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Down Memory Lane

Many aviation related books, especially those of a historical nature, are now out of print. All too often an aviation enthusiast misses out because they are not able to get hold of a copy of a book because of a limited run.

Two such books, by Ken Fuller, are Down Memory Lane, Rand Airport The Early Years after World War Two, published on this page and Africair Ndega Ya Wenela which can be read here.

We felt that this was poignant as the publications fall within the scope of the South African Airways Museum Society’s endeavours to collect the history of civil aviation in South Africa.

Down Memory Lane details some of the Aircraft Operators from a bygone era and
Africair Ndega Ya Wenela tells the story of one of aviation's greatest achievements.

Our thanks to Ken who agreed to us to publishing the books in their entirety here on our website.

Down Memory Lane

Rand Airport

The Early Years after World War Two

by Ken Fuller

Published in June 2003


Tropic Airways Douglas DC-3 ZS-DFB c/n 12414 at Rand Airport

Opening Comments

This is the story of the colourful Operators and larger than life characters that were based at Rand Airport in the early years after the Second World War. It was a bit of a free for all, until the National Commission brought some kind of order.


I wish to acknowledge the contributions of Costa Athos, Dave Becker, Ted Broome, Tony Clegg, Quentin Fuller, Dave Kemp, Dave Lawrence, Pat Patterson, Carl Reck, Bill Teague, Peter Van Emmenis, John Austin-Williams, and finally Inge Meredith for permission to use extracts from her late husband Tom’s book “Sky Trek”.

I hope all will accept this acknowledgement and gratitude.

Ken Fuller, an ex training ship "General Botha Cadet", Airline and Corporate Captain now retired. He considers himself lucky in having experinced the relatively early pioneering days of flying to a modern jet operation.



On December 21,1931 the first flight of Imperial Airways arrived from London at Rand Airport and the airport was officially opened by the then Governor General, the Earl of Clarendon.

Germiston City Council, the Rand Gold Refinery and Elandsfontein Estates originally owned the airport.

The increasing importance of Johannesburg as the centre of the route network led to South African Airways headquarters and Maintenance base being transferred from Durban to Rand Airport on July 1 1935.

In 1939 Johannesburg and Germiston were joint owners till 1944 when Johannesburg took over. There were no runways in those days, just an open field. One of the attractions was the massive horizontal clock, and the Terminal Building, which today is a National Monument.

After the war Rand Airport was a hive of activity with many new private Operators filling the vacuum and at the same time exploiting the large pool of ex service pilots.

With the demands of larger airliners and denser passenger traffic Rand Airport lost S.A. Airways and some of the surviving operators who moved temporarily to Palmietfontein until the opening of Jan Smuts on Oct 3 1950

One of the Staff that I remember was Jimmy Inglis who was for many years the airport electrician. Managers were Bob Howie followed by Phil Lowman and Pyper.

On the ground traffic side were Eddie Sammons a keen dancer who we nicknamed “Waltzing Matilda” together with Ted and Sonny James .

Theunis Van Wyk and Bodley were the Air Traffic Controllers. Theunis was also a flying instructor who helped me obtain my Commercial flying licence and for this I will always be grateful.

The Flying Clubs

Albatross Flying Club

My first introduction to Rand Airport was in 1948 where I learnt to fly at the Albatross Flying Club.

It all started when I met Dave a budding pilot who invited me to fly in his Tiger Moth.

Shortly thereafter I found myself upside down, hanging by the seat straps of the Tiger Moth, above Brakpan’s public swimming pool. Dave was about to let the bathers know that the “Ace” had arrived.

It was just as well that I was ignorant-the sheer thrill of the experience keeping fear at bay. I was “hooked” and so began my flying career that was to last some 42 years. After all I concluded that flying was a whole lot better than working.

Albatross Flying Club was situated in hangar 11 and was run by Tommy Tomlinson together with Guy Davidson, Reg Martell and Chief Instructor Dennis Allen. The cost of flying lessons in those days was two Pounds ten shillings an hour and many of to-days well-known veteran pilots learned to fly at the club.

On my second flying lesson Dennis, under the mistaken impression that I had flown more than the grand total of 30 minutes, started me on circuits and landings. The result was that we both thought of each other as idiots. However, we were a dedicated bunch and if we had a choice between eating or girls, flying always won.

