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My brother Peter and I are twins from a family of five boys and one girl. We lived on the East Rand in a town that was recently put on the map by Charlize Theron, Benoni, and later we moved to Boksburg where most of the family still resides some thirty-six years later. My mother is still alive and has continued to give all the love and support that all families should be afforded by their parents and she has been particularly supportive and understanding during the past few months while we have been busy with this project.
It all started a long time ago…. in fact long before the security fence had even been erected around the Johannesburg International Airport in the days when it was a family treat to take a Sunday afternoon drive out to the end of runway 21 (now 21R) to watch the planes landing and taking off. The only barrier was a five-strand barbed wire fence, which we used to climb through to get a clearer view.
Our parents Dick and Daphne had some very good friends who worked at SAA and it was with their kindness and through these valuable contacts that we were taken on board the brand new Boeing 707 shortly after SAA took delivery of it. It was so big and so awesome and to think that this monster airplane could soar high above the clouds. We just loved those aircraft and our uncle Den who not only flew light aircraft, but also in his later years, loved building model planes knew how much we loved flying so as children, we often accompanied him to the flying field where we learnt the basics of flying using control lines and then later progressed to radio model airplanes.
To add to this, the historical landing on the moon by man boosted our interest in air and space travel and we collected every newspaper clipping and any other picture that we could lay our hands on at the time and we created a scrapbook on this historical occasion. There was no television in those days, so we relied heavily on the print media. I can remember that our biggest fascination at the time was how the astronaughts were able to navigate across such vast distances with pin-point accuracy and then return home and land the capsule within close proximity of the waiting ship and the media. This was navigation at its best and sparked off a new interest in aviation for us. The arrival of the first "JUMBO JET" in South Africa was a great event and we watched this modern aircraft touch down for the first time at Jan Smuts. (Interestingly, we also watched her touch down for the last time at Rand Airport on her final flight in 2004) Little did we know at the time that Boeing had installed the exact same navigation device into these long range aircraft as was used many years before by the spaceship Apollo 11 in the moon landing.
Although not aware of what was happening to us, we were becoming ‘flying junkies’ – an addiction which would remain in our system for the rest of our lives.
We were lucky to have been allowed to go into the simulator room at Jan Smuts on several occasions and we were allowed to actually fly in a real simulator. The Boeing 727 simulator had no visual system, but even flying that simulator was in itself an experience that we will never forget. The Boeing 707 simulator had visuals that a camera mounted above a huge big board which itself was mounted on its side and it looked like a mini town model complete with buildings that lit up at night, streetlights and airports. The camera sent images back to the simulator as the aircraft pitched and rolled around the skies of Johannesburg. This was technology at its best and it was ‘so real’ too. The computers that controlled these simulators were housed in a separate room that looked more like a warehouse. There were rows and rows of processors, tape drives and huge big cooling systems to ventilate these monster computers. It was awesome and we were there right in the middle of this technological wonderland. The dream to fly became firmly entrenched into our beings.
As the years passed, the fascination with aviation increased and no matter where we were or what we were doing, if there was a noise in the sky, we always turned our heads to take a look at what was flying overhead.
