Above: The old and the new. At the top is
seen the first aircraft to land in Rhodesia, a Vickers Vimy bomber
named the Silver Queen. This National Archives picture was taken on
the race course at Bulawayo in 1920. Below it is one of the world's
latest civil airliners now calling at Salisbury airport on regular
flights between London and Johannesburg, the Boeing 707.
For the size of its population the Federation is today one of the
most developed countries in the world for air transport. Thanks to
those who accepted the hazards of flying in its early days and who
foresaw its tremendous advantages, the growth of aviation has been
remarkable, for it is only 40 years ago that the first aeroplane was
seen in Rhodesia. The story, told here by Ted Scannell of the
development in the Federation which has made air travel almost as
commonplace as a car journey is one of adventure and achievement.
About Ted Scannell
Ted Scannell was a journalist on the Rhodesia Herald and moved on to
become the editor of "Horizon" magazine in then Northern Rhodesia.
(1959 to 1970.)
Horizon was an in house magazine for the RST Group of Copper Mining
Companies (no longer in existence). It was awarded house magazine of
the year in both Britain and America for three consecutive years,
beating the likes of the great Bell Telephone Company America and
BICC Cables of Britain.
Horizon was mostly compiled by two men, Ted Scannell, journalist /
editor and a brilliant photographer, Peter Winterbach, also ex
Rhodesia Herald. Peter was awarded 100% for his photography in the
international magazine competitions mentioned above. Because Ted
wrote the bulk of the copy for Horizon many of his stories were
written under a pseudonym.
Above: A Blackburn Bluebird of one of Rhodesia's early commercial concerns, the Rhodesian Aviation Company, in the I930's (National Archives picture.
LONG DISTANCES with indifferent roads. a rainy season that made
quagmires of the roads that did exist, and a lack of adequate water
transport made it inevitable that Central Africa should become
highly air conscious. But, although many Rhodesians had served as
pilots in Europe in the First World War, it was not until February
28. 1920, that the first aeroplane arrived in Rhodesia. It landed in
Northern Rhodesia at Abercorn.
A Vickers Vimy bomber, it was flown by two R.A.F. men, Pierre van
Ryneveld= and Quinton Brand, both South Africans who were later
knighted for their feat of flying from Britain to the Cape. Sir
Quinton Brand has since settled in Rhodesia and now farms a few
miles from Umtali. The fliers had left Brooklands, in England, on
February 4. Their first LONG DISTANCES with indifferent roads. a rainy season that made quagmires of the roads that did exist, and a lack of adequate water transport made it inevitable that Central Africa should become highly air conscious. But, although many Rhodesians had served as pilots in Europe in the First World War, it was not until February 28. 1920, that the first aeroplane arrived in Rhodesia. It landed in Northern Rhodesia at Abercorn.
A Vickers Vimy bomber, it was flown by two R.A.F. men, Pierre van Ryneveld=and Quinton Brand, both South Africans who were later knighted for their feat of flying from Britain to the Cape. Sir Quinton Brand has since settled in Rhodesia and now farms a few miles from Umtali. The fliers had left Brooklands, in England, on February 4. Their first aeroplane was completely wrecked in the Sudan, but neither of the men was injured, and the R.A.F. immediately made available another Vimy to enable them to continue their flight. This aircraft took the same name as its predecessor, the Silver Queen.
After the Silver Queen left Abercorn, three cylinders of the starboard engine failed and the plane began losing height. As Van Ryneveld and Brand were contemplating landing in thick bush they sighted Ndola and managed to bring the plane in.
Rain delayed their departure again, but eventually they left Ndola on March 2 for Livingstone. The two men were teased like royalty at Livingstone, where they were again delayed by rain, but eventually on March 5 they took off for Bulawayo, where they landed on the race course.
In Bulawayo they were given another tumultuous welcome, and two days later the whole town turned out again to cheer the Silver Queen off. The two men climbed back in, waved farewell, and the Silver Queen, its motors giving an occasional splutter, taxied down the racecourse and rose into the air - but not for long. In view of thousands it lost height almost immediately and crashed in the bush between the town and Hillside. The Silver Queen was a complete wreck, but again neither of the men was badly hurt.
Eager that South Africans should be the first to fly from Britain to the Cape, the South African Government flew a DH9 aeroplane, named the Voortrekker, from Pretoria to Bulawayo so that Van Ryneveld and Brand could continue. Van Ryneveld and Brand left Bulawayo on March 17 in the Voortrekker and continued without undue mishap to Cape Town.
