'Helicopter man' takes to the skies

Hendrick Chebanga about to fly in a helicopter for the first time. Chebanga built his own police helicopter.
Hendrick Chebanga about to fly in a helicopter for the first time. Chebanga built his own police helicopter.

Wednesday is the big day for “helicopter man” Hendrick Chebanga‚ who built a replica police helicopter in his backyard‚ as he takes to the skies from the Grand Central Airport in a real helicopter.

Excitement was written all over his face as he was taken through all the flight-related preparations at the Grand Central Airport‚ a privately-owned facility in Midrand. We caught up with him at the runway moments before take-off.

“I still cannot believe that it is happening. I told everyone back home in Zimbabwe that I am flying today. My dream is about to come true for me because I have always wanted to fly. What I produced with my hands made this dream come true for me‚” Chebanga said excitedly.

His dream of flying in a real helicopter is fulfilled by Alan Robertson‚ who was touched by Chebanga’s remarkable story published on SowetanLIVE last month.

Robertson was to pilot his black Airbus H120 five-seater turbine helicopter over Sandton CBD for Chebanga to experience his first flight for about 30 minutes.

“It will depend on how he handles his first flight and we will take it from there. If he he is fine then we might fly for longer. I want him to enjoy the flight but I do not want to overwhelm him because it is his first flight. I am sure he will be fine though and‚ certainly‚ this will not be his last flight‚” Robertson said.

He quipped “I hope he does not touch anything” but said that during the flight he would be explaining in detail to Chebanga how the aircraft operates and Chebanga will in turn have an opportunity to ask questions during the flight.

“Before we take off‚ he is going to assist me in the pre-flight exercise. When we return he is going to spend an hour with the guys that manage‚ maintain and fix helicopters so that he can see what goes into building a helicopter‚” he said.

Chebanga‚ who lives in Dilopye village in Hammanskraal in Pretoria‚ used discarded corrugated iron sheets and other scrap metal to build the replica helicopter and painted it in police colours‚ complete with SAPS insignia on the front.

The helicopter‚ which boasts a blue light and a siren‚ also caught the attention of police minister Fikile Mbalula‚ who posed for pictures. This paved the way for the helicopter to be displayed at Pretoria West police college for months.

Chebanga said he would pay attention on what material went into building a real helicopter during his maiden flight and would see how he could incorporate that into turning his replica into a real thing.