Then in September of 1978, whilst doing military service on the Angolan border, we were involved in an incident that would change many things in our lives. We were in a convoy on one of the most dangerous two track roads in the entire region. At about 5 pm that day, we hit a landmine and Peter was very seriously injured. He was flung through the air for 30 metres and when he landed, the wheel of the ' Buffel’ (an armoured military vehicle) landed right next to him missing him by inches. This brush with death was further complicated by the seriousness of his 3rd degree burns to his entire upper torso and face – in plain language, he was so badly burned that the medical text books would have given him very little, if any, chance of survival. Ironically his biggest chance of survival rested on the ability of the SAAF being able to land a helicopter on the scene and CASAVC (Casualty Evacuate) him to the nearest hospital. The bush was so thick where we were that there was no chance of this and in their confusion, the SAAF inadvertently cancelled the call. There was also no medical equipment on the vehicle, no Morphine and not even an Aspirin to dampen the excruciating pain. After a 30km ride back to base on the back of an open ‘Buffel’, a ride from hell through the thick bush and soft white sand with a constant re-assurance from me that he would be just fine and his sheer willpower and determination to survive, we made it back to the base where he was treated for the first time by the camp doctor. The next day a helicopter arrived with the investigation team and it was only through the compassion and kind co-operation of the pilot who risked a court martial and flew a non-authorised mission, that Peter was transported back to the hospital at Ondongwa. The following day Peter was loaded onto a "Milk-run" Hercules C130 flight which was routed via the Rundu base en route back to South Africa. The heat at Rundu was unbearable whilst the C130 was on the ground loading and unloading its cargo. Miraculously Peter survived the ordeal and was eventually discharged from 1 Military Hospital in Pretoria 10 weeks later on a lifetime military disability pension and a total discharge from any further active duty. Sadly his eyes had been burned as well and apart from going to America for a risky operation, he decided that the risk was too great and his sight remains impaired to say nothing of the physical and emotional scars that he carries. Many years later, I was transferred to Port Elizabeth by the company that I worked for and it was then that I decided that it was time to spread my wings and take up the challenge of real flight. I started out at a small flight school near Port Elizabeth and remember each time that I went up how this feeling of guilt hung over my head. I knew that the one person who should be learning to fly with me was my twin brother Peter, but I also knew deep down that there was no way that he would pass his flying medical given his condition. A few months later I was asked by my company to take up a more senior position in Johannesburg and I simply walked away from everything, including my already paid for flying lessons and never ever returned. Maybe it was my guilt feeling that made that decision so much easier.
Some years later, the new age of simulation was rolled out and once again, we were permitted through some very good contacts (one needed good contacts to get into the simulator section at Jan Smuts as this was a special privilege bestowed only on the elite) to not only visit the simulators, but actually fly them too. We flew the new Boeing 747 and Airbus A300B simulators (with their new CRT visuals) and in total clocked up around 8 hours in the "left-hand seat". That same A300B simulator now stands at Swartkops Air Force Museum. Each time we flew, we would come home and dream of building our own simulator one day. Finally our simulator contacts were moved to another division within SAA and due to strict security, we were no longer able to gain access to fly these wonderful machines.
Once the flying bug bites, there is actually no cure for it. At every opportunity and before the tragic events of 911, we would always ask the airline crew of any flight that we were on if it would be possible to go up to the cockpit, even if just for a short time. Some pilots actually even let us sit in the jump seat for take-off or landing which was awesome.
If we had our own simulator at home we could fly anytime we liked without having to wait for an invitation to do so. It was this burning desire that motivated us to build our very first simulator and so we began planning and finding ways of overcoming the many challenges of interfacing a working desktop model with a PC based simulation software package. The program did not allow assignment of keystrokes and we had to find a way around the multitude of combinations that existed. I forgot to mention that there was a further problem, which caused us much frustration. Neither of us had any knowledge of electronics or computer programming and we soon realised that the solution to our problems lay right here in an area that we knew nothing about. They say that necessity is the mother of invention and in our case; this was coupled with a burning desire to fly.
We set about researching books and product brochures for ideas on how to accomplish our dream and after spending months investigating every possibility, we not only designed a printed circuit diagram with a little help from some friends, but actually built a series of switches which when triggered, set off relays which emulated the required key strokes whilst taking cognisance of the cycle rate of the keyboard itself so that keys would not go out of sequence. In those days, one could simply take a keyboard and make a solder connection on the back of each key. Believe it or not, this crude system actually worked and we managed to create an interface between our simulator switches and the PC. The visuals were limited too, so we designed our cockpit panel with a built in PC monitor which protruded above the panel along the line which separated the outside visuals to the instruments. It was a great achievement and gave us hours of pleasure.
