Record of the First Flights made in South Africa and the Birth
of Aviation in the Sub-Continent.
it is only a short time ago, in comparison to the age of the
world, that man learnt how to use his superior knowledge to
enable him to fly, the idea of flight itself is not so young.
The first attempts made by man to fly must have been carried
out in the fifteenth century for there were many strange and
weird machines invented from that time onwards until, and
even after, the first successful flight by the Wright brothers.
these inventions were to have been worked by the pilot, to
whom numerous ropes for the flapping of the wings were attached.
Others employed birds or salls. But none of them worked. Model
gliders later became popular and in 1848 John Stringfellow
fitted a model gilder with a light steam engine which drove
two airscrews. This was the first machine to fly under its
own power, although many balloons had made ascents before
on the seventh of December,1903, the first power machine to
fly with a man in control took to the air at Kittyhawk in
the hands of Orville Wright, watched anxiously by his brother.
Wilbur. It was only a very short flight but it was a start
and with the interest which men had shown in the possibilities
of flying in the previous centuries, the development of aviation
to its present high standard was hastened.
Powered Flight in South Africa
the flight of the Wright brothers, the Voisin biplane, an
improved version of the plane used by the brothers, was brought
out. It was one of this type which was introduced to South
Africa by the French aeronaut, M. Albert Kimmerling, in 1909.
This was the first plane to be seen in South Africa and exhibitions
were given by Kimmerl!ng in some of the main centres of the
Albert Kimmerling's aircraft in East London.
Courtesy Coenie Breytenbach.
exhibition was given in East London on December 25, 1909,
and the flights made at this exhibition were the first flights
ever seen in South Africa. Kimmerling later brought the Voisin
biplane to Durban in 1910. Arriving in Durban on April 26
he began erecting the plane, preparatory to giving exhibition
flights here, and on the next day the following advertisement
appeared in the "Natal Mercury":-
M. Kimmerling will make an
ascent in the
on Saturday, 30th April, 1910,
at the Durban Bay Lands
Between the hours of 3.30 and
train service: Fare, re-
turn ticket, Including admission
to flying grounds, 3/6d.
signals will be shown from
the old Town Hall. Code as
follows: White flag signifies
weather favourable for flight.
Red flag signifies flight will
take place at advertised time.
Black flag signifies weather bad,
aviation abandoned for the day.
On the Thursday preceding the Saturday on which the exhibition
was to be given, a trial flight was held at Jacobs. At this
trial, the plane was slightly damaged in an accident but repairs
were successfully carried out in a few hours and M. Kimmerling
later stated that he regarded Durban as the finest place for
aviation in South Africa. At the same time he said: "The
ground on the Merebank flats could, at little expense, be
made into a splendid aviation ground." The fact that
this project was carried out 35 years later showed the remarkable
foresight of some of these early aviators.
was much doubt in Durban as to whether he would be able to
lift his machine from the ground. Approximately 1,500 people
gathered at Clairmont on the following Saturday afternoon
when M. Kimmerling
made three successful flights, the last of which carried him
six miles. He was much elated at his success, calling these
three flights his "first real flights in Africa",
remarking at the same time that his "flights at Johannesburg
were only jumps". On the next day, a Sunday, he made
two more successful flights at Clairmont, but this second
exhibition was not advertised and only a thousand people gathered
there to watch him. The weather on both days was perfect,
a speed of over 20 m.p.h. and an altitude of 150 feet being
for something about his machine. It was 35 feet long, had
a wingspan of 33 feet and weighed 1,200 pounds. The propeller
was driven by a 55 h.p. Gnome engine whose cylinders revolved
with the propeller on the same shaft at a rate of about l,5OO
revolutions per minute.
who had been sceptical before, now asked for another exhibition
on the following Saturday. A similar advertisement was put
in the "Natal Mercury", but with the following addition:-
M. Kimmerling will take up a passenger with him and if the
weather is favourable, Mr. Barnes (M. Kimmerling's pupil)
will make his first ascent unaccompanied by the aviator. Should
weather conditions prevent aviation on Saturday, the flights
will be postponed till Sunday, 8th May."
advertised' as his last flight in South Africa but was postponed
for a week owing to the death of King Edward VII on Friday,
following Saturday there were strong gusts of wind. and only
300 to 400 spectators attended the exhibition, but Kimmerling
resolved to go through with the flights in spite of the wind,
He took off and had covered about one and a half miles in
three or four minutes when he was blown off his course by
the wind at an altitude of 100 feet and he crashed into the
ground. Although Kimmerling escaped unhurt, his plane was
considerably damaged and he left Durban by the Sunday night
mail train for Cape Town, en route for France.