The success of this flight involved a tremendous achievement. A string of about two dozen aerodromes had been built with great difficulty down Africa for the Silver Queens or their successor. At Ndola, for instance, 700 Africans worked from April to August in 1919, moving 25,000 tons of earth, much of this being made up of anthills standing 25 feet high and with bases 45 feet in diameter.
Despite the achievement of Van Ryneveld and Brand in flying the length of Africa, trans-continental air travel had not yet really arrived. The Times in London gloomily summed up the historic flight in this way: was completely wrecked in the
Sudan, but neither of the men was injured, and the R.A.F.
immediately made available another Vimy to enable them to continue
their flight. This aircraft took the same name as its predecessor,
the Silver Queen.
After the Silver Queen left Abercorn, three cylinders of the
starboard engine failed and the plane began losing height. As Van
Ryneveld and Brand were contemplating landing in thick bush they
sighted Ndola and managed to bring the plane in.
Rain delayed their departure again, but eventually they left Ndola
on March 2 for Livingstone. The two men were tesed like royalty at
Livingstone, where they were again delayed by rain, but eventually
on March 5 they took off for Bulawayo, where they landed on the race
In Bulawayo they were given another tumultuous welcome, and two days
later the whole town turned out again to cheer the Silver Queen off.
The two men climbed back in, waved farewell, and the Silver Queen,
its motors giving an occasional splutter, taxied down the racecourse
and rose into the air - but not for long. In view of thousands it
lost height almost immediately and crashed in the bush between the
town and Hillside. The Silver Queen was a complete wreck, but again
neither of the men was badly hurt.
Eager that South Africans should be the first to fly from Britain to
the Cape, the South African Government flew a DH9 aeroplane, named
the Voortrekker, from Pretoria to Bulawayo so that Van Ryneveld and
Brand could continue. Van Ryneveld and Brand left Bulawayo on March
17 in the Voortrekker and continued without undue mishap to Cape
The success of this flight involved a tremendous achievement. A
string of about two dozen aerodromes had been built with great
difficulty down Africa for the Silver Queens or their successor. At
Ndola, for instance, 700 Africans worked from April to August in
1919, moving 25,000 tons of earth, much of this being made up of
anthills standing 25 feet high and with bases 45 feet in diameter.
Despite the achievement of Van Ryneveld and Brand in flying the
length of Africa, trans-continental air travel had not yet really
arrived. The Times in London gloomily summed up the historic flight
in this way:
Above: Aircraft of the I940's and the
present. A Hornet Moth of Southern Rhodesian Air Services( top ), in
a picture taken by Jack McAdam, contrasts with a Viscount of Central
Above: The second plane to arrive in
Rhodesia, the Voortrekker. This DH-9 from South Africa enabled Van
Ryneveld and Brand to complete their flight from Britain to the Cape
(a National Archives picture).
"The art of flying across Africa is to know how to crash."
However, in Rhodesia no time was being lost. On April 8, 1920,
within three weeks of the departure of the Voortrekker, Airoad
Motors, Ltd., was registered as a company in Bulawayo'— the first
air undertaking established in Central Africa. But it appears to
have acted merely as a selling agent, and it soon folded up.
On Monday, May 24, 1920, two months after the departure of the
Voortrekker from Bulawayo, an Avro, probably belonging to the South
African Aerial Transport Company, was brought to Bulawayo by Messrs.
Rutherford and Thompson and gave "joy flips" at three guineas for 10
minutes. This was the first direct commercial profit made from the
air in Rhodesia.
The plane then flew on to Salisbury and did the same thing there. It
was the first aeroplane seen in the capital.
Two years later, on May 29,1922, a new company, Rhodesian Aerial
Tours, came into being in Southern Rhodesia. It was floated by Major
Alistair Miller, a former Royal Flying Corps pilot and a pioneer of
aviation in the Union. This was the first active company with a
Rhodesian- based machine an old Avro brought from the Union. But the
career of the machine and of the company was short-lived. A few
weeks later Major Miller crashed into a tree on taking off from the
golf course at Rusape. Though Major Miller was unhurt, the plane was
a write-off and the company ceased to exist.
But Rhodesians were now becoming inured to the hazards of flying,
and were beginning to realize more fully its advantages. [n the mid
and late 1920s several little companies blossomed, wilted and died,
some performing valuable services.
