There was something extra sweet about Cameron Ireland’s 16th birthday when the Melkbosstrand teen climbed into a Sling 2 and took his first solo flight.
Cameron’s flight in the light two-seater, single engine aircraft at Morningstar Airfield was the culmination of a dream he’s had since he was a small boy and sat in the cockpit with his father, Paul Ireland, an airline pilot.
By the time he was about 10, Cameron would get home from school and be glued to a flight simulator on his computer for hours at a time.
When he was 13, he told his parents he wanted to be a pilot and, a year later, he was given a chance to go for lessons.
“After one or two lessons, it was amazing,” says Cameron. “Being in a small plane was so different to being in an airline flight.”
Cameron started training at the Morningstar Flight Academy, but a student pilot has to pass eight difficult exams on the way to getting their private pilot licence (PPL), and Cameron’s instructors were worried he would battle to balance his training with school, especially because the pressure on the trainee starts mounting the moment they pass their first PPL exam.
“From the time you pass the first exam, you have 18 months to complete the rest,” says Paul.
“Even if you pass seven and you don’t pass the eighth one within the 18 months, everything gets wiped away, and you will have to start from the beginning.”
At 15, Cameron applied for his student pilot licence so he could write the first of the eight exams.
He admits it was difficult because of the time limit and he couldn’t neglect his school studies. But he used his school holidays to study and he passed all his PPL exams in eight months.
Paul is very proud of how hard his son worked.
“He used to go to a private school when he was in primary school, but his mother and I decided that we would take him out and put him in a government school because we wanted him to see the true reflection of the new South Africa.
“He is more appreciative now because he achieved these things himself,” says Paul.
Ross Leighton, the chairman of the Western Cape Microlight Club, which is based at Morningstar Airfield, says Cameron’s achievements are cause for much pride among club members, and he would like to see other young people learning to fly.
“There are sponsorship programmes that offer help to interested individuals that would like to join the club.”
Paul admits that having a dad as a pilot would have been an advantage to Cameron, but he insists he only offered advice when his son struggled, the rest he left up to the academy because he wanted to make sure Cameron was on an equal footing with everyone else.
For Cameron, the next step on the road to getting his pilot’s licence involves logging lots of flying hours.
“From here on I need to do the practical side of things and hopefully achieve my PPL on my 17th birthday. After I finish school, I’m hoping to continue with my flying career and do my commercial pilot licence and I would like to work for an airline one day.”