Meet Ant. With over 3000 flying hours, beautiful hands fit for a Zoolander sequel, and a penchant for attracting, uh, colourful requests from enthusiastic passengers, Anthony has been a NAC Helicopters Cape Town pilot since 2002 and has some unique insights about piloting:
How long have you been a pilot for?
I have been flying one thing or another since I was 16 years old, so at the risk of dating myself for about 16 years.
What are some of your most memorable/ interesting destinations piloted?
There really have been too many moments to narrow it down to a few, but a good example of the kind of thing you get to see and experience would be while flying for the department for water affairs. The job involved ferrying maintenance teams and their equipment to and from the monitoring stations that are placed high in the mountains. Many of these stations are in places that are only accessible by helicopter. On this occasion, we were working in the Franschhoek Valley in winter, so the contrast between the warm and green staging area down in the valley and the snow covered mountains where the monitoring stations were was quite surreal, especially since we were “changing climate” every 30 minutes or so.
What are some of the craziest requests that a client has asked for?
One of the more colourful requests was from a bride. She asked if it would be possible to be lowered onto her wedding while suspended in a glass ball that would be slung under the helicopter. Having only recently got married myself, I fully understand the dangers of telling a bride she can’t do something. But sadly, since it would be impossible to list the number of laws and safety practices this would violate, we had to turn her request down.
One other occasion, while turning final after a short scenic flight, a rather excited young lady screamed at the top of her lungs into her headset “DO SOMETHING DANGEROUS!” I wasn’t sure how to respond, so I didn’t.
Tell us about the NAC fleet, what are some key differences amongst the helicopters?
The NAC fleet in Cape Town has traditionally consisted of 3 types of aircraft. The Robertson R44, the Bell 206 Jetranger and the Bell 206 Longranger. The two versions of the bell 206 are very similar aircrafts and differ mainly in size and the number of passengers they can carry, with four and six passengers respectively. The R44 differs in that it is powered by a piston engine as opposed to a turbine, and has space for three passengers.
How long does it to become a pilot?
The time it takes to train a commercial pilot varies depending on a number of factors. The flight hour requirement of 200 can be done relatively quickly, but the exams and theory work tend to take longer. A fair estimate would be between one and two years to achieve a commercial licence. With that said, as is the case with most industries, your basic qualification gets you in the door but you will send a long time closely monitored and mentored before you are considered to be fully qualified.
What inspired you to become a pilot?
My chronic fear of heights.
If you weren’t a pilot, what would you be?
A hand model. My mother says I have beautiful hands.
Tell us about some things you’ve seen at sea, when piloting a destination flight over Hermanus or to Gaansbaai, for example.
The main draw card for that part of the Cape are the whales, but what most people don’t realise is that it is often quite easy to see great white sharks from the air. The other thing people don’t realize is just how close they often come to swimmers and surfers. Even though shark attacks are extremely rare, we radio in sightings if we see sharks close to the swimming spots.