Part 2: Reading comprehension

Part 2: Reading comprehension

Read the following interview with Captain Frank Tonkin, then answer the questions which follow

“My flying career in the SAAF (South African Air Force) and now South African Airways had and has us flying in and out of mostly safe and reasonable airports with decent approach aids and good runways.

The most challenging part of most flights for pilots is the approach and landing, and taking off in bad weather, especially with a heavy aircraft and strong cross winds, is probably the most challenging thing most of us will face. I have had my fair share of all those!

There were some hairy take-offs out of Ondangwa airfield, with heavy (armour-laden) Impala jet aircraft taking off at high temperatures during the Angola war. There were no real airport problems flying F1’s (Mirages), other than landing on the fairly short runway at Rundu with a heavy aircraft.

Airline flying wise, I did a two-month flying contract in Vietnam in 1997 (based in Ho Chi Minh City – the old Saigon), flying a Boeing 737 as a co-pilot and there was only one fairly tricky airport we flew to called Hai Phong, in the north east of Vietnam. It was only four metres above sea level, had a short runway, was in a valley and was always very misty. There were very few approach aids, no ILS no approach lights, no VOR, in fact it only had a NDB which are rarely used now-days.

We always had to do a monitored approach, that is when the co-pilot flies the aircraft (head down on instruments) and the captain monitors the flying, but is ‘head up’, looking for the airfield and runway. We basically had to fly over the NDB beacon at a specific height, hit the stop watch, then descend to our minimum safe height above the ground and hope to see the runway after a determined time. The speed and timing had to be very accurate, but because of the bad visibility in the mist, we quite often never saw the runway and had to divert to another airport or back to Saigon.”

Frank Tonkin, 19/2/2016; published at


  1. Are the following statements true or false?
    • Frank has limited experience of flying in bad weather
    • Frank preferred the Mirage F1 to the Impala
    • Frank was working for South African Airways in Vietnam
    • Weather was rarely a problem in Hai Phong
    • The approach aids in Hai Phong were not good
    • Frank needed his stopwatch for landings in Hai Phong
    • It wasn’t unusual for Frank to have to abort landings in Hai Phiong
    • Sometimes he had to fly back to Ho Chi Minh City because of crosswind in Hai Phong
  2. Explain what Frank means when he talks about being “head up” or “head down”
  3. The following abbreviations all appear in the text. What do they stand for? What do they mean?
    • ILS
    • VOR
    • NDB

Vocabulary building
Which of the words underlined in the text means the opposite of these?

  • Easy (two different words)
  • Never
  • Climb
  • Poor quality, inadequate
  • Safe, straightforward
  • Approximate
  • Many, a lot
  • Low