This was followed up by various upgraded versions of our simulator and each time we upgraded, we learnt a whole lot more about how to build them. We were on a role as we now had the technology to create any sequence of keystrokes for any kind of Flight Simulator package. Suddenly we were flying and then came the crash. PC technology was changing faster than we could and our PC that used those 5.25inch floppy disks and later 4.5-inch’ stiffy’ disks on Windows 3.1 and a 20MB hard disk became obsolete virtually overnight. This was a disaster of great magnitude and we had to ground our simulator for good. It was a sad day indeed.
As time marched on, we continued to dream and as each new Flight Simulation package was released, we kept abreast of their developments and tried out each one in turn. Unfortunately it was during the years of exclusion from everything from sport to supplies of computer equipment and that included Flight Simulation software that an American company that supplied Simulation software once told me, that due to our Apartheid policy they were not prepared to provide any support or supply any upgrades to our software. I was devastated to think that as a South African who did not even support the idea of Apartheid, I was subjected to this type of treatment.
Only a strong will, a burning desire and a belief in what we could achieve, no matter what, kept us going and we would not allow anyone or anything to stand in our way. We took the software that we had available and started building. Our designs became increasingly complex and the experience that we gained over the years resulted in a design that would take our dreams to a level never experienced before. We used a boxed trailer and started to build a full size business jet cockpit inside of the trailer. A few visits to various aircraft owners and a tape measure to measure the actual size of a small business jet cockpit resulted in our simulator being accurate in size and feel. We built our first business-jet simulator using a package called ProPilot99 and just as we were putting the final touches to our full screen visual system, we were exposed to the latest version of FS2004. The graphics were awesome and we had to make a decision either to convert our almost complete simulator and retrofit it to FS2004, or finish it as it was. Eventually after much deliberation, we sadly ditched ProPilot99 and replaced it with FS2004.
A friend from work was the last person to fly on the old software and one Monday morning not long afterwards, he told us of this Virtual Flying club that he had visited on the weekend. We were intrigued and decided to check it out. Armed with a drawing of our cockpit layout, we paid a visit to VACS, the Virtual Aviation Club at Swartkops Air-Force base near Pretoria. We were given a very warm welcome and in no time, one of the members was on his way to visit us at home to check out our simulator.
It is difficult to speak on behalf of another man, but judging by his reaction, he was suitably impressed and we spend the rest of a very enjoyable afternoon flying around San Francisco and Seattle.
A few weeks passed by and we decided to visit the club during its usual Saturday afternoon get-together. There we met Lt Col Harry Mole for the first time and we were introduced to him as ‘those guys with the great simulator’. It did not take Harry long to see that we were enthusiastic about our simulator and within minutes, we were being led to the back of the clubhouse where we were introduced to two very dusty and pitiful looking front ends of a Mirage F1CZ and a Cheetah E cockpit. As we peered curiously inside the now empty void, which was once filled with all sorts of instruments, ejection seat and controls, we had no idea of just how much work it would take to restore these empty shells into something that vaguely resembled the once magnificent fighter jets that they were. The look on our faces must have been a combination of horror and excitement and within a split second, we both looked up at each other, gave the project the ‘thumbs up’ and turning to a now rather bewildered looking Lt Col Harry Mole, Peter reached out and shook Harry’s hand as a sign of not only acceptance of this project, but also as a sign of total dedication and commitment to actually make it work. We also realised that commitment had a price tag attached to it and that it was not going to be a cheap project which we would have to fund ourselves. None of this mattered to us, as this after all was our dream we were talking about and dreams seldom know the boundaries of ‘price tags’
Within a week of that first encounter, all the necessary paperwork was done for the transfer and we took delivery of our Mirage F1-CZ at 16h20 on the 17th June 2004. Two days later we were back to load the Cheetah E. We were given 2 to 3 years to complete the project but with the thought of a major air-show at Waterkloof coming up on the 21st of September 2004 that was not an option and we decided that 3 months and 3 days, although very tight, would be possible to achieve our goal and we committed to being ready on time for the show.
Before leaving Swartkops Air force Base that now houses the Air-force Museum, we were allowed to take photos and measurements of the interior of an intact Cheetah and Mirage that are on display at the museum. These photos were to be used as a point of reference for the panel layouts, ejection seat position and configuration and a whole host of other important detail that were required to keep the look of our simulators authentic.