I eventually sold my car (1934 Auburn) to fund 100 hours of flying. Later, as fate may have it, I bought my own Tiger Moth ZS-BUT for the princely sum of ?100.

Dave, Lionel and I often used to fly in formation and have dogfights over the East Rand. When I think how inexperienced we were to even consider attempting this, it makes me shudder. There is a saying that God looks after children and pupil pilots.

For night flying we laid single Gooseneck flares. Bill Teague remembers on a very chilly night in May 1949 when not flying we all huddled around the “Money” flare to keep warm. Albatross had a decrepit old lorry with a flat wooden deck that was used to set out the flares. The wind shifted sufficiently so it was decided to re-lay the flare path more into wind. The old African helper, who was called Joseph, drove down the line picking up the flares and putting them into the back of the lorry. Unfortunately one of them was not fully extinguished and the clutch not being what it should have been when eased out, sent a sharp judder and one of the flares fell over and set the back of the lorry on fire. The ensuing fire spread quickly because over the years the lorry’s wooden deck had become saturated with spilt fuel oil. Joseph headed at high speed directly to us where a fire extinguisher was always near at hand. In no time the entire lorry was ablaze, so Joseph was obliged to evacuate the cab and was standing on the running board reaching in to steer with one hand, and yelling Baas, Baas come quick. Being a pitch Black night the approaching bon-fire was a striking sight. We all laughed, but really it wasn’t all that funny. The old lorry was pensioned off in the light of day, being little more than a charred chassis. There was no more flying that night!

Guy Davis

Dennis Allan CFI

Dave Tait and Lionel DÁrcy with a Fairchild F24R

The Rand Flying Club

The Rand Flying club survived the great 1930 depression and played an important role in providing flying training for many leading civilian and military pilots of distinction. One of them Capt. Len Inggs joined the South African Airways in its infancy from the RFC where he served as their chief instructor.

At the outbreak of the war the club had been one of the best flying clubs in the world It had owned 14 aircraft, had a staff of 4 Instructors, a Gliding section and a well-equipped workshop.

On the commencement of hostilities, the club placed everything it possessed at the disposal of the Government. Practically every eligible member joined the forces, and a number of its members were killed on active service. The Rand Flying Club and the Witwatersrand Technical College of Aeronautics co-ordinated their efforts to become the first military ab-inito flight training school under Capt. Jack Clayton of the SAAF, and soon the elite 40 squadron was stationed at the Rand.

After a break of just under six years, the club was re-opened after the war years on Saturday April 20th by Brigadier C.G. Ross, Chairman of the S.A. Civil Aviation Society. During the afternoon there were numerous air displays including an Air Force Harvard which gave a thrilling aerobatic display.

The club now turned its attention to recommencing activities. Thanks to the Clubs Manager, Mr. F. B. Haswell, everything was set for the Club to go full steam ahead, it now had 500 members.

For starters the club obtained 4 Tigers, a Hornet and Leopard Moth from the Govt, and purchased a Piper Club. At their AGM on May 7 1947 Mr. D. W. Lang, Chairman of the club said the flying club had completed more than 2000 hours without accident. In achieving this record, he said, great credit was due to the club’s instructors, Messrs. H. J. C. Gray, R. Davidson and C. P. Hobbs. The membership was now in the vicinity of 800 making it one of the largest clubs in the world, Colonel A. J. Brink became the new Chairman, Skipper Gray as he was fondly known was appointed secretary, with Mr R. Davidson and Mr Bill Hobbs as Instructors.

I remember Chief Instructor Skipper Gray and some of the other Instructors namely Stan Gray, Hope and Tubby Singleton. Hope prepared me for my Instrument Rating Test on the clubs Tri Pacer ZS-DHB in 1953. Tubby had just returned from service in the Korean War and we became good friends, meeting later in 1969 in New York where he was taking delivery of a Jet Commander for Placo (Pretoria Light Aircraft Company).

Sadly in 1960 the club went into liquidation and was taken over, becoming the Transvaal Aviation Club.

Peace-Time scene returns

Opening of Rand Flying Club after the war

ZS-BOA the first de Havilland Chipmunk in the country belonging to the Rand Flying Club. Chief Flight Instructer Skipper Gray stands proudly beside it. Squash court in the background.