Kimmerling's departure, some Durban business men formed themselves
into a syndicate called the Durban Aviation Company and purchased
the plane from Kimmerling for Horace Barnes to fly in Durban
after it had been repaired. They planned to establish a permanent
aviation ground at Clairmont, obtain another plane and train
pupils. The damage to the plane was not as extensive as was
at first thought and it was repaired in a fortnight after
being on exhibition in the centre of Durban for a week.
returned to Europe where he was killed in 1912 testing an aeroplane.
more of aviation interest happened In Durban for another two
years until, in July, 1912, Compton Paterson brought a Paterson
biplane to Durban. The plane, modelled on the lines of a Farman
biplane, had a 30 h.p. engine and weighed 750 pounds. It was
advertised that he would give aviation displays at the Greyville
Race- Course on July 15, 17, 20 and 22, at 4 p.m. on each
these days. The entrance fee was five shillings to the grand
stand and paddock and half a crown for the public enclosure.
scheduled for July 15, was postponed till the following day
because of a high wind. The exhibition on the 16th passed
without a mishap and was enjoyed by everybody.
scheduled for the following day, the 17th, had, once again,
to he postponed for a day on account of a high wind. Although
Paterson gave a very successful display on the 18th It was
witnessed by a small crowd only. A new entrance fee of a shilling
was therefore introduced for Saturday and Monday and it was
also announced that, on the Saturday, there would be a race
between Paterson in his plane and two motor cycles.
20 an enormous crowd gathered inside the race course while
about 15,000 more spectators stood outside to watch the flights.
explaining how the plane worked, as was his custom at all
the exhibitions, Paterson made several flights and the race
with two motor cycles was then held. The race was to be over
five and a half miles and the motor cyclists, Mr. C. Morris
on a Rudge-Whitworth and Mr. J. Dove on a Bradbury, were given
a good start (500 to 600 yards). Needless to say, the aviator
the next event, a steeplechase by the plane, Mrs. F. C. Hollander,
the Mayoress at that time, was given a flight. Paterson then
gave flights to Mr. Hawley, a visitor from Cape Town, General
Sir Robert Baden-Powell, who had been an honoured spectator
in the grand stand, and Miss Watson, a lady who was touring
the world. by motor cycle.
this, Paterson received many requests for flights, so arrangements
were made to give private flights at an early hour next morning.
and display for Monday, however, .had to be postponed for
two days because the weather was unfavourable.
July 24, he held his last exhibition in Durban when he took
up two passengers and gave successful flights.
in Durban were not, however, financially successful and had
Paterson not been given a guarantee by the Town Council, he
would have made a loss on his visit to Durban.
these exhibitions by Paterson, further flying displays were
given in Durban by E. F. Driver in a Bleriot monoplane.
plane was brought to Durban by the Royal Navy and Durban was
thus fully initiated into the then mysterious art of aviation.
1914. two hydroplanes were brought to Durban by a Mr. Gerard
Hudson. On the afternoon of July 6, a Monday, one of the planes
was taken out onto the bay for a trial by Pilot F. Cutler.
He had achieved a height of 50 feet when the plane crashed
into the water. One wing was smashed but the pilot was uninjured
and the plane was later towed ashore.
established that the accident was caused by excessive banking
required to clear a buoy in making a steep dive. No part of
the plane broke in mid-air as was at first believed to be
the case, the only damage incurred being due to the wing striking
model hydroplane was later built for Mr. Hudson by the
Natal Yacht Building Company and was operated for some time
from the head of the Durban Bay by pilot Cutler. These hydroplanes
were taken over by the Navy on the outbreak of the First World
War and it is believed that they had something to do with
the finding and sinking of the German cruiser, Koenigsberg,
in the Rufiji River in East Africa.
importance in aviation was now firmly established and this
position was strengthened in later years as we shall learn
in the following chapters.
