Charlie's Story

Growing up, Never Giving up, and Going Solo

by Charlie Marais

It is not every day that one has to give account of who you really are. Like many of us, I also do not necessarily think that my experiences are that special that everyone needs to know about them. On the contrary, I find it a bit intimidating to talk about what I have done and where I have been. On the other hand, some are of the opinion that it might be interesting or even inspiring.

So my kids and their spouses convinced me that my own Blog, (what the hell is that?!), is what I must have. To be honest at the possibility of being classified as technologically challenged, I still confess that the new generation communication skills and methods are quite "cool". OK, so still not knowing what it is, here is where my story begins.

Born and bred in the little town Piketberg in the Cape Province, I matriculated at Paul Roos Gymnasium, Stellenbosch. We lived there, and I must confess that I had no idea what a beautiful and history rich environment this was and still is, until I left. When I joined the SAAF directly after school, and the train pulled into the Pretoria train station, my first time there, the realisation of where I came from hit home hard and with absolute clarity. Then I knew that I would never stay in Stellenbosch again, my destiny would take me other places and all I would have is the memory of my formative years.

My dad was a navy man and mother an army girl during the second world war, so when I made my plans known to become a pilot in the SAAF, I had absolutely no support. I had to study and become a white collar worker, but going to the "army" was not on. But, being the youngest and only son with two older sisters, I got my way as I always did. Well, almost always. My dad had hands like a sailor, a big sailor, and he used them with great dexterity, I know, I was brought up by them.

The Air Force Gymnasium in Valhalla, Pretoria was not too bad. I grew up with lots of exposure to hunting, veld life and boat fishing. I learnt about suffering on the boat, in the veldt and I quickly became accustomed to the saying, "cowboys don't cry". I played baseball, rugby, did gymnastics and boxed until there was a possibility that I would become dumb from all the knocks. Maybe the knocks did have some effect!? I played the piano, guitar, mouth organ and managed to sing along. I love being able to do various, interesting things. I love challenges and good memories, they just go together well!

So, when the "roof" thing in the SAAF Gym happened, I immediately applied for drill instructors course. Should the SAAF not accept my application, I would become a Corporal drilling new recruits and then study at Stellenbosch. I had no idea what I would study, but that was the plan in any case. I got selected and that in itself was the first miracle. Lt Venter, later retired as May Gen Venter, psychologist and later SAAF pilot, decided that I was not suitable for the job. For three days I awol-ed (stayed away) from the Gym (at the risk of ending up in DB , the notorious detention barracks) only to get to see him and convince him that my file was on the wrong pile. Eventually, he gave in, and I got in. When I reminded him in later years he smiled, probably wondering why he was not more strict. But despite all of that we became very good friends. This whole episode is one of the many reasons why I will always remind others that if you give up too soon, you will end up living that 'other' life which is ultimately not your first passion.

What did I know about aircraft? Well, in standard 3 we went for a flight in a Dakota (DC3) at the Ysterplaat Air Force Base in Cape Town. Little did I know that a little over 10 years later I would receive my SAAF wings on that very base. Gen Bob Rodgers, who I liked very much, did the honours.

Besides that std 3 expereince, we only ever saw Harvard aircraft fly past on the far horizon in Stellenbosch from time to time. Back then I did not know that aircraft was called a Harvard, and I also had no idea that one day I would go on to fly over 1700 hours in them; lead the Harvard aerobatic team and end up as the Chief Flying Instructor at Central Flying School in Dunnottar.
Well, when they asked me what I wanted to fly, I said choppers. I actually thought that I would never be able to, but I was going to give it a try. The way the other students from Pretoria spoke, I had no chance, they knew everything and I had no idea what I was in for. Never mind, I was not going to give up without a fight. With the odds against me, no one in the force to back me and the toughest bunch of SAAF instructors you can think of, my SAAF formative years took flight.

Going solo for the first time is still a fresh memory and will always be...

Off to CFS Dunnottar (I think those years it was still FTS Dunnottar) and soon we learned about military discipline, being drilled any time of day or night, running wherever we had to be, and never being good enough in the eyes of the instructors. We were sworn at, screamed at, drilled, made to run, do push-ups, worked every weekend and had no spare time. Well at least for the first few months. We were getting tougher by the day, the inner-strength was being built, but those that did not have the capacity to grow in such circumstances were wished well on their way. The easiest way out was to fail the ground subjects a few times. I failed none, I worked my butt off, I would not be cheated from my dream. Flying tests on the other hand, I failed, and had to re-do in this process. The ground work was tough but easy enough for anyone to pass, that is if the will-power was still present. We did 90 hours on Harvards and then we were shipped off to the Military Academy at Saldanha.

Well, that's it for now, my story will be updated soon, so be sure to log into Westline Aviation on a regular basis for our weekly and monthly updates.

Till next time,
Fly safely.