Airline pilot Robert Schapiro lifts the lid on 'Secrets from the Cockpit'

11 June 2021 - 10:07 By jonathan ball publishers
Uplifting and humorous, Robert Schapiro's memoir offers a rare slice of aviation history.
Uplifting and humorous, Robert Schapiro's memoir offers a rare slice of aviation history.
Image: Supplied

Robert Schapiro always wanted to fly. Challenging anti-Semitic bullying, mockery and fierce rivalry, he realised his dream by earning his wings in the South African Air Force and going on to command C-47 Dakotas in the Border War.

He joined South African Airways (SAA) in 1979, soon learning it was a time when SAA crews were dominated by the “Royal Family” – captains who thought themselves above the rules and who spent time overseas on drinking binges or coaxing air hostesses to be their “airline wives”.

When sanctions forced SAA to cut back on its routes, he was seconded to Japan’s Nippon Cargo Airlines, routinely flying between New York and Tokyo and grappling with often-hilarious cultural misunderstandings as he adapted to a Japanese style of operations.

Schapiro is disarmingly frank about life as an international pilot. He divulges near misses, emergency landings, navigation errors, passenger shenanigans (seat sex, anyone?), how pilots control rowdy travellers and absorbing detail about the technique of flying different aircraft types.

Uplifting and humorous, his memoir offers a rare slice of aviation history.

About the author

Schapiro was a professional pilot for more than 30 years. Born in Cape Town, he started his aviation career in the SADF at 17. He became one of his squadron’s youngest-ever commanders at 20, flying Dakotas in the Border War in the late 1970s.

In 1979 he joined SAA, flying Boeing 727s, 737s and 747 jumbo jets. He transferred to Japan’s Nippon Cargo Airlines in 1994, where he flew out of New York until his retirement from aviation in 2010 as a Boeing 747 captain.

Schapiro went on to develop and teach courses to help those afraid of flying. He died of cancer in 2017 at age 59.