Major Alistair M. Miller, D.S.O., was sent to South Africa
to enrol men for the Royal Flying Corps. He made several flights
to various towns in order to do this. One of these was Durban,
where he landed on the Greyville Golf Course in 1918 in a
B.E.2c, a type of plane used by the Royal Flying Corps in
France during 1915 and 1916.
after the war some joyriding was done at Congella by concerns
using old war machines.
about two years after the First World War that the Stamford
Hill Aerodrome was begun. Strangely enough, the airport was
started more for the protection of the health of Durban citizens
than as an airport. There had been several malaria epidemics
which tended to keep visitors away from Durban, and the Eastern
Vlei, on which the 'drome now stands, was a breeding ground
for mosquitos [sic]. On May 7, 1920, the City [Actually Town,
at this point. Ed.] Council passed a resolution accepting
the tender of Messrs. Michaux and Delfonte for the reclamation
and levelling of the ground comprising the Eastern Vlei, giving
the firm 35 weeks to complete the job.
not done in the specified period. however, but was completed
some time in 1921, a few months after the time given for the
the main advantages of the reclaimed Eastern Vlei as an
airport was its short distance from the centre of the city,
only two miles.
the section which had been reclaimed was used by the South
African Air Force to run an experimental air mail service,
the first of its kind in South Africa, along the coast between
Durban and Cape Town. Recommended by the Civil Air Board and
sponsored by Senator the Hon. Thomas Boydell, Minister of
Posts and Telegraphs, the service was authorised by Parliament.
A sum of £9,000 was voted for this service by the Government
and under Sir Pierre van Ryneveld it operated both ways weekly.
Eleven old wartime D.H. 9's were used and the service connected
up with the Union Castle mail steamers at Cape Town. It was
run for six months with remarkable efficiency and was then
discontinued as it was not an unqualified success. Valuable
data, however, was obtained of which Major A. M. Miller, a
member of the Civil Air Board at that time, was later able
to make good use. The Government called for proposals for
the establishment of a service but some years elapsed before
a small subsidy was granted for a regular service.
an R.A.F. flight of four single-engined Fairey day bombers
under Wing-Commander C. W. Pulford landed at Durban on the
return trip of a flight around Africa in which 14,400 miles
were covered in 150 flying hours.
of Commercial Flying
commercial flying was started in Durban by Major Miller and
Captain Davis in Cirrus Moths. The Light Plane Club later
carried on with this venture.
In 1927, a Swiss airman, Mittelholzer, landed on the bay in
a Dornier seaplane. Later in the same year Lieutenant R R.
Bentley, of the South African Air Force, landed on the aerodrome
one night shortly after breaking the London to Cape Town record.
At the time the record was 27 days and the fact that it has
been brought down to 20 hours by the new Comet jet airliner
shows the big progress made in aviation in only 24 years.
same year Durban was the scene of the start of the first civil
air transport concern, African Aerial Travels, which had its
headquarters in Durban. The chief pilot of this concern was
Captain Davis, the present manager of the Durban Municipal
Airport. The company catered for air charter, taxi work and
Aero Club Formed
Light Aeroplane Club was formed early in 1928 with two Avro
Avians. A combined club-house and hangar was erected in the
south-west corner of the Stamford Hill aerodrome, which was
then 250 yards long and 150 yards wide. The landing ground
was later extended in the direction of the sea and then towards
the south. The Town Council then placed the control of the
'drome in the hands of the Club and they were responsible
for its management until 1932.
