Obituary Mike Spence EAA 15 Feb 1930 - 25 Feb 2019
By Paul Lastrucci
The founder of the EAA in South Africa Mike Spence passed away this past week at the ripe old age of 89. Mike was born in the then Rhodesia in February 1930 and spent his lifetime pursuing the love of his family and friends and his animals, and an insatiable passion for aviation.
The Experimental Aircraft Association some sixty six years ago found it origins at Hales Corner s in Wisconsin USA started by Paul and Audrey Poberezny and some friends. They essentially brought together folk that shared the passion of aviation following on the boom years after WWII and soon the realisation of building, flying and sharing innovative ideas right in your own garage all by regular folk who shared this undying passion and made it real.
Mike Spence and his pals Bill Keil, Woody Woods and Anton Maneschyn brought the dream of the EAA to South Africa 50 Years ago and formalised Chapter 322 Johannesburg in 1969. The EAA in South Africa played a pivotal role in sport and recreational aviation regulations and through Mike and many other members helped formulate along with the then DCA the LS1 document which set out the build standards and other regulatory technical requirements to foster the sport.
This also initiated the approved person's scheme which is still in existence today. In the latest regulations the LS1 document is included into the Non Type Certified Aircraft (NTCA) regulations as it is known today. Early homebuilt regulations remain essentially the same as was promulgated all those years ago with the assistance of Mike and various other EAA enthusiasts in the seventies and eighties.
Mike ran a business in Edenvale Johannesburg for many years called Republic Pneumatics where he supplied equipment to various industries. He also supplied many aviation maintenance organisations and became well known as Mr Walkie Talkie. Mike as always was very friendly and humorous and brought this humour to everyday transactions, which made him very popular within the aviation fraternity in South Africa. Another mean feat that Mike did, was when he was approaching his twilight years, he wrote the (Aircraft Maintenance Engineer) exams on type certified aircraft and passed them first time. He continued to serve the aviation community at Ultimate Aircraft Services Krugersdorp for many years mentoring young apprentices into qualified technicians on various vintage, production and experimental aircraft.
Anthony, Mike's son grew up with a 7/16th wrench in his hand and through Mikes mentoring gained his AME and AP certificate having being exposed to many years of EAA experience. He branched off into commercial flying and is now flying Citation jets in Memphis Tennessee USA. Ant doesn't need an AME to sort out stuff on his commercial jet, he is one.
In the early nineties there were two pre-school nippers hanging out at Ultimate Aircraft Services at Krugersdorp Airfield, Justin and Matthew, Mike's grand kids. These were Ants boys and they kicked about old Tiger Moths, Auster's and Super Cubs just out of nappies. Amongst the EAA and Flying Club members at Krugersdorp, they quickly became known as Nosewheel and Tailwheel, these two little oke's both clad in overalls started swinging wrenches from an early age and flew with Mike and Anthony just able to peep over the instrument panel. These were just such apt names for the third generation Spence's following in Grand Pa's footsteps. In later years Nelson Muthivi, our resident fuel pump attendant at Krugersdorp used to write on their fuel slips, Nosewheel or Tailwheel which ever one came for gas in the many aircraft they later began to fly. Justin now a commercial pilot amongst others and flies a Turbo Thrush Crop duster in the Memphis area and Matthew……… wait for it Ultimate Aircraft Services USA. He has progressed to pilot and an aircraft technician with Inspection Authorisation (IA) owner of several aircraft and a very knowledgeable aircraft technical buff and enthusiast now residing in the USA. Clearly evident, three generations of Spence's have certainly followed their passion all thanks to Mike.
In the words of Paul McCartney; “You can judge a man's true character by the way he treats his fellow animals” this was easily identifiable within minutes of meeting Mike. His love for dogs and cats and all animals was unsurpassable, his following was a pack of dogs at his house at Buccleuch and his numerous airfield cats in his hangar at the airfield were all subjected to his kindness. It will be hard to forget his use of doggie language when he conversed with them; he often told me they were his people!!
Mike you have left a huge void in the aviation fraternity in South Africa, You have also left a legacy that gratefully is being closely mirrored by your children and grandchildren and many more. From when you did your pilots licence in 1953 at Kumarlo Airfield in Bulawayo and shortly thereafter the acquisition of your little Auster Arrow ZS VMV that you acquired in 1958 and flew almost all your life. You gave such a lot, you endured the hardships that life dishes out, and you definitely dodged the perils of old age with your infectious sense of humour and your ability to inspire and to give to those less fortunate, the time of day.
Even the Catholic priest gave a great eulogy having had known Mike for over twenty years. Uncustomary, he broke the formality of the Catholic Mass Funeral service with laughter and some hand gestures specific to stories of how he remembered Mike and his wife Penny, and the good they did for the church. Mike's Rabbi Friend of many years also took the podium and shared some lovely stories of Mike, typifying his humour and kindness. He also added that Mike was the initiator of the jokes, of when the Rabbi and the Priest walked into the bar together. Once again, the assembled congregation of family friends and acquaintances including the catholic priest, shrieked with laughter.
On Monday the 25th of February Mike, you were finally pointed skywards, I'm sure you'll soar in that ole' Auster and Tiger Moth as you did many times when you left the surly bounds of mother earth and returned in your lifetime.
We are thankful for the many years that you spent with us all.
EAA of SA National President.
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