The Operators


In 1946 Anglo Vaal Air Services named A. V. Air transport and Africair Servicing operated a Dakota between South Africa (Rand Airport) and England (Croydon) Six months later they purchased a second aircraft fitted out as a Combi (passengers and freight) Avair pilots were Hansie Haaroff, George Gray, Jimmy Boyd and their radio operators were Ted Oxlee and Cris v d Westhuizen.

Africair Servicing a division of Miles Aircraft South Africa, was the agent for Miles in South Africa. The first Miles aircraft ferried out from the UK. was a Miles Gemini. A small four seater twin, flown by well-known Alex Henshaw of International fame.

In 1946 they amalgamated to form Africair Ltd. Both companies were part of General Mining. The management of the newly formed Africair was Chairman Sir George Albu, Managing Director T.V. Mitchell, Directors G. Lloyd and T. Ward, Operations Manager and Alternate Director Jack Andrews.

In April 1951 Africair successfully operated a flight for Wenela between Lusaka and Lilongwe to prove the viability of operating a mine labour airlift.

First crews were Jack Andrews, Kurt Kaye, Ted Hartwell and Dennis Middlebrook. Dennis says they lived in two hotels called the Lusaka and Lilongwe and had no transport, relying on taxis. There were no maintenance facilities at either end and therefore all necessary servicing and repairs had to be carried out by the crew.

As a result of this successful flight, Wenela Air Services were formed in 1952 with Africair as the operating company using Dakota Aircraft with Francistown as their base.

The operation was to last 22 years flying 1.1 Billion passenger miles on 52,000 flights. The number of aircraft hours flown was over 136,000.

In 1953 I (Ken Fuller) joined Africair. Initially I flew their Rapides with a chance of later being transferred to the Dakota fleet once I passed my Instrument rating.

One of my regular flights was the Platinum Run where a mine detective accompanied me to the Northam and Rustenburg airfields. We uplifted bars of platinum from the local mines and off-loaded them at Palmietfontein, which in those days was the temporary International airport.

The early morning flights to the Free State mines in Rapide aircraft were real “freezers”. The Africair aircraft engineers would jokingly say that if I gave them too many snags to fix, they would make more holes in the fabric fuselage so that I could really freeze.

Tommy Ward
Technical Director Africair

Jack Andrew
Chief Pilot Africair

Africair Douglas DC-3 Dakota refuelling

Africair Engineering

Tommy Ward a director of Africair writes with justification that in the normal course of events it has always been the flight operation that has gained the limelight. It would however, be a grave injustice if the efforts of the engineering staff at the Rand Airport base was not accorded their fair share of this rich segment of Aviation history.

In truth, it was there that it all began, a crew that worked throughout the night to make the first flight on schedule. Theirs was a prevailing spirit, full of enthusiasm and freshness of mind that created innovation above all a desire for the Company to succeed that would be the envy of any emerging organisation. To cap it all an “Esprit de Corps” was created that survives till the present although Africair is long gone. The history of Dakota ZS-DFN is a remarkable illustration of what transpired at the time. It was bought from the S.A. Air Force disposal stock for an absolute "song" and made its way to Rand Airport from Waterkloof Air Station, without wings, towed by the “horse” section of a heavy transport vehicle.

Its purpose was purely to provide a cheap source of uncommonly used spares which would not normally be held in stock, and to provide a test bed for our engines.

A short time later as a result of the Korean War prices of old Dakotas climbed to record levels and became a much sought after commodity. Knowledgeable minds turned to the lonely old “bird” and decided that it was easier to build an engine test bed than an aeroplane and so the rebuild of a flyable aircraft was started. Some months later after complete overhaul, phoenix like, ZS-DFN, after test flights and a great celebration party, began a second career and was involved in the very start of the airlift in Francistown.

On the practical side a Wenela Dakota was a very special aircraft because in order to make the entire operation feasible a beyond normal economy had to be achieved. This entailed reducing the empty weight of the aircraft to the stage where forty passengers could be carried over stage lengths of 1100 KM with safety reserves of fuel. This was achieved by light weight cabin flooring, light weight smaller cabin seats and lighter radio equipment.

Dennis Middlebrook who was Africair’s Chief Engineer tells the story about another Dakota ZS-DIW, owned by Anglo American which crashed at Rand Airport on a training flight. This aircraft was extensively damaged, including a broken main spar, and Africair engineers successfully rebuilt this aircraft for the airlift.