Sir Allan Cobham landed in Durban at the start of his 25,OOO-mile
flight around Africa. Receiving a warm reception, he motored
to Johannesburg and toured South Africa and the Rhodesias
to prepare the ground for his flight. He returned to Durban
and left for Simonstown via Knysna.
saw the commencement of the first commercial air mail service
in the Union when Union Airways, under Major Miller, D.S.O.,
started operations on the coastal run, Durban to Cape Town
with five Gipsy Moths. The service was inaugurated on August
26, 1928, with a capital of £5000. The headquarters
of the company were at Port Elizabeth and from this town connections
with Johannesburg by air were also maintained. The service
was set up with a Government subsidy of £8.000 and a
staff of experienced pilots was engaged It was established
to carry air mail and passengers but, although good regularity
and safety records were maintained, it was not a financial
success as the possibl1ity of taking a passenger was governed
by the amount of mail which had to be carried each time. The
pilots were, therefore, unable to say whether they would be
able to take a passenger or not until the mail arrived a short
time before their departure. For this reason, air travellers
later took to the more certain surface transport.
however, was not enough to support Major Miller's company
even though he later added a Fokker Universal 6-passenger
aircraft to his fleet and an agreement with the Junkers controlled
South West African Airways was, therefore, reached whereby
Union Airways had the use of, or acquired, two Junkers, each
carrying 4 or 5 passengers. The Fokker later crashed on the
coast near East London but no one was hurt. More Junkers were
afterwards added to the fleet.
England to Durban air trip ended on April 15, 1929, when
Squadron-Leader L. H. Slatter arrived in Durban in a Blackburn
Bluebird to spend a holiday with his parents. Further distinguished
visitors to Durban In 1929 were Lady Heath in an Avro Avian,
Lady Bailey in a Gipsy Moth and Sir Allan Cobham in the Short
Singapore flying boat.
1932 a tri-weekly passenger service was instituted between
Durban and Germiston. Strong representations from the Durban
and Rand Chambers of Commerce were made to the Government
for permission for the service to carry mail, but it was a
year before the mail contract and an increase in the subsidy
was inaugurated on January 2, 1933, and boded well for the
development of Union Airways in the new year. It was built
up by Lieutenant G. W. Beilin, who made the first flight of
the service in a six-seater Junkers. By the end of 1933, the
Durban to Germiston service was conducted both ways dally,
Airways, which was developing rapidly, later transferred its
headquarters from Port Elizabeth to Durban where accommodation
was made available at the Stamford Hill Aerodrome by the Municipality.
A daily service to the Rand was started and Union Airways
continued as a private company until 1934 when the State took
over all air companies.
1932, a Durban to Lourenco Marques service was inaugurated
by Captain Davis. The service carried fresh flowers to Lourenco
Marques and brought Delagoa Bay prawns back to Durban. Besides
being a partner in the company, Captain Davis was also its
chief pilot and, on account of the cargo carried by the company's
planes, he soon became known as the "Flying Fishmonger",
The venture failed, however, owing to lack of support.
1933, two pilots of the R.A.F, broke the long distance record
and set up a new world, record by flying from Cranwell to
Walvis Bay, a distance of 5,309 miles. Councillor Oliver Lea,
later Chairman of the Aerodrome Committee of the Durban City
Council, was instrumental in getting Squadron-Leader Gayford
and Flight-Lieutenant Nicholetts (the pilots concerned) invited
to Durban with. their record-breaking Fairey plane. Squadron-Leader
Gayford, who bad been to Durban before with an R.A.F. flight
under Air-Commodore Webb-Bowen in 1928, remarked on the excellent
position of the aerodrome site.
the Durban Town Council decided to take over the administration
of the 'drome and planned to extend it to qualify for a first
class licence. The size required for this was 800 yards by
800 yards. A staff was appointed for the airport with Captain
Davis as manager. The ground was then expanded further as
more swamp was reclaimed by being filled in with sea sand.
the first gliding club in South Africa was formed in Durban.
A Zogling glider was built by two Natalians, C. W. Robertson
and C. F. Hadfield. to plans obtained from overseas, but when
a group of club members took it to the aerodrome and attempted
to fly it, it unfortunately crashed.
eventually closed down and sold the Zogling to a Rand gliding
Takes Over Control
1, 1934, the Government took over the control of Union Airways
a private company then operating with single-engined aircraft.
