didn’t throw up his arms and walk away from aviation in disgust. Instead, he gratefully took a low-level job as a Ground Handler when Cemair CEO Miles van der Molen offered it to him. I remember stepping off a CemAir flight in Cape Town to be greeted by Felix, resplendent in his dayglo ground handling vest. Felix insisted on taking a selfie picture, such was his undiminished pride in his work.

‘It is indeed all about the dream’

Felix is never afraid to let it all hang out. He shared the travails of fighting back against the loss of his medical by rampaging through social media – and he put many more backs up. After the dust settled, in a typically candid and vulnerable post, Felix wrote, “I would like to apologize to the flying community for my posts last year during my medical grounding. I was prideful and relentlessly trying to fight for what I believed were my rights. …. At the time I felt like a victim; without the income I worked much of my life to make, and I felt humiliated and shameful before my friends and family. Flying is my greatest love and I’m so blessed to be black in the sky. ….. Aviation is never a right, only ever a privilege. I wish everyone has the same dream …”

It is indeed all about the dream. There can be no doubt that sometimes Felix’s passion for his dream becomes just a bit too much – and he’s the first to admit it. As a newly qualified Grade III instructor in the Okavango, Felix had been looking forward to practicing his instructor’s patter. In a revealing post on internet forum www.avcom.co.za, Felix wrote, “The problem with my perception of patter was that I thought it meant controlling every moment of this incredible experience for the student. I was prone to talk way too much, I was constantly correcting everything, making issues out of small airmanship blemishes. It was like endless disruption, and no synergy. I could see my students getting exhausted by my endless, relentless jabber.”

This 120% commitment to whatever he does is the best evidence of Felix being the one person capable of not just initiating, but for the past six years driving the miraculous series of ‘Children’s Flights’. These are all about sharing the love of flying with children who would otherwise never have the chance.

Felix explains that “The idea of the children’s flight is to prove to these orphans that anything is possible and that dreams can come true. The children, some of whom have faced tremendous adversity in their short lives, were chosen through word-of-mouth in the community and nominated by various children’s homes.”

He kept the dream going through the upside years of Covid.

The Children’s Flight’s origins lie in a music video called ‘Paper Plane’, which is essentially about a child with a Dream to fly, but on a deeper level it’s about anyone with a dream.

Felix explains, “Aviation is traditionally about defying great odds and overcoming the laws of nature, the politics of man, the limitations of economy, and technological development….. for so long aviation was an exclusive privilege …

“We wanted to bring home aviation to the children, to promote the idea that anyone can be whatever they dream of being… That you can literally ‘take that paper plane to your destiny’…. one day if even one of these kids goes for their dream, then this day may have played a role in that.”

‘a huge impact on countless people’s lives’

Felix has touched the lives of 3000 children by giving them an experience they will never forget. Under the banner of “Fly, Feed, Love, Inspire”, he mobilised incredible support for his project. He is not just a one-trick pony. Since hehe arranged the first Children’s Flight, he has put on more than ten Children’s Flights, not just in South Africa, but as far afield as Lusaka, Zambia and the Central African Republic.

The Children’s Flights are carried along by Felix’s indomitable energy and team leadership. He says that the corner stone of the flights is the spirit of flying that so many pilots bring to the event – that motivates them to make huge sacrifices of time and money to make the children’s dreams come true. In September 2022 he pulled off his most ambitious Children’s Flight to date, flying more than 500 children without any significant wobble in the incredibly complex arrangements.

Not only did Felix and his huge team of volunteers have to safely load and unload the eighty aircraft, often while the engines were still running, but he arranged entertainment for the children before and after their flights, so they were never left unstimulated. The top pilots in their fields, such as Nigel Hopkins and the RV Raptors teams, put on enthralling displays. And of course, their food and bodily needs were fully attended to. More than R500,000 worth of sponsorships were raised for the event. It is heart-warming to see how many dug deep into their pockets to give these children an unforgettable experience.

And it is not as though he does not have any other commitments. Back at his base in Lusaka he has his beautiful wife Belinda and their young son Dante. I asked Felix about how he manages to balance his flying career with his responsibilities as a father and husband and still meet the incredible demands of organising the Children’s Flight. He just said that he could not do it without the massive support he gets from the flying community.

Felix is making a huge impact on countless people’s lives. He has spread the love of flying into thousands of children and, despite the attacks of the dullards, his greatest legacy will be far larger than any of the other stockfish pilots.

In 2022 he flew over 500 children in one event.

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