The 14th of January marked my 20 year career milestone in Aviation. Looking back, my random and very spur of the moment decision to join the South African Air Force was the best decision I have ever made.
It was April 1997 and I was 19 years old. I woke up one morning and decided that I was heading to Pretoria because I wanted to join the South African Air Force. I really wanted to study but didn’t have the funds, plus now I needed to work to support myself. So I packed my bag and headed to a city I knew very little about. I immediately applied to the Air Force and not long after that I had my interview and psychometric tests. In December 1997 I received my letter to say I had been accepted and that I would start Basic Military Training on 14 January 1998.
So this young Indian girl from Durban who had no idea what she had signed up for was heading to the military. Firstly, my Afrikaans sucked. Secondly, I don’t take to orders or being screamed at too well. Thirdly, I’m as stubborn AF. Fourthly, at that age I was a rebel with a cause. I arrived at the SAAF gymnasium and reported to the rugby field, with suitcase, ironing board, a box of cleaning material and there began my career in Aviation. Now let me tell you, if you want to get fit then the military will whip you into shape in 3 short months. You literally run your ass off while being screamed at (for no apparent reason) all day long. You sing for your food (as crappy as it may be), do everything at the speed of light and the phrase “val saam” takes on a whole new meaning. Even though it was super tough, I had the time of my life and the most fun ever.
The kids and I went to the SAAF gymnasium last week, so that I could show them where it all began for me and so that we could walk that very path from my first day again.
I passed military training and then started my studies towards a qualification as an Aircraft Instrument Mechanic. After 3 years of exceptionally hard work, commitment, dedication and having to prove myself daily (because I was a woman in a male dominated environment). I qualified as an Aircraft Instrument Mechanic on the C130 aircraft at 28 Squadron, Airforce Base Waterkloof in Pretoria.
Shortly after that, I left the SAAF to work at the South African Civil Aviation Authority as an Airworthiness Inspector. Words enough can’t express how amazing this part of my career has been. My learning curve was incredible and the responsibility of this job was huge, but it wasn’t all work and no play. Working for the SACAA afforded me the opportunity to become a jetsetter and travel the world. In the past 14 years I have visited more than 100 cities worldwide. I have had the pleasure of working with truly knowledgeable, remarkable people who have played a huge role in impacting my life.
Due to personal reasons, I had to give up my dream job. It wasn’t just a job, I loved what I did and was truly good at it. Anyway, I resigned from the SACAA and went into a partnership where we owned two Aircraft Maintenance Organisations and a Consultancy. This was hard work indeed and even though it didn’t work out well in the end, there’s always the opportunity to learn and to grow.
I went on to relocate to Cape Town with my kids, where I was employed as General Manager at an Aviation Company. I helped run an Aircraft Maintenance Organisation, Aircraft Training Organisation and an Operator. The exposure obtained while working in the industry was invaluable and definitely served me well.
In 2012 I returned to the SACAA but only this time it was in the position of Aircraft Accident and Incident Investigator. This is a part of my career that was life changing, almost soul destroying at times. As an accident investigator you sit there waiting for an accident to happen. You deal with things after the fact and nothing you say or do brings comfort to the families left behind. Determining the outcome of the accident, does however bring some closure to them. During this period I was fortunate enough to be given the opprtunity to study towards obtaining my fixed wing pilots license. At the same time, there was an unfortunate spate of fatal accidents. So I spent weekend after weekend dealing with dead bodies, traumatised and bereaved families while trying to conduct accident investigations. Then came my normal work week where I spent the majority of my time flying. In retrospect being an accident investigator and student pilot concurrently didn’t make for the best learning environment. I passed several of my subjects and flew 20 hours, before deciding to call it quits. I didn’t feel that flying was for me. I’m definitely a far better engineer than I would ever have been a pilot. I’m a firm believer in following my gut, so I don’t regret not finishing but I’m super grateful for the experienced obtained as a student pilot.
To commerorate my 20 years in Aviation I got a half sleeve aviation tattoo. Of all my tattoo’s this is indeed the most sentimental. The tattoo specifcally designed for me includes a female aviator; the C130 aircraft I qualified on and 3 paper planes that are sumbolic of my life as an engineer, student pilot and accident investigator
I continue to work at the SACAA as an Airworthiness Inspector in the Consistency and Standardisation department. I absolutely love what I do for a living and I work for a really great Aviation organisation. A career in Aviation is and can be exceptionally demanding and it’s very easy to find yourself pretty much running on empty while you burn the candle on both ends. My previous jobs required a lot of travel and overtime which meant I was never at home. After 20 years I’ve finally found work-life balance, by making the decision to stop travelling. I needed to make this decision so that I could focus on my family and myself. This major decision (though I miss travelling tremendously) has been amazing for my life as a whole. I’ve managed to prioritise myself and in so doing, my health has improved and I’m most certainly living my best life, by having the best of both worlds.
Happy Flying Lovelies