Before the end of the year, the first three of a number of
Junkers JU 52 (three-engined aircraft) were in service. After
this the fleet was continually increased to meet expanding
services. On the same date. the S.A.R.&H. assumed control
of South African Airways, previously an air service operating
between Durban and Cape Town and Durban and Johannesburg by
With the three new Junkers previously mentioned, the latter
company started a daily Durban to Germiston and return service,
in January of the next year, viz, 1935. This service was later
taken over by South African Airways with another Junkers purchased
in 1935. Because of the high May and June rainfall in Natal,
the central airways depot was transferred to Germiston in
same year, Otto Thaning created a, new record by flying a
Beechcraft round the Union (Johannesburg - Durban - Port Elizabeth
- Cape Town - Johannesburg) in one day, a feat which had never
previously been attempted. His actual flying time was 13 hours
Mr. Pirow, the Minister of Defence, announced, as part of
the harbour's defence scheme, that a number of Wapiti planes
and training machines would be established at Union ports.
With his chiefs of staff, he came to Durban to consult with
the City Council about barrack sites and a 'drome for military
aircraft as it was proposed to establish a Natal Air Squadron.
The Council granted the Defence Department the use of approximately
50 acres at the southern end of the Eastern Vlei for barracks,
hangars and a parade ground. It was proposed to extend the
length of the airport from 900 yards to 1,200 yards and to
make it abut on to the ground already mentioned. One more
military hangar was to be erected and the 'drome was to be
completed in 1937.
would then be one of the largest, if not the largest, sea-level
'dromes in the world. The Council also approved plans for
an air station building to be erected in the north-east corner
of the field, adjoining the sea and the Country Club. The
building was to have a control tower on the top floor, administration
offices and offices for the different Government departments
concerned with business on the 'drome. It was also to have
a passenger hall, baggage rooms, public waiting rooms, a restaurant
and ticket offices. In this way the fine building which now
stands at the entrance to the Durban Airport had its beginning.
the "Natal Advertiser" announced that it was willing
to offer a flying scholarship of £50 to the winner of
a flying competition for learners. A short while later, Payne
Bros. announced that they would give a similar scholarship
to the competition runner-up. The learners who entered for
the competition were divided up into groups and one group
was tested at a time.
who lined up for the final test were Mr. W. R. Bullock, Miss
Cloete-Sanders, Mr. H. W. Pope, Mr. R. S. Armstrong, Miss
W. A. Banfield, Dr. G. Jaaback, Mr. D. A. Broadhurst and Mr.
N. S. Ford. The two winners were Mr. Armstrong and Mr. Pope
with Miss Banfield coming a close third.
5th of December, 1936, the new Stamford Hill aerodrome was
opened with an air pageant. 30,000 people gathered to witness
a display by about 30 planes, five of which were Hawker Furies.
There was formation flying by air aces, crazy flying, gliding
Airmail Scheme Inaugurated
the British Government announced that letters to any destination
in the Empire could be carried there by air from England,
free of surcharge. For this purpose, Imperial Airways was
chartered and Durban was chosen as the South African destination.
It was decided to use flying boats for the service and more
planes were built. In June, the first through service left
Southampton for Durban and on the 29th of that month, the
Empire Airmail Scheme came into operation. The actual flying
time of the Imperial machines between Southampton and Durban
was fifty hours and the distance covered was 7,300 miles.
air race was a recognised event for the Durban Winter Season
and in 1937 it was won by Roy Coull flying a Hornet Moth at
an average speed of 120.3 m.p.h. After 1937 it was decided
to make the race a permanent event with the Governor-General's
awarded as a floating trophy.
same year, a sum of £100 was given from Sir Abe Bailey's
grant to civil aviation, to make Natal children more air-minded.
"Flips" for children at that time were five shillings
and it was planned to reduce this price to half a crown, paying
the extra halt a crown out of the grant.
about this time that plans for a flying boat base at Durban
for Imperial Airways were considered. The base was to have
been established at Island View. In 1937 it was announced
that £50,000 of the £76,500 provided by the Assembly
was to be spent on the building of a base. Plans were submitted
by Captain Davis for a combined land and sea plane base. The
Island View site was considered unsuitable. After much discussion,
the Congella site was selected.