In 1927 the Rhodesian Aviation Syndicate was formed. Four years
later the Rhodesian Aviation Company was floated and absorbed the
Syndicate. Then in 1933 the Company itself was absorbed by the
Rhodesia and Nyasaland Airways — RANA as it was affectionately
called by everyone.
In Rhodesia in the 1920s there was also the Aircraft Operating
Company which carried out extensive aerial photographic and
reconnaissance work on the
The first company to use an
aeroplane for ts own private business in Rhodesia was the London and
Rhodesia Mining and Land Company (Lonrho
). The air service was
started for the operation of the
company's expanding interests, but soon built up into a regular
public service. By 1938 Lonrho was operating a fleet of aero planes,
mainly de Havilland Dragons and Rapides, and carrying hundreds ol
passengers a year.
A pioneer aviation refueller, Mr. R B. Marshall Symons, of Bulawayo,
recalls some amusing incidents during the late 1920s. On one
occasion a Captain Rod Douglas arrived at Bulawayo to demonstrate
the Puss Moth. As he flew over the field he throttled back, opened
his window, leaned out and shouted: " Is this Bulawayo ?" " Yes,"
came the reply - and he landed.
Another well-known aviator, Bill Wiley, would fly over Bularvayo's
Main Street and shout down for a taxi to meet him at the field.
Flying in Rhodesia was nine years old before the first fatal
An R.A.F. officer, G. W. Burnett, and his mechanic, F. C. Turner,
were killed on March 18,1929, during the annual R.A.F. visit to
Rhodesia. Their plane crashed on taking off from Gwelo.
Nearly three years later, on November 20,1931, the first Rhodesians
to be killed in a flying accident in their home country met their
death, on Belvedere aerodrome at Salisbury. They were D. S. ("Pat")
Judson, Daniel Sievewright and George Speight.
By 1932 the Southern Rhodesia Government had begun to take a deep
interest in the development of air transport, and the Prime
Minister, the Hon. H. U. Moffat, was an enthusiastic supporter of
the growth of aviation. That year the Beit Trust made a
grant for the development of runways, radio installations and other
Meanwhile, new strides were being made in the down-Africa route. In
Britain the Post Office announced on November 11, 1931, that
Christmas mail would be sent to Rhodesia and South Africa by air -
the first official air mail to Rhodesia. The contrasts with a
Viscount of Central African Airways.
Regular weekly services by Imperial Airways were inaugurated on
January 20,1932, when a Heracles aircraft, piloted by Captain A.
Touell. left Croydon carrying about 20,000 letters for delivery at
Weather conditions in Northern Rhodesia were appalling and caused
considerable delay and dislocation both to this service and the
north-bound service that left Cape Town on January 27. The
south-bound plane force-landed at Shiwa Ngandu, in Northern
Rhodesia, but managed to get airborne some days later.
The north-bound plane was damaged while landing on the sodden
aerodrome at Salisbury; its replacement force-landed in the bush 55
miles from Broken Hill and became bogged down; after a long search
it was found and its mail taken to Broken Hill. Hill by African
runner, from where it was flown on to reach Croydon three weeks
after leaving Cape Town.
This was a bad start to the regular service, but no serious damage
had been done to aircraft and all the Royal mails reached their
destination, even though that classic mode of mail transport, the
African runner, had to be resorted to.
However, the new service soon settled down with a regularity which
enabled the residents of Broken Hill and Salisbury to set their
watches by the arrival of the Imperial Airways machines.
In August, 1932, the Aero Klub du Katanga opened the Broken Hill
service, which later became part of the joint Belgian (Sabena) and
French (Air Afrique) service to and from Madagascar.
With the establishment of the regular Imperial Airways service from
Britain, the need was felt for a coordinated air service for the
three territories now forming the Federation. When Rhodesia and
Nyasa- land Airways Ltd. was formed in 1933, its capital of f25,000
was provided jointly by Imperial Airways and the Beit Trust, with assistance from the
RANA's first fleet consisted of de Havilland Fox Moths, Puss Moths
and the Westland Wessex. In 1935 de Havilland Rapides were ordered
and this type of aircraft served Central Africa for many years. Some
of these Rapides are still flying today.
Above: A formation of Percivol Provosts of the Royal Rhodesian Air
Force. These aircraft are used by the R.R