Garth Calitz- The amazing Children’s Flight was born in 2016 when pilot Felix Gosher was assisting on a music video shoot for the song ‘Paper Plane’, by musician Michael Ferguson. The song, about a young boy with a dream to fly, inspired Felix to offer this dream to underpriv­ileged children. Since the initial inspiration, the Children’s Flight has grown to become an extraordinary achievement – and spread across South Africa’s borders.

THE 2022 EDITION of the Children’s Flight was hosted by the Magalies Gliding Club, who graciously made Orient’s cultivated grass airfield available as the ‘Field of Dreams’ for the second year running. This year the demand on the venue was far larger than 2021 as the number of children had been limited due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

The big day arrived with a typical Highveld winter’s cold start for all involved. With the mercury settling on the zero, many wished they had brought warm clothes. Fortunately, the cold weather soon gave way to become a very hot day.

By the time the 500 children arrived, everything was in place and ready to go for their unforgeable first flying experience.

The first aircraft to get airborne was the lumbering Antonov AN2 belonging to Michelle and Heystek Pretorius, which carried a team of skydivers.

Michelle stoically flew while enduring pain from an unfortunate incident a week earlier.

Ralph Ridge, the owner of Adventure Skydives, opened the day with the huge 82kg South African flag as he drifted through the beautiful Magalies airfield accompanied by the national anthem.

As soon as all the skydivers were safely on the ground, the children were treated to a ten-ship Vans RV flypast down the runway. The formation then returned for a head-on break and the excitement amongst the kids was building as they cheered the aircraft along.

Now it was time for the children to fly. The first batch was shepherded to the ER24 medical stand for a quick check-up and then off to the aircraft for the experience of a lifetime.

Some of the young ones looked a bit nervous, but after the reassurance of the very professional pilots, they boarded the planes. The absolute joy on their young faces after the flight is what ensures these pilots come back year after year to share their love of flying.

                                 ‘The absolute joy on their young faces’

The bulk of the younger children were flown in one of the three Cessna 208 Caravans kindly made available by the owners. The older children had an opportunity to fly in one of the close to 100 light aircraft that were brought in by the owners – all at their own cost. The remainder of the children were flown by the helicopter squadron, which comprised a mixture of civilian and ex-military helicopters, also made available through the selflessness of the owners.

Once each child had flown, they were issued their very own set of Children’s Flight wings, something they will presumably cherish for years to come.

The day was by no means only about flying; each child was well fed by the many food sponsors that heeded the call to treat these underprivileged children like kings and queens for the day.

Once all the children had experienced their first, but hopefully not their last, taste of flight, they were treated to their very own airshow. Airshow pilots and teams kindly gave up their time to entertain the young ones. The first team to perform was the ever-present Puma Energy Flying Lions; when they arrived with the snarl of radials they had the children in awe as they danced through the cloudless sky.

Following after the Puma Flying Lions, the Goodyear Eagles Pitts Specials took to the sky and once again the children were mesmerised by the way in which these pilots threw the tiny aircraft around.

The father and son duo of Ivan and Juandre van der Schaar were next up. This was their first public performance after receiving their airshow authorisation just hours before. In a unique mix, Ivan flies his 1940s Boeing Stearman and is joined in the air by the radio-controlled Extra 300 flown by Juandre.

Nigel Hopkins and Jason Beamish then put on a consummate performance in their Iveco branded Extra 330s. The children especially appreciated the massive heart they drew in the sky with their smoke.

The airshow portion of the day was closed off with a thumping Bell Huey display by Menno Parsons. The children who had already flown in the Huey revelled in telling anyone who would listen that they had just been in that aircraft.

One lucky young lady was treated to a very special flight with a very special pilot: Derek “Pops” Hopkins was tasked to take the winner of the colouring competition on a gentle aerobatic flight. Needless to say, the young lady loved the flight and I believe the aviation bug was firmly implanted in her soul. Perhaps she will grow up to be a female aviation trailblazer.

Events like this would not be possible without the generosity of the amazing people who so selflessly give of their time and resources, expecting nothing in return other than a smile from a happy child.

How does one explain Felix Gosher to those who don’t know him? [Editor’s note – Guy Leitch’s column has tried to do just that!] Felix is a powerhouse of energy that never seems to stop – and unlike the Energizer bunny, never even runs a bit flat. Without Felix’s enthusiasm, the Children’s Flight would never have started, never mind reaching its seventh year.

Felix has the ability to inspire like-minded people – who find reasons why they can do things, rather than reasons why things won’t work. The list of the many sponsors and people to thank is too long to list here, but special mention must go to key airshow stalwarts, Rikus Erasmus, Nigel Musgrave and of course Brian Emmenis and his team from Capital Sounds.

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