Davis' claim in 1937, the Director of Civil Aviation agreed
to place the Durban aerodrome in the AlA category, the highest
class possible. At the end of the same year, however, a South
African Airways Junkers became bogged down at the southern
end of the 'drome
while the plane was taxiing. It was pulled out the following
day without having been damaged but even this fact could not
erase the blot which had been placed on the reputation of
the Durban 'drome so soon after its high classification.
was a big increase in the 1938 airport statistics. In February,
1938, Lieut.-General Brink, Director of Civil Aviation in
Pretoria, stated that the Durban 'drome was not a first class
one and he requested the City Council to drain the south-west
corner. In March of the same year, another S.A A. liner was
bogged on the 'drome for three and a half hours. A new hangar
which had been begun in January on the Snell Parade side of
the 'drome, was first used in September and in December a
Telefunken blind landing apparatus was installed at the 'drome.
1938, the Durban Gliding Club was revived and in April an
order was placed for a German Grunau IX gliding trainer. The
cost of this machine, £90, was to come out of the £100
which was to be given to the first gliding club in Natal to
obtain a gliding trainer, from Sir Abe Bailey's gift to civil
aviation. About 60 people wanted to join the club and, when
the glider arrived in August, it was planned to allow fifty
enthusiasts from the Durban Gliding Club to take part in a
big rally at Quaggapoort. In September, the glider was tested
on the Springfield flats one day, and, seven days later, 60
members attended a full day's gliding meeting at Springfield
flats. There was much enthusiasm amongst the members of the
club but, after the second meeting, the glider was damaged
on its return trip to town and the club was therefore unable
to meet on the following Sunday. On this day the plane was
taken out for the repairs to be tested but the wind blew it
onto its back causing further damage. The following Sunday
five members who had entered the National Gliding Rally at
Quaggapoort received instructions and training at Springfield
Mr. Percy Osborn, M.P.C., presented a floating trophy for
a competition among Durban-trained pupil pilots. It was planned
to hold the competition, with "flips" and aerobatics,
a short time later.
for the 1938 Governor-General's air race were now altered
slightly. Small cash amounts and trophies were set up as prizes
and the race was made a handicap event.
Car! Erasmus, a young Natal aviator with about one month's
solo experience, was the first competitor to land in Durban,
the finishing point, he was disqualified for having made certain
modifications to his engine and not having recorded these
modifications on his entry form. The race was awarded to a
Klerksdorp man, Mr. J. J. Oosthuizen, who won at an average
speed of 119.5 m.p.h. in a Hornet Moth.
prizes were given and the course, although shortened, was
a much more difficult one for the race the following year,
1939. 26 planes were entered for the race, as compared with
the 18 entered the previous year, and, once again Durban was
the start and finish of the race. It was a very close finish.
Mr. Dalrymple, the scratch man, won at an average speed of
time the services which used the Stamford Hill aerodrome had
increased and 7,000 passengers were passing through Durban
each month. At the outbreak of the War the S.A.A were operating
daily and tri-weekly services between all the principal centres
of the Union and South-West Africa, with weekly services to
Portugal, Kenya, Uganda, Tanganyika and the Rhodesias.
to an appeal on April 20, 1939, for the endowment of flying
scholarships, outright gifts of 26 "scholarships, each
costing the donor £50, were received in four days. The
total number endowed later amounted to 41. Entries for a competition
with these scholarships as the prizes closed on May 20. 443
entered for the competition and 107 of these were chosen by
test flights to face a selection board. In October, it was
announced that six of the chosen scholars were to be selected
to undergo training as military pupil pilots. It was planned
to select sixty from the 107 already chosen. Of these 60,
41 would receive scholarships and 19 would be reserves. These
plans were successfully carried out and some of the winners
were called up for air training at Roberts Heights. On July
24, 1939, all 41 winners were presented with their certificates
by the Governor-General, Sir Patrick Duncan, at an air pageant
held in Durban.
of thee same year an American Albatros sailplane was imported
into Durban, assembled by C. W. Robertson and gliding commenced
at Merebank in April on about 40 acres of City Council land.