Another aircraft with a history was a DC-4. This aircraft was originally owned by Icelandic Airways which had forced landed on a ice floe. It was recovered by Scandinavian Airlines, repaired and sold to Africair who converted it for use by WAS. From this beginning the internal engineering section developed where every aspect of maintenance was successfully provided.


Although this is a story about their Rand Airport operation it is worth mentioning Fields roots.

The parent of Fields in Africa was the Aircraft Operating Company of London, which carried out aerial survey work at home and overseas. The use of aircraft was an integral part of survey work and these aircraft in Africa were based at Baragwanath airport. At this time the fleet consisted of one Puss Moth and a Dragon Rapide. The maintenance of the two aircraft was not enough to justify a special servicing team, so the team was made available to other aircraft operators. Thus Air Services (Pty) Ltd was created in 1935, generally known as APL. A staff of six, with three apprentices and two labourers, sustained the new company. Mr. S. Millyard was the manager, the senior maintenance engineer, Hans Klopper, was the proud holder of pilot licence Number Two. The profit for the first year was ?156, before the payment of directors and audit fees. The decision to broaden the scope of APL to embrace technical representation of overseas aircraft and aeroengine manufactures in South Africa, however, ensured that the company was well established prior to the Second World War. During the war APL was put into moth-balls while all members of the staff joined the South African Air Force wherein they formed the only Active Citizen Force Squadron, under the name of the Transvaal Photographic and Survey Squadron, amplified to No 20 Squadron. (Later No 60 Squadron).

The Hunting's introduction to the Aircraft Operating Company, AOC, came when the Hunting family bought some shares in the Company.

When hostilities of World War Two ceased, the Company was soon to be reformed at Rand Airport. In 1952, the name of Fields Aircraft Services of Africa (Pty) Ltd was adopted and the company moved into the Rand Airport premises vacated by South African Airways when they moved to Palmietfontein Airport and later to Jan Smuts Airport.

As a maintenance facility they offered modification of aircraft, overhaul and repair of engines, welding and rebuilds. In 1957 the S.A.A.F. awarded Fields the first of the annual contracts for the overhaul of its Harvard and Dakota aircraft, a cordial relationship had been established between the Management at Germiston and the Air Force representatives concerned with the execution of contracts of that nature.

In 1992 all the world-wide aviation interests within the UK based Hunting group (which by then included Fields) were renamed to reflect the Hunting parentage and as such, Fields became Hunting Aviation (Pty) Ltd. This was again changed in later years to the present name of Fields Airmotive who today is one of the leading engine overhaul facilities.

The major forces in keeping Fields at the forefront of industry were Arnold Iglish, Fred Kruger, and the present Managing Member Dave Kemp.

Arnold Iglish like Dave Kemp started their careers with Fields as apprentice aircraft maintenance mechanics rising through the ranks to the top position, while Fred Kruger on the other hand commenced his career with South African Airways and joined Fields in 1955.

There are many others who contributed to the success of Fields, and like their colleagues in Africair their efforts were also not accorded their fair share of this rich segment of Aviation History.

Fields Engineers at work. Dave Kemp on the right.

Pan African Air Charter

The Keyser and Cowan families owned P.A.A.C. jointly. Their Chief Pilot was Kurt Kaye a celebrated pilot who had been a fighter pilot during the First World War and served in the squadron commanded by Baron Von Richthofen. He was an aviator of the old school who loathed instrument flying and hated losing sight of the ground.

They operated mainly into the infant state of Israel and later became embroiled in the first Arab/Israel war. On one occasion one of their eccentric Captains who shall be nameless took off from Geneva bound for Malta. Arriving at Malta he was unable to land due to weather conditions so diverted to Rome. At Rome the weather was just as bad with cloud on the ground and thinking that the weather at Malta might have improved, he made up his mind to return there; but Malta was still closed with storms covering the entire Mediterranean area.

By now desperate he set course for El Adem near Tobruk in Libya. With a low fuel supply and doubtful if he could make it, a break in the cloud decided him to ditch the aircraft while he still had power.

A successful ditching was accomplished but a very surprised passenger who was first out dived into about two feet of water. The landing had been made into the shallows of a bay on the African coast.

The same Captain many years later was involved in an incident when he produced a revolver and fired two shots, one on each side on the then director of Civil Aviation whose department had suspended the Captains licence for some misdemeanour. In his defence he said he was a crack shot and if he wanted to kill him he would not have shot on either side.

