Super VC 10 visits Durban

Allan Jackson - 11 September 2012
Main aviation page

Last year Trevor Friend mentioned the visit in 1965 of the Vickers Super VC10 (G-ASGB) aircraft to Durban in an engaging article on his Durban memories. See his memories of the occasion and see pictures taken by his father.

Picture copyright Trevor Friend.

I should be getting used to this sort thing, after nearly ten years at the helm of this splendid website, but I was still amazed a couple of months ago to be contacted by Maurice Ungless who had actually been on that very aircraft. He was able to correct a few errors in Trevor's story and supply a few more details of what was a pretty exciting event in Durban's aviation history.

I have assembled the following from the various e-mails Maurice sent me:

I have been surfing the web for information on my past experiences with the tropical trials of the VC10 at Johannesburg 1963 and 1965, during which we visited Durban for 1 day for hot weather engine ground runs during January 1965. I was a ground crew member in those days.

On the way to conduct the trials in South Africa, we attempted to break the record for the direct flight from London to Johannesburg, leaving London Heathrow on the evening of the 8th January 1965, between 9.00PM and 10.00PM from memory. The flight time was 10 hrs 15 minutes. However it turned out not to be a direct flight, as we picked up headwinds of about 90MPH over the Sahara desert, which reduced our range and we had to land at Salisbury Southern Rhodesia, as it was then, for a "Splash & Dash" fuel stop. Had it not been for the head winds & our 20 minute stopover at Salisbury, the flight would have been something like 9 hrs 30 minutes.

Picture courtesy Maurice Ungless.

The terminal building at Louis Botha Airport. Taken by Maurice Ungless from the doorway of the Super VC10 shortly after its arrival in Durban. The person at the bottom left of the picture is pilot Bill Cairns.

<=\/== Click images for enlargement,

Picture courtesy Maurice Ungless.

A member of the VC10's crew getting out
of a Ricksha outside the hotel they used
for the day.

Picture courtesy Maurice Ungless.

Maurice Ungless on Durban beach.

The pilot concerned was not Brian Trubshaw as Trevor alluded to but a Vickers Armstrong (Aircraft) test pilot named Bill Cairns in command, with co-pilot John Cochran. Not only did Bill Cairns thrill the crowd with a near vertical take off, but then proceeded to carry out a low level run over the Indian Ocean at approximately 100 feet parallel with the Durban shore line, carrying out a tight bank to return along the shore line before a steep climb out and returning to Joburg.

I believe I am correct in saying that we gave a one way lift from Johannesburg to Durban on that day to a golfer, and I think I am almost certain it was Gary Player, he was about my age and was seated on the flight deck as Bill Cairns' guest. Bill was a keen golfer himself, and probably met him during a round or two in Johannesburg between trials.

I have recently over the past month or more been in touch with the Brooklands Museum at Weybridge Surrey which was the site where all the VC10's were built & where I was an apprentice from 1955 to 1960 and was involved in building the 1st VC10 G-ARTA during early 1962. The first flight of the VC10 was on 29th June 1962. After the first flight I was deployed back to Wisley, the Vickers Armstrongs Flight Test Centre as Ground Crew Technician on all the VC10 trials, hence my visit and my only one to Durban. I left the employment of BAC in October 1966 to work for BEA & then British Airways at London Heathrow Airport until I retired in 2001 after 35 years.

This year on that date 29th June is the 50th Anniversary of the first flight of the VC10 and there is a celebration event at Brooklands Museum which I am attending. The Brooklands site is now closed as an Aircraft producing centre & has been for about 35 years, as has Wisley. Brooklands is now partly a housing estate, a business park and storage & distribution centre. Mercedes has a large presence there and of course there is the Museum for aircraft and cars.

More of Maurice's Memories of his association with VC 10s can be found on the site A Little VC10derness.

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