Open Day at Aerospace Leadership Academy


Both guest speakers at the Aerospace Leadership Academy (AERLA) open day stressed discipline and hard work as the core ingredients of a successful school career and the foundation for a rewarding career in one of the varied facets of the aerospace industry.

The Academy opened the doors of its Hekpoort facility for the first time on January 19 this year and the 15 cadets have taken to this education and its attendant activities like ducks to water.

There are currently seven boy and eight girl cadets at AERLA whose school days starts, military-wise with PT at 06h00. Then its breakfast and class with a short afternoon break before back to class then a break for compulsory sports and then its supper, homework and light outs. This is all geared to getting the cadets, note they are not “students” or “scholars” according to Dr Scott Firsing, an AERLA director, to the point where discipline is ingrained.

A drill session on a makeshift parade ground on Saturday showed the current crop of cadets to have this military skill down pat with actions properly executed following commands.

One of the AERLA personnel is retired SA Air Force (SAAF) general John Bayne. He spends two days a week at the Academy putting the military part of the curriculum into practice while others, including Abel Garwe, Althea Martlouw, Naomi Manzira and Yasmin van Deventer concentrate on the academic subjects including the all-important ones of science, technology, engineering and maths.

Just how important a proper education is, not only to those on the receiving end, but to their country, was stressed by Catherine Hill-Herdon, deputy chief of mission at the US embassy in Pretoria when she addressed the first AERLA cadet class.
“It is American belief that a good education is the most important legacy the next generation can have,” she said.

Colonel Rama Iyer, a former Indian Air Force combat pilot and instructor now serving with the SAAF, told the cadets and their parents that without hard work and discipline they could forget any meaningful career in the aerospace sector.
“Also remember aerospace belongs to the nation. It’s not just the air force or civil aviation. There are many sectors and they all need people who have discipline and are not afraid of hard work.”

Cadets at ALA work toward passing their Scholastic Aptitude Tests (SATs), a United States educational qualification that has been recognised by High Education South Africa. With both Firsing and fellow AERLA director, Ken Baucom Americans, the fledgling Academy has close contact with, among others, Embry Riddle Aeronautical University. This is in addition to the SAAF, Paramount Group and the SA National Space agency.
“AERLA provides a global student body with state of the art and quality education focussing on science, technology, engineering and maths. Our cadets are prepared for the next step in their education and in life because of the skills and knowledge obtained at our institution,” said Firsing who also believes AERLA is important for Africa and the world as a place where innovative leaders who can solve local, regional and global problems are educated.
defenceWeb was granted a brief interview with one of the cadets. Fourteen-year-old Muhammed said he was happy at the Academy and felt the small number of children in class made for better learning.

Asked about his future, especially in view of being schooled at AERLA, he had no hesitation in saying “jet pilot in the air force”. He was not put off by talk of long hours and the difficulties facing South Africa’s future jet pilots, in fact he sees being accepted as a pupil pilot in the air force as his first challenge after successfully completing the AERLA curriculum.

Some of the AERLA cadets have already started flying with Jessica from Pretoria West already having a logbook with a handful of Cessna hours in it. She is doing a PPL through Blue Chip Aviation at Wonderboom, another Academy partner.

Another cadet, Othello, has signed up for his PPL, and a third, Josh, will soon start retaining to become a helicopter pilot.