Throughout the entire design, we would have to remain mindful of how this simulator would be transported whilst at the same time giving both pilot and spectators something really spectacular to look at. During the design phase and building, we were asked many times by our friends where we got the drawings and instruction manuals and plans to put this simulator together. What they did not realise was that we were actually creating what we had only dreamed about. From the time that we started this project, our one wish was that when it was completed, that we would be able to trace the actual pilot to whom this Mirage was assigned. What kind of possibility did we have of finding this out, but we remained ever hopeful throughout the entire project and we spoke about it often. The big question remained, "What would the original pilot think of it?"
Once we had decided on the layout, simulation platform and visual system, we set about restoring the paintwork to its original state. Although full of scratches and a few other marks, we decided to use a restorative car wax to bring up the shine in the paintwork on the outer shell whilst maintaining the original paint job which would make it more authentic. It took several layers of wax and many hours of buffing down the very neglected paintwork of this once gloriously painted flying machine. As previously mentioned, on the left side of the cockpit was a very bad burn mark which we thought was due to some grass fire where this cockpit had been stored and for days we tried desperately to erase this mark by buffing and buffing again - it stubbornly would not budge. We even considered getting a sign-writer to paint carefully over the mark to hide it but in the end, we decided that we would take the focus off the mark by fixing the ladder into the cockpit on this side of the body. Little did we realise how significant this same mark that we had tried so desperately to erase would later prove to be. Adding to our woes were the bad dents on the front of the cockpit wall but we quickly devised a plan to hide these with the cladding for the visual system. Again how could we possibly have known how those dents actually got there and all we could imagine was that some careless forklift driver had possibly dropped this aircraft during loading when it was about to be scrapped.
The paintwork outside started to look good and we then decided that the inside was in such a bad state that it would need to be completely scraped down and re-painted. The entire inner part of the cockpit was covered with a very thin tough rubber lining and a few coats of paint. Painstakingly, we scraped out every last piece of rubber and flaking paint and then came a huge breakthrough. Peter had found a serial number under the layers of paint and rubber that looked like the original manufacturers serial and quality number. Jumping for joy, we were so excited that we ran and told everyone that we could find what a great discovery we had made. Was this perhaps the link that would lead us to find the original pilot? Photos of the number were immediately sent to Dassault in France via e-mail in an attempt to trace the history of this aircraft and by the next day, a reply had been received acknowledging our request and promising to investigate the number. As the days passed, the realisation that that this would be the last time we heard anything from anyone on tracing this number started to set in. Our hopes of finding our pilot were dashed and our spirits down.
Not having any original parts except one green handle, which we later found out was to deploy the drag chute, made construction of the inside of the cockpit into a major challenge. We started with the panel and because it is made from very thin steel and required precision punched round, square and oblong holes, we had it cut and punched on a CNC punching machine (in lay-man’s terms, a fully computerised punching machine which uses a type of CAD or computer aided drafting). The design was difficult without detailed drawings where one millimetre could make a significant difference. Interestingly enough, the photos of the original cockpit were used extensively as a cross reference and the final panel was punched after only three attempts and three weeks of hard work constantly tweaking the design throughout and making sure that everything would still fit the bezels which had already been committed for manufacture by a good friend, Vernon Scrooby at another CNC machine shop. It was all very complicated!
An integral part of the panel was the construction of the HUD (Head Up Display). We wanted to build a HUD that actually worked and was not just a fake piece of glass that the pilot looks through at an image super-imposed on the visual system. Firstly we had to understand what each component that made up this intricate piece of equipment actually did. The thick glass and projection lens had us thinking for a long time and we tried various thicknesses and angles, but each one failed. Then one day we finally worked it out and the mystery of the illusive HUD had been solved. Not only did our HUD actually work, but it also included various modes for different types of display. The biggest problem was that most of the workings of these devices were "classified" for obvious reasons. We did know from our research what certain basic information was displayed and as this was to be a ‘navigation orientated trainer’, we concentrated on the approach mode and other navigational aspects and wrote the software to drive it all
Various other parts of the simulator were taking shape at the same time and realising that we had a deadline to meet to be ready for the Waterkloof Air Show (AAD2004), it became imperative that we put a project plan together to ensure that we were able to meet our goal. At one stage we had 33 major items outstanding on our list of things to do and only 30 days in which to complete the tasks, so at the end of each day, it became a ritual to mark off at least one item per day and on the odd occasion, more than one to make up the difference.
