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Stefan Fouche is a helicopter pilot and the chief flying instructor at Base4Aviation in Cape Town, South Africa. Sananda Sahoo / The National
Stefan Fouche is a helicopter pilot and the chief flying instructor at Base4Aviation in Cape Town, South Africa.

Sananda Sahoo / The National

A day in the life: Learning to steer around turbulence

Stefan Fouche is a helicopter pilot and chief flight instructor for Base4Aviation in Cape Town.

Stefan Fouche is a helicopter pilot and the chief flight instructor at Base4Aviation in Cape Town. Flying over the mountainous south-western Cape region where winds can get strong at times, the 34-year-old likes pointing out the towns nestled between hills and farmlands.

5.20am

I get up, and by 6.30am I am at the [Cape Town] airport. At Base4Aviation we fly charter flights and also train people.

7am

The first flight is around this time, given the weather conditions. In the charter department, we do scenic tourist flights as well as [flights where we can] drop people on mountain tops to set up an antenna. The trickier part is mountain flight or [flying] in between mountain terrain. The biggest risk in mountain flights is that in case of an emergency there is no place to land. Wind around the mountains creates turbulence and you have to know where the wind is the least, where it goes up the mountain side and down. The last tricky bit about this is the landing. You have to pick a place with the least amount of obstacles around you. I have flown over the Hottentots Holland mountain range, Cederberg mountain range and Table Mountain. I have been working here since 2008 and never had an emergency situation.

Mid-morning

For training, an instructor can have a maximum of four flights a day. Students come in every two hours. We now have 40 students, but around 15 are actively busy. We have had students from Kenya, Switzerland, Germany, the United Kingdom and the United States besides South Africa. We give them preflight briefings to teach them the basic principles of a helicopter. During the flight, an instructor would teach them how to do a particular exercise. On average it ranges from half an hour to one and a half hours. An instructor can be in the air for six hours a day and for charter flights that's eight hours a day.

Lunch

We eat whenever we get time. I love the job. I grew up in Pietersburg [now Polokwane] in northern South Africa. Here you go to places few people have been before. Around spring time, you see families of whales and sharks. Last November, with a University of Cape Town research student we tracked 45 nests of black eagles in three days in Cederberg Mountain Range.

Afternoon

As soon as we know what flights we have, which is usually a day ahead, we do the flight planning. We check the weather, plan the route, decide on the weight and the number of passengers and how much fuel we need. But then we can have a fantastic plan and if there is fog we need to change it.

6pm

I go home and spend time with my two children. I also like kiteboarding.

10.30pm

I try to go to sleep by then but it depends on the kids.

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