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Article and photos by Amn Tebogo Kekana, AD ASTRA Magazine

When one walks in at 85 Combat Flying School (85 CFS), AFB Makhado, the hospitality reception that is ushered out by the members is unforgettable. It even makes one forget the wait for the ever-busy Officer Commanding and the Royal Air Force’s exchange pilot instructor who is the man AD ASTRA Magazine was actually looking for.

Flight Lieutenant Ben Hodges from the Royal Air Force hails as a reserved individual who has managed to gel in with AFB Makhado like a hand in glove. His main mission is defined as a Hawk training instructor at the Base, while learning more about how the SA Air Force (SAAF) do training at 85 CFS their aviation craft. This is clearly a give and take situation as he was eager to share with AD ASTRA that the innovative joint venture that the SAAF and the Royal Air Force (RAF) have gotten into is going to be fruitful in terms of transferal of skills and a lifelong relationship forged. He believes that by helping others, he is already helping himself.

Lt Col Lance-Arthur Wellington together with F-Lieutenant Ben Hodges

“We cannot wait to have him more hands-on in the training sphere, as we realise that we still have a lot to learn in order to do things in the right manner here. He has an international understanding that we need and I know he is going to learn a lot from us as well,” commented Lt Col Lance- Arthur Wellington, Officer Commanding (OC) of 85 CFS.

He is looking forward to the conversion of the Hawk cockpit that he will be using to instruct, as it is vastly different from what they have at the RAF. He will be receiving a bridging course for basic instruction on how to give fighter instructions as he still needs to familiarise himself with it over the next two months as he is not yet hands-on with offering training as yet. He does admit though that he does turn to feel a bit homesick at times but he is positive as his fellow Squadron members are doing their best to make him feel at home. After all, this is going to be his home for the next three years.

He further shared that it was not easy to have to move across countries with a pregnant wife and creating a home in another country. The transition and adjustments have really been tremendous but the challenge has been a learning curve for both of them. The challenges that he has come across have been to sort out administration paperwork like the banking issues and medical aid. He thinks that things can move a bit slower down here than back home.

F-Lt Ben Hodges, RAF's Hawk pilot trainer.

Flight Lieutenant Hodges is certainly enjoying the weather here and so far he has not had a major culture shock. He has not had the time to travel or socialize because of time constraints and juggling everything to make South Africa a home.” My wife and I really love the nature here although she cannot really be traveling much as her condition doesn’t allow at the moment. We have been to Tzaneen, however just taking a drive around”, said the beaming Hodges.

Flying might sound scary for most of us, but for this avid pilot, cyclist and sports fanatic, it is his first love. He sees flying as an art of control and precision, it never loses its challenge, no matter how many times one can do it.


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