It took no less than 115 trips to various retail stores to purchase the assortment of parts, paint, special tools, cabling, switches etc, and that’s only counting the actual till slips that we have collected over the past 3 months. It does not take a genius to work out that that is more than one trip on average per day, 7 days per week for the entire duration of the project. What was interesting about these visits was that during each visit, we would walk through each aisle of the store, even if we had been there 20 times before, to see what new ideas we could pick up from the range of products in the store. I remember on Saturday at the electronic supply store which also happened to be very busy that day, the store manager asked me if he could ring up my purchases. Whilst he was busy doing so, I saw something else that I thought would come in handy in the display cabinet and returning to the back of the store every time this happened he eventually turned to me and asked if I was sure that I was finished now.
On another occasion, after Peter and my eldest brother Tom had spent an entire week building the rudder pedals, we had to go to a large retail store for something and whilst there, we spotted an item which changed our entire thought process on what the pedals should look like and we returned home and literally cut through this masterpiece of metal frame and precision machined levers which Peter and Tom had built, and replaced the entire arrangement with this new idea. Admittedly it turned out for the best, but it was not easy to throw away so much effort and valuable time.
We debated if the cockpit should be permanently mounted on a trailer or if we should build a ‘free-standing’ unit. The latter course was chosen and with only a few small hand tools in the garage which had now become a workshop, Peter constructed the most amazing frame, complete with rubber engine mounts and motorcar shock absorbers to give the pilot the feel of movement when he climbed the side steps to get into the simulator and to allow the vibration of the ground roll, gear up and down etc to be effective. The frame was designed in such a way that we could easily replace the main support beams and substitute them with motion control. This of course was not part of the first phase of the project as time and capital expenditure were already stretched beyond the limits. The frame is mounted on two fixed castors and one swivel steel castor that facilitate the easy movement of the simulator once offloaded from the trailer. Once in position, we simply jack it up, remove the wing nuts and lower the frame onto the floor that then gives the whole simulator a solid base-stand.
Living close to a major road on a Friday or Saturday night leaves one with no doubt as to what type of sound system to purchase if you need serious sound. You can hear some cars half a kilometre away and as they approach and the mind boggles at the sanity (or insanity) of these drivers who are able to drive with music that is so loud and sub- woofer speakers that echo the sounds of rhythm for a few minutes after they have passed in a pulsating ‘DOOF! DOOF! DOOF!’ reverberating through the night and causing all the windows in our house to vibrate – well that’s the EXACT type of sound system that we needed for our simulator, so when I arrived at the store the following week to make my purchase, the attendant, who could see that I too was serious about sound (as I had just purchased a 1000 watt system with 4 tweeters, two mid range and two 800watt sub- woofer speakers), enquired from me, ‘so tell me sir, what kind of car are you going to install this system into?’ Being the honest person that I am, I could not lie, so I told him that it was a Mirage F1CZ – there was a stunned silence of disbelief and no further questions were asked.
Finally the day came when it was time to start the cabling. We used roughly a kilometre of wire and made more than 1500 connections and solder joints before we could start testing everything. We did not know if what we had designed was actually going to work, so testing was critical before we could even think about mounting the panel in the cockpit. I remember being rather impatient that day and Peter insisted that we finish all the testing before the mounting began. He was right of course…
The final step was the seat. We had always left this item to the last stage hoping that Harry could source a proper ejection seat for us. Harry seemed so hopeful every time we spoke to him and whilst not blaming him at all for not being able to source a seat (he really tried his best), we too remained ever hopeful. A few days remained and one morning we took the decision to start building our own seat. Peter worked very hard that day and by the time I returned home from work, there was one seat and one very exhausted Peter. It looked magnificent and so close to the real thing.