The activities of the Durban Gliding Club had been suspended
from late in 1938 while the club sought a more suitable piece
of ground for gliding.
were made for flying boats to land in the Bay by day or night
and a huge hangar was built at Congel1a to accommodate any
size flying boat. This new base was opened on April 5, by
Mr. Sturrock, the Minister of Railways and Harbours.
was made to the Durban City Council to increase the plane
landing rates at the Stamford Hill airport in 1939. In the
same year a huge new portable floodlight was tested at the
airport and a permit for a signalling area there was obtained.
about this time that the necessity for a second airport in
Durban made itself felt and in April.1940, Mr. Sturrock promised
Durban another aerodrome. A site at Congella was considered
and. two days after Mr. Sturrock's announcement, the newspapers
came out with the news that a £1,000,000 site had been
selected but the position of the site was kept a secret. At
the same time a unanimous decision was passed by the City
Council to abandon the bayhead scheme for a combined land
and sea plane base.
beginning of the War the Stamford Hill aerodrome was handed
over to the military and was closed as a civil aerodrome early
in 1940 unti1 August, 1946, when it was handed back to the
Durban Corporation by the S.A.A.F. and the R.N. and re-opened
as a civil airport. During the war years it had been used
by the military.
1944, civil air services were resumed on a restricted scale
in all the principal towns of the Union. For this purpose
6 Lockheed Lodestars were released by the Defence Department,
after which more aircraft were gradually released. By May
of the following year, 1945, air services were connecting
Durban with the Rand and Cape Town every day except Sunday,
and with East London thrice weekly.
same year, viz, 1944, a commission appointed by Mr. Sturrock
stated that Durban Bay was unsuitable as a flying boat base.
There had been much controversy over the suitability of the
bay for this purpose and although the base established there
had earlier been considered excellent for flying boats, it
was now decided to transfer the base to Vaaldam.
Chosen for New Airport
the site chosen for Durban's new national airport was revealed
to the Mayor of Durban by the General Manager of the Railways.
The airport was to be on the Durban side of Isipingo, near
Merebank, and work was begun there in November.
the estimated cost of the new airport was announced as £4,000,000.
In 1943 when the site of the airport was a secret this cost
had been estimated as £3,000,000. In the former year
It was announced that the aerodrome would have three runways.
One of these was to be 2,333 yards long and 66 yards wide
and the other two were to be 1,600 yards long and 50 yards
wide. It was necessary to have the Umlaas River deviated before
being able to complete the airport and so a new outlet channel
through the Bluff ridge to the sea was started.
was made of turning the Stamford Hill aerodrome into a sports
ground, but the City Council was urged to leave It as a civil
aerodrome. It was p1anned to use Stamford Hill for private
planes and Reunion for air services, such as those of the
Union Airways and the
1946, the Durban Corporation asked for the control of the
Stamford Hill airport to be returned to them and this was
done in August. Colonel Davis was once again appointed Manager
there, but the military still had access to the 'drome, which
was used for A.C.F. pilots and the training of ground crews.
Boat Service from Vaaldam
1947, the Ministry of Transport announced that, in place of
the "C" class flying boat service to Durban, the
B.O.A.C. would run a service of 30-passenger flying boats
to Vaaldam when the boats were ready. For many reasons Durban
was considered a much better base
than Vaaldam. This view was supported by flying boat experts.
However, a base was finally built at Vaaldam when it was decreed
that Durban was unsuitable for permanent adoption as a flying
1947, an air rally, organised by the Durban Wings Club and
witnessed by 3,000 people, was a financial success. Harvards,
sailplanes and Spitfires were put through their paces and
one Spitfire, piloted by Colonel Davis, reached 450 m.p.h.
at an altitude of under 50 feet.
the same year a hangar for two gliders and a winch had been
erected at Harrison Flats near Radnor Farm, the new site for
the activities of the Durban Gliding C1ub. Previously, the
glider had been started by auto-tow. The club now had 40 members
of which six were women, two primary trainers and a Grunau
Baby Sailplane. In May the first post-war flight of the club
1948, a team from the Durban Gliding C1ub competed in the
1948 South African Gliding Championships as [sic] Quaggapoort.
Later in the year Durban was the scene of the first serious
gliding accident in Natal. While being towed at Harrison F1ats
in a Grunau IX trainer, Mr. D. Southam had an accident and
broke his back, while the plane was extensively damaged.
including a pageant, was arranged for August, 1948. Durban
people were given an unexpected treat when, in a rehearsal
on the 17th of that month, three Spitfires intercepted and
shot down a Sunderland flying boat in a mock battle. At the
pageant on the 21st this stunt was successfully repeated but
by four Spitfires. The pageant was opened by nine Durban civilian
pilots. The air-week was, however, a financial flop as only
200 out of the 5,000 who gathered round the 'drome, paid admission
same year the Reunion Airport was inspected by Brigadier C.
