'Secrets from the Cockpit' by Robert Schapiro

Robert Schapiro always wanted to fly, so much so that he had to rise above the challenge of anti-Semitic bullying, mockery and fierce rivalry to realise his dream… but rise he did. In a new book – ‘Secrets from the Cockpit’ – Schapiro reveals everything about international pilots behaving badly, and other flying stories. Schapiro earned his wings in the South African Air Force, going on to command Dakotas in the Border War… before flying for SAA and beyond.

Secrets from the Cockpit, Pilots Behaving Badly - Robert Shapiro

In the book, 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.

Born in Cape Town, Schapiro started his aviation career in the South African Defence Force at 17. He became one of his squadron’s youngest-ever commanders at 20, flying C-47 Dakotas in the Border War in the late 1970s.

Schapiro joined South African Airways (SAA) in 1979, soon learning that at that time SAA crews were dominated by the ‘Royal Family’ – that was the term given to captains who thought themselves above the rules, and who spent time overseas on drinking binges or coaxing air hostesses to be their ‘airline wives’.

He went on to fly Boeing 727s, 737s and 747 jumbo jets. When sanctions forced SAA to cut back on its routes, Schapiro 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. He remained with Nippon until his retirement in 2010 as a Boeing 747 captain.

Schapiro was a professional pilot for more than 30 years, and then went on to develop and teach courses to help those afraid of flying. He sadly died of cancer in 2017 at age 59.

His uplifting and humorous memoir offers a rare slice of aviation history.


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