Another one of Tom’s stories was at Juba in the Sudan where most of their northbound flights stopped. The airport Commander was an expatriate South African who for some reason took a delight in being obstructive and difficult as possible until one of their First Officers in full view of the passengers, chased the pompous official around the aircraft several times, threatening to kill him.

This had the desired effect for he kept well out of sight whenever his adversary landed at Juba. Tom left Pan African after refusing to take part in shady currency transactions on the part of the management and did some freelance flying for both Universal and Mercury before starting Tropic Airways in 1950.

Pan African did not last much longer, which is not surprising the way they operated.

Pan African Aircrew 1948
Second from right: Peter Urquhart, Third from right: Charles Carey

Universal Travel

Another of the short-lived operators which sprang up after the war, and like Pan African, also operated into Israel. Ted Broome who flew for them as a Radio Officer tells the story that some of the crew made extra money by smuggling the forbidden cans of Ham into Tel Aviv. They had an arrangement with the refueller at Tel Aviv who took care of everything.

The Captains who were innocently involved were quite concerned about the sluggishness of the aircraft after take-off from Bulawayo Airport, unaware of the extra weight on board.

From Wadi Halfa to Tel Aviv they were supposed to follow a route to keep clear of Egyptian air space This would have entailed extra flying time, so they would after take-off initially turn on to a easterly heading and after a few minutes, conveniently lose radio contact before altering course to take them straight up the gulf of Suez on a direct track. It was a mystery why the Wadi Halfa controllers never seemed to get wise to it, or maybe they deliberately ignored what was going on.

After the Company ceased to operate in 1950 their Dakota aircraft was taken over by The Israel Air force. The crewmembers were to provide a nucleus of aircrew for the EL AL airline.

South African Airways

At the start of the war the Junkers Ju 86 aircraft were converted into bombers and transferred to the S.A.A.F. The Ju 52/3m aircraft together with the remaining aircrew and technical staff followed early in 1940 and became known as No 5 wing.

Towards the end of 1944, the Air Force was able to return first six and then another five Lodestars to S.A.A. This skeleton fleet enabled them to resume scheduled operations again and as the war drew to a close and more aircraft became available services were increased.

Some of the pilots who served with S.A.A. after the War were:

Bert Rademan
Bertie Leech
Bill van Renen
Boet Botes
Brian Bird
BT Smith
de Villiers Rademan
Dennis Raubenheimer
Doug Meaker
Frederick Charles John “Frikkie” Fry
Gys Louw
Harry Launder
Hugh Pumfrey
JDT "Japie" Louw
Keith Haywood
Ken Jones
Len Inggs
Otto Greder
Pat Patterson
Piet Nel
Ron Madeley
Salomon “Pi” Pienaar
Wally Leech

In November 1945 SAA in partnership with B.O.A.C, inaugurated its first trunk service between Johannesburg and London with converted Avro York aircraft and in 1946 they were replaced by Skymasters.

ZS-ASP South African Airways Lockheed L18-08 Lodestar

A temporary airport Palmietfontein was opened to cater for the overseas run and the larger aircraft being introduced. By the end of 1947 S.A.A. fleet had grown to 41 aircraft comprising 7 Douglas DC-4 Skymaster, 8 Vickers Viking, 19 Lockheed Lodestar, 5 Douglas DC-3 Dakota and two de Havilland Dove.

One of the original Dakotas ZS-AVJ named the Paardeberg taken into service in 1947 crashed into the Ingeli Mountains near Kokstad on 16 October 1951 en route from Port Elizabeth to Durban killing all 13 passengers and 4 crew that were on board.

Findings were that weather, lack of Navigation aids, proper forecasts and route information were contributory causes and the crew was not entirely to blame.

For some reason forecasters were unaware that they flew the direct route and they only gave forecasts covering the coast.

The fleet was improved when 4 Lockheed 749A Constellations were introduced on the London run releasing the Skymasters for service on the internal routes.

In 1948 all internal flights were transferred to Palmietfontein. Administration services, stores and overhauls remained at Rand until 17 April 1952 when all activities were transferred to the new Jan Smuts airport.

After a long association with Rand Airport it was a sad day to loose S.A.A. who were so much part of the history of the airport.

Mercury Airways