G. Ross, Chairman of the Civil Aviation Council. and Colonel
R. Brophy, the Assistant Director of Civil Aviation, who both
declared themselves satisfied with the progress made there.
Of the 2,513 acres at first purchased by the Railways Administration
from a sugar refinery, it was now found that 1,200 acres were
not needed. They were offered back to the refinery at cost
price, but the offer
In September Brigadier Ross visited Reunion to see whether
Skymasters would be able to land there by the middle of the
following year, 1951. In October the S.A.R. announced that
they were anxious to see the Reunion airport completed by
next June when it should be ready to receive Skymasters.
1951, it was announced that Skymasters would be able to use
the Reunion airport by the following month. Work on the Bluff
cutting was proceeding at a rapid rate. and the sides of the
channel which were to be used to divert the Umlaas River,
had been fortified with cement. No buildings had yet been
put up there. In March the estimated cost of the airport was
announced as having risen to £4.500,000. One runway
was ready by April and in May it was announced that Skymasters
would land there as from August 1. It was also announced that
there were now fever precautions at the airport.
8 a Skymaster landed at Reunion, the first to do so. Pi1oted
by Capt. K. S. Hayward, it set a new commercial record of
67 minutes for the Johannesburg-Durban run, carrying 35 passengers
and a crew of six. Captain Hayward praised the airport, remarking
on the smoothness of the runway.
stated that, when all South African Airways services were
restored by August 6 on a new summer timetable, two grass
runways at Reunion wou1d be used by Skymasters, which would
fly twice daily between Palmietfontein and Durban. Previous
to this, 28 services had been operated on the Johannesburg-Durban
run each week and 20 on the Durban-East London-Port Elizabeth.
These services had used the Stamford Hill 'drome before but
now that some of them had been transferred to Reunion the
Corporation was losing the landing fees which had been paid
at Stamford Hill Three Douglas Dakotas and four Lockheed Lodestars
had previously landed there every day and the landing fee
for these planes was 67s. 6d. each and 52s. 6d. each respectively,
whl1e there was a capitation fee of 1s. 6d. per passenger.
Only three large passenger planes now use the Stamford Hill
the Mayor, Mr. Percy Osborn, urged the Council to consider
closing the airport and building a landing strip for private
was also more talk of getting the State to take over all airports.
In July, 1951, the Municipal Airports Association of Southern
Africa urged the Government to assume command of all airports
and 'dromes in the Union.
big development occurred in the history of Durban aviation
when the first jet aircraft to land in Durban did so on July
11, 1951. Two S.A.A.F. Vampire jet fighters flew from Pretoria
to Durban at an average speed of 422 miles per hour in 47
minutes. thus creating a new record for this run. The pilots
did not intend to land in Durban as the trip there was made
only to consume the fuel in the long-range tanks after take-off
trials were made at maximum height from Waterkloof Air Station.
It was necessary to consume this extra fuel before being able
to land at Waterkloof again but Captain Harrison, pilot of
the one plane, was forced to land in Durban because of a fault
in his fuel system. The other plane did not land but started
on the return journey immediately and Captain Harrison followed
the next day.
back over this history, it is astonishing to see the progress
made in aviation in Durban in only 41 years.
following advert appeared at the end of the story:
have vacancies in our ex-
panding organisation for COMMER-
CIAL LICENCE PILOTS, instrument
rating an asset, and preferably
Basic salaries between £840 and
£ 1,200 according to qualifications
and experience. Flying pay at 15
shillings per hour, special allowances
if based outside of Nairobi. Paid
overseas leave with paid passage
for officer and wife.
stating age, marital status,
qualifications, experience and types
of aircraft flown; giving details
hours each type, to;
Campling Bros. & Vanderwal, Ltd.,
P.O. Box 1951,