Then one fine day as we awoke, we realised that this was the day that we had worked so long and hard to achieve – our simulator was finally complete and it was that same day that we had to load it and deliver it to Waterkloof Air force Base. We had made it by ‘the skin of our teeth’.
A 4-metre motorcar trailer was hired for the task and after 4 hours, we eventually managed to get our Mirage loaded and secured for her journey to Pretoria. Our nerves were on edge as we had not been able to get any insurance company to give us transit cover – and what if something happened to our precious Mirage en-route to Waterkloof. Driving at no more that 80km/hr on the freeway, we finally made it to gate 6 of the base. As we eased her through the gate, ensuring that she came to no harm, there was a loud shout ‘STOP!!!’ As if like a bird proudly perched as high as it could on the tree tops, the top end of the simulator was too tall to clear the gate. It took another 90 minutes to negotiate to get her into gate 12 which had no railing over the top of the gate and then we had to take a very slow and bumpy ride right over a dirt road that runs along the full length of the runway and back again on the opposite side to the inside of gate 6 where we were more than an hour earlier. As we arrived at the hangar, an enthusiastic team of club members from AVA and VACS assisted us to offload the Simulator and place her in her specially demarcated area. It was truly a proud moment for us as virtually none of the members had actually seen her before this day and from the comments that we got, many were in total awe.
After a good nights rest, we got up early the next day and made our way to Waterkloof for the opening of the show. Some people said at the show that we must have spent hours flying in the simulator – this was far from the truth. Both Peter and myself took our second flight ever in our simulator during the course of that first day – we had not had time before then and besides, the simulator was still under construction right up to the last few hours hour before loading.
We realised that without having had access to any of the original aircraft parts to complete our cockpit, our simulator would be seen by many for exactly what it was, a "home-build" device, but we were proud of our achievement and ready to share our dream with the real world. We were also very aware that there would be hundreds of real fighter pilots and air-force technical people in the crowds looking at our creation. What we did not know was that because of this, along with our attitude and commitment, we would become very well known to the industry overnight and as a direct result of this, we would be offered the opportunity in the years to come to completely re-build our cockpit into a fully operational training device, with all of the original parts installed and working and have access to all the technical drawings and information that we required.
Being part of the AVA (The Association of Virtual Aviation) display and the Youth Programme was both an honour and an exciting experience for us. It was so good to see how many of the young kids could actually fly and we felt a sense of great achievement when their faces lit up as they started the engine in preparation of their first flight. As the engines roared splendidly with each sortie, the noise just attracted more and more curious visitors.
As the day progressed, more and more compliments rolled in for what we had achieved and we felt great – well I suppose as great as we thought we could possibly feel until the most amazing thing in this project happened to us. Standing on the side of the cockpit peering over the edge at one of the young pilots going through his pre-flight checks was a man who suddenly reached into his pocket and pulled out a small torch. Using the torch, he strained his eyes to read the serial number that was now exposed and located just inside the wall of the cockpit but obscured from the general spectators view. As he read each number, his face lit up and suddenly he announced to us that he knew exactly where this Mirage had been and how it was finally grounded. At last there was some history and we were ‘over the moon’. His next action puzzled us a little as he suddenly left and said that he had seen someone that he wanted to introduce us to. Making his way through a crowd of people standing talking to a man in a wheelchair, he introduced Peter to that special man and immediately, the wheelchair man cut short his conversation and after excusing himself from the crowd that surrounded him raced as fast as he could towards the Mirage simulator. Peter who is also a professional photographer for a lifestyle magazine realised that something was about to happen but did not quite know what, so he ran ahead and grabbed is camera and waited for the man to arrive.
