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Helicopter Weekend in the Berg

By Dieter C Bock

Our mission was a mountain flying training weekend using Cathedral Peak Hotel as a base. Starting out I have to say I am a blessed human being and thankful to be able to take part in an adventure such as this.

Our assembly of like-minded individuals met up for a Mountain training night class, Tuesday 23rd at Helivate, which was really informative and Helivate provided legendary pizzas for supper, this was a great way to generate excitement for the coming weekend.

Thursday morning bright and early the team had the choppers lined up looking so cool. In the briefing our positions were finalized, chat frequency issued, and safety issues addressed.

Five minutes later we were winding up for take-off, following the leader in a loose formation, all flying in a seven O clock position from the chopper in front of you over Krugersdorp, and on to our destination.

Interesting fact Krugersdorp community forum on the interweb blew up with comments ranging from Mr Ramaposa visiting the Cradle of Humankind to the Zama Zamas being hunted by the 9 choppers, to looking for a guy who likes to do a number two in gardens. I’m still laughing.


We stopped for brunch at La La Nathi Country Guest House in Harrismith, then set off to Aero Farm just 1-mile northeast of Harrismith Airport for refuelling. Thirty minutes later with full tummies and tanks, we landed on the soccer field above the most beautiful Cathedral Peak Hotel.

We all enjoyed the sunset with sundowners and then strolled down to the hotel arriving in the dark, which proved quite an interesting walk. We finally arrived at a feast for supper, what a buffet, yum. Needless to say, this didn't sit well with the diet.

Flying Slots were quickly snapped up and a briefing followed. A special note was made of no flying before 8 am or after 5 pm. Once all the formalities were concluded it was time to rehydrate at the pub. The pub was busy and the videos of dancing etc did no one any justice 😊

Friday, we woke to a beautiful clear morning, but my friend, the wind….. Sadly, no flying till the afternoon, so we enjoyed a leisurely breakfast with lots of cool stories. We were served a burger and chips for lunch and thankfully the wind gave us a break. I flew two sessions in the afternoon, it’s funny how we always learn something new. I have to say it’s dramatic hovering next to a tall pinnacle and deciding whether we have sufficient power to move over and touch down, and then lift after we have settled.

Then Buzz our senior instructor casually rolls off the power and it’s up to you to fly an autorotation right down to the valley floor, conserving energy and stretching the glide as long as possible. Mind-boggling 😊

As in all things, retention of energy is the key, as is understanding the basics of converting Potential and Kinetic energy into height and speed. The biggest lesson is knowing that being an aviator is understanding and feeling your machine. A pilot simply manipulates the controls.

Buzz has a love for aviation wherein he is happy to share his knowledge with everyone from young new pilots to seasoned ones such as myself. It’s amazing how quickly the afternoon was over.

At five pm we were met with old brown sherry, and we huddled into our warm clothes and marvelled at the sunset in the mountains, on a cold soccer field tired, but happy.

Dinner turned out to be a noisy affair. I’m sure the cheerful mood was assisted by the OBS and maybe a little Amarula. We had so much fun talking in the dining room we didn’t even make it to the karaoke in the pub.

Saturday morning, we awoke to yet another brilliant day, with no wind this time. Another two training slots for me, and once again Buzz showed me something new. We held a flare with the power removed for just over 20 seconds before the chopper started its descent. You can read these things, but you only truly understand when it is demonstrated to you.

I flew an exercise with Hayley and we landed at a lake on top of the mountain wow…… this high-altitude stuff what can I say, it’s all amazing. We practised a gentle stall torque turn, wing over manoeuvre which comes in handy if you find yourself boxed in a canyon with no room to turn “really cool.”

The day before Dean had me perfect the same thing except for coming to a dead stop which was a lot more stressful. Again, the day came to an end far too quickly. We were all tired and relaxed waiting for the last guys to return naturally the old brown sherry and Amarula was once again broken out.

Then Boom…. Buzz flew a low pass overhead scaring us silly. He put on a great demonstration showing us, what a Robinson 44 is truly capable of.

Again, we ambled back to the hotel for a sumptuous dinner, after which we assembled in the pub sharing stories full of our adventures. One by one we all disappeared to go to sleep in the cool peaceful mountains.

Sunday morning, we awoke to yet another fantastic day, after breakfast we settled the bills and sadly took up our positions for the long flight back home. Every helicopter pilot, no matter their experience level, should try to join one of these training opportunities, it will definitely make for a safer and more confident pilot.

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