This article is reproduced from a three-part series which ran in Wings magazine in August, September & October 1956. I make no warranty on the article's accuracy but I have not been able to fault it, except in one instance, which I have marked. The author, M.A. Ross, refers to the Durban as having a City Council before it became a city.

One puzzling thing about the article is that, although published in 1956, it makes no mention of the official opening of Durban International Airport (then Louis Botha) in 1955 nor does it mention the tragedy which took place at the airport on the morning of the opening. Perhaps the magazine held onto the article for some time before publication. The article refers to the new airport as Reunion Airport so it must have been named Louis Botha quite late in procedings. Allan Jackson - 20 February 2006.

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An Interesting Record of the First Flights made in South Africa and the Birth of Aviation in the Sub-Continent.

By M.A. Ross

Part I

ALTHOUGH 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.

Most of 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 this.

Then, 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.

First Powered Flight in South Africa

Soon after 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 country.

Albert Kimmerling's aircraft in East London.
Courtesy Coenie Breytenbach.

The first 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,
weather permitting,
at the Durban Bay Lands
Estate, Clairmont.
Between the hours of 3.30 and
6 p.m.

Special train service: Fare, re-
turn ticket, Including admission
to flying grounds, 3/6d.

Flag 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.

There 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 reached.

And now 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.

Those 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:-

"Note: 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."

This was advertised' as his last flight in South Africa but was postponed for a week owing to the death of King Edward VII on Friday, May 6.

On the 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.

Soon after 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.

Kimmerling returned to Europe where he was killed in 1912 testing an aeroplane.

Compton Paterson Arrives

Nothing 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 of
these days. The entrance fee was five shillings to the grand stand and paddock and half a crown for the public enclosure.

The display, 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.

The display 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.

On July 20 an enormous crowd gathered inside the race course while about 15,000 more spectators stood outside to watch the flights.

After 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 won easily.

After 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.

After this, Paterson received many requests for flights, so arrangements were made to give private flights at an early hour next morning.

The flights and display for Monday, however, .had to be postponed for two days because the weather was unfavourable.

On Wednesday, July 24, he held his last exhibition in Durban when he took up two passengers and gave successful flights.

The displays 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.

Further Flying Displays

After these exhibitions by Paterson, further flying displays were given in Durban by E. F. Driver in a Bleriot monoplane.

A sea plane was brought to Durban by the Royal Navy and Durban was thus fully initiated into the then mysterious art of aviation.

In July, 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.

It was 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 a sand-bank.

A Curtiss 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.

Durban's importance in aviation was now firmly established and this position was strengthened in later years as we shall learn in the following chapters.

Recruiting for R.F.C.

In 1917, 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.

Shortly after the war some joyriding was done at Congella by concerns using old war machines.

It was 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.

This was not done in the specified period. however, but was completed some time in 1921, a few months after the time given for the job.

One of the main advantages of the reclaimed Eastern Vlei as an
airport was its short distance from the centre of the city, only two miles.

Air Mail Service

In 1925, 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.

In 1926, 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.

Part II

Start of Commercial Flying

In 1927, 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.

Early 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.

In the 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 "flipping'.

Durban Aero Club Formed

The Durban 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.

In 1928 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.

First Airmail Service

1928 also 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.

The subsidy, 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.

The first 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.

Subsidy Increased

In April, 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 were granted.

The service 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, except Sundays.

Union 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.

In August, 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.

In February, 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.

In September 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.

In 1932 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.

The club eventually closed down and sold the Zogling to a Rand gliding body.

Government Takes Over Control

On February 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 Union Airways.
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 July, 1935.

In the 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 and 45


In 1935, 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.

Durban 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.

Flying Scholarships

In 1936, 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.

The competitors 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.

On the 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 and "flips".

Part III

Empire Airmail Scheme Inaugurated

In 1937, 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.

The Governor-General's 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 cup
awarded as a floating trophy.

In the 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.

Flying Boat Base

It was 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.

On Captain 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.

There 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.

Gliding Revived

In January, 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 Flats.

In December, 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.

Governor-General's Air Race

Conditions 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.

Although 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.

Bigger 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 159.4 m.p.h.

By this 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.

Flying Scholarships

In response 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.

In June 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.

Arrangements 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.

A recommendation 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.

Second Airport

It was 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.

At. the 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.

Air Services Resumed

In December, 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.

In the 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.

Site Chosen for New Airport

In March 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.

In 1945 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.

Some mention 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

In July, 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.

Flying Boat Service from Vaaldam

In January, 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 boat base.

In August, 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.

Earlier 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 was held.

In January, 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.

Air Week

An air-week, 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 fees.

Reunion Airport

In the 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
was refused.
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.

In February, 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.

First Skymaster Lands

On June 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.

It was 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 airport.

In July, the Mayor, Mr. Percy Osborn, urged the Council to consider closing the airport and building a landing strip for private planes elsewhere.

There 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.

First Jet Aircraft

Another 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.

Looking back over this history, it is astonishing to see the progress
made in aviation in Durban in only 41 years.


The following advert appeared at the end of the story:


We have vacancies in our ex-
panding organisation for COMMER-
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.

Apply, 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,
Nairobi, Kenya.

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