As the wheelchair came to an abrupt halt on the right side of the cockpit, the man leant over and as if in disbelief, cautiously moved his fingers towards the side of the cockpit. Everyone watched in silence wondering what was going on and as the man touched the newly buffed paintwork he exclaimed in a soft voice "my baby.. my baby" Who was this man and what did this mean? Why was he so emotional? The man’s name was Major Arthur Piercy, a former Mirage F1-CZ pilot from number 3 Squadron, but “who was this man called ‘Arthur’ and why was he in a wheelchair” I enquired. Arthur leant forward and told me that he would tell me later because by this time, a group of men had whisked Arthur around to the other side and started lifting him out of his wheelchair and into the cockpit. It was one of the most emotional moments and tears flowed freely over grown men's faces. It was an amazing site for the crowd who stood by and looked on, but for Arthur, this was a moment that he would never forget.
We had to make some adjustments to the controls so that Arthur could use the joystick to control not only his elevators and ailerons, but because of his legs being totally paralysed, we assigned the rudder to the joystick as well. Everyone watched as Arthur started the engine and rolled down the runway. Which of us could imagine what was going through his mind at that moment and for the rest of the time that he spent flying around the skies, as free as a bird once again.
At the end of the session, we battled to get Arthur out of the cockpit and after almost dropping him from a height of two metres; we managed somehow to get him safely back into his wheelchair. By this time a large crowd had gathered around and it was time to hear the full account of ‘Arthur’s story’. Emotions ran high and the crowd listed in awe to the story of how this ex Mirage F1CZ pilot was in a dogfight in a senseless war in Angola. Narrowly escaping death on more than one occasion and ducking past an oncoming missile which exploded as it passed taking with it the parachute and leaving the back end of his plane looking like a pincushion, Arthur managed to make it back to the base in Rundu where he tried to land safely without his drag chute. The aircraft tore down the runway and through the sandbank at the other end and as it went through the security fence on the other side, the ejection seat ejected involuntarily on impact and because of the angle, the ejection seat parachute did not deploy and Arthur still strapped to the seat, thumped hard into the ground. He was badly injured and taken to hospital where after months of treatment, he was discharged in a wheelchair. Arthur has always been passionate about flying and his dream is to fly solo around the world one day in a specially adapted aircraft. He has a website with the full story and details of his Project Dream wings. The site can be found at www.piercy.co.za In our discussions; Arthur told me that there are only two things that he really misses in life – flying and Ballroom dancing. Arthur was so grateful that we had given him the opportunity to be re-united with his old aircraft, but this left us feeling a little uneasy as we were still not totally convinced that this cockpit was from tail number 206. How could we be so cruel as to tell him what we were thinking when he was so convinced that it was indeed his beloved ‘206’.
Once back home, we decided to visit Arthur’s site and to our amazement, he had written a news item about his experience that day and how after thinking that he would never see his old cockpit again, suddenly here he was sitting in it and flying again. As if we had not had enough surprises for one day, when we saw the photos of the crash, we realised why there were dents in the front end but we were confused why in one photo, there was a clear burn mark, but on the left side of the aircraft whilst Arthur had told us earlier that day that the fire was on the right of the aircraft. Immediately this raised again our doubts as to whether or not this was really tail number 206 – Arthur’s Mirage F1CZ. The image of the burn mark looked so familiar, but how could it be on the opposite side to what Arthur had reported, and then, with great excitement it suddenly dawned on us – from where he landed and was looking back, the fire was certainly on the right side, but on Arthur’s right as he was looking backwards towards the aircraft at the fire on the left side as it faced him. From that moment, there was no more doubt that this was indeed, Arthur’s aircraft. This was later confirmed and from that moment, we were totally convinced. We also suddenly remembered that the one thing that failed Arthur when he landed was his drag chute and ironically, that was the only lever that was still intact when we took delivery of our cockpit, and despite many attempts to interface and connect this ‘green handle’ over the prior three months, somehow we just could not make it work no matter how hard we tried…just like it did not work on that fateful day of the accident with Arthur. It also occurred to us after hearing Arthur’s story that there was a reason why we could not get an original ejection seat – Arthur had landed still strapped in his seat and no doubt, it was destroyed in the process, so there was no way that no other seat would do except one that was newly built for the job – just as we had done the week before the show. These thoughts sent shivers down our spine but also gave so much more meaning to why we had battled so much with these few items. Our dream had come true and we thank Harry Mole for the wonderful opportunity.
