the SAAF operated the South Africa's first helicopters in
Natal - three Sikorsky S-51s that were acquired in 1948 -
rotorcraft flight had actually taken place locally some sixteen
June 1932 the first gyrocopter to come to South Africa was
off-loaded from the RMS "Arundel Castle" berthed
in Durban Harbour and transported to Stamford Hill Aerodrome.
This aircraft, a Cierva C.19 Autogiro, was imported by Niall
Coughlan, a well-known personality in Durban at the time.
on its journey from the AVRO factory at Hamble in England
was Roy Tuckett, the pilot who intended giving daily demonstration
flights with it at Durban for a week before flying on to Pietermaritzburg
and for the following two or three weeks visiting other towns
before ending at Johannesburg. He also planned to undertake
a similar tour of Rhodesia.
aroused much interest amongst local enthusiasts over the next
couple of days and at about 10.30 on the morning of the 22nd,
resplendent in a silver and blue colour scheme, it was rolled
out of the hangar to the considerable interest of a sizeable
crowd which had assembled for the historic occasion. Alex
Quinn, the Ground Engineer, and his assistants (none of who
had ever worked on a gyrocopter before) worked for some time
on the rotors but shortly after 11 o'clock, Tuckett and Quinn
climbed aboard, started the engine and engaged the rotor.
surprise of the onlookers the Autogiro ran along the ground
for only a few meters before becoming airborne and performing
a few maneuvers before showing the unique advantages of a
gyrocopter. Switching off the engine, the aircraft dropped
and as Tuckett pulled the nose up it seemed to hover in mid-air
before landing with scarcely a bump. After Coughlan had also
had the opportunity to fly in it himself, it was brought back
to the hangar for inspection and preparation for a flight
to Pietermaritzburg that afternoon.
ceremonies of the Royal Agricultural Show were held in the
Oval and shortly before the end the Autogiro flew overhead.
From a height of 4 000ft Tuckett descended and proceeded to
give a demonstration for the capacity crowd before landing
and coming to a stop directly in front of the Royal Stand.
He was welcomed by the Governor-General and gave a short address
before climbing on board again, starting and taxiing out to
an enclosure where it remained on display for the next two
the 3rd - the day after the July Handicap, the Durban Light
Aeroplane Club hosted a Grand Aero Show. A major and much-advertised
drawcard was to be the demonstration of the Autogiro which
had been placed on exhibition at the Lunar Park on the northern
end of Marine Parade since its return from Pietermaritzburg.
struck however on the morning of the air show - Tuckett went
down to fly it out but when he released the wheel brakes to
begin the take-off run, the left wheel locked and he spun
violently around. Although there was adequate space sheer
bad luck resulted in the rotor blades striking a lamp standard,
breaking them in the process. In addition the undercarriage
was also damaged.
blades would have had to be ordered from the factory, costing
some £200 to replace and with the planned tour of South
Africa and Rhodesia not likely to take place for some months,
Coughlan apparently lost all interest in it.
Though the few known illustrations in the media reports of
the time show no discernable civil registration, its identity
was probably G-ABUE, recorded as being registered in the UK
on 26 May 1932 and exported.
acquired by Tuckett, repaired and fitted with new rotor blades
by Arrow Air Services at Stamford Hill Aerodrome it was test
flown by Jack Davis on 18 December. The Civil Aviation inspector
however was concerned that Quinn's Engineer's licence did
not cover autogiros, experience on which Britain's Air Ministry
had only a limited licence for the type of structural repair
work that had been carried out without approved repair schemes.
It was the inspector's recommendation that the certification
of the repair work should not be accepted, nor should Quinn
have authority to sign out such work until such time as his
licence was so endorsed.
January 1933 the Autogiro was being flown to Rand Airport
for the inspection on the repair work to be carried out when
it force landed at Paardekop south-east of Standerton due
to shortage of fuel. Damage was sustained to the propeller,
the rotors and the engine mounting; permission was however
given to Quinn to carry out repairs and it was subsequently
taken to Zwartkop Air Station for inspection and validation
of its C of A prior to being sold to Sir Alan Cobham.
is uncertain and was either flown as part of Cobham's Great
Air Display tour of South Africa while G-ABGB, the machine
he brought with him was undergoing repair or was used as a
source of spare parts for the repair. Records in the National
Archives also indicate that its fuselage was later utilized
in the rebuild of another autogiro in 1936.
This brief account is only part of an ongoing research exercise
into the three rotorcraft that made their appearance in South
Africa prior to WW2 and I would welcome any additional information
and photographs in particular.