The next day I bumped into Arthur again at the show and he said that he had something for us but wanted to present it to us both in front of the simulator. Clutching a packet on his lap, he reached down and pulled out a gift that meant more to us than anyone could imagine. It was a Jepperson Professional Pilot Logbook in appreciation for what we had done for him the previous day. This logbook will be used to record every flight that is made in our simulator. Admittedly it was difficult to hold back the tears, and Arthur was asked to make the very first entry into the book which he said would be an honour for him. As he grasped the pen in both hands, we watched as he entered the letters "F1-CZ 206", his flight details and a comment ‘Thanks a million – Arthur’
We collected a number of prominent entries over the next few days including those of many Air-force generals and pilots from across the whole spectrum of aircraft from Cheetahs to Caravans, 747's to A340's Dakotas, Impalas, Cessna’s, Lear jets, F16's and helicopter pilots alike. Karl Jensen, a retired SAA 747-400 Captain wrote ‘well done you guys – many thanks’ and Derek Watts, the television station, M-Net, presenter for the program, Carte-Blanch was filmed doing his flight and this was screened on national television later that week. Other comments were from Brigadier Generals, two SAA Airbus Captains and a host of commercial pilots and these ranged from ‘a really great experience’, absolutely awesome’, ‘the gauges were brilliant’, ‘I am totally bombed out’.
We had a queue a mile long waiting to fly and as I looked up on the last day, I noticed two older men standing patiently waiting hours for their turn. The one elderly man was an ex Dakota pilot and there was no way he was going to miss out on the opportunity to fly a Mirage. His comment read ‘fantastic – busy day in the office’ What he actually was saying that unlike a Dakota where the pilot had lots of time to think about his landing procedures and get himself properly lined up for his landing, this baby was so quick that he actually started sweating. Finally the second older man stepped up and as he got into the cockpit, he asked for a briefing. He was an ex F16 fighter pilot in the Polish air force. Following all the instructions given to him during his briefing he paid us a huge compliment when out of pure habit, he was on final approach and suddenly he leant forward and flicked the Altimeter twice with his fingers. It did not move so he repeated the exercise. To him, that instrument appeared so real and to us, it was a huge compliment for the huge effort that we had put into making everything as real as we possibly could.
We were handed a flight manual during the closing stages of show by someone who thought that we should have it and since then, we have spent may hours refining the flight characteristics, weights, thrust etc so as to add to the sheer joy of flying this remarkable flying machine.
We have a become leading and well respected simulator supplier and have gone on to focus on specialist training device development and manufacture for the civil and military aviation industry.
These events have taught us that man's ability to overcome his disabilities, however they may present themselves to him, should never be underestimated.
After hours of flying the simulator, Dave was prompted to go back to flight school and is now a qualified pilot with his own aircraft, his greatest pleasure being able to take his twin brother flying.
Peter went on to become a highly respected simulator designer and builder and has dedicated his life to creating training platforms for safe instrument flight and procedures. He has supplied both the local and export market with state of the art simulators for both flight and air traffic control training.
David is now the CEO of a major IT company operating both locally and internationally. He achieved his commercial pilots licence in December 2008 His company website is www.disalab.com.
"Congratulations Dave, we are all proud of you" Peter
Dave takes ownership of his Piper Cherokee - 19 January 2006
seen here with Mom and Ivan Davison of Placo (Pty) Ltd Aircraft Sales
On the 5th of May 2010 we took delivery of our new Seneca V. It was another very proud moment
in our lives and we owe a great deal of gratitude to our brother Jeff for his kindness and support
along with the unending support of our amazing family. Wow! We are indeed blessed....
Our lifelong dream has finally become a reality.
Peter and David take delivery of the new Seneca V in front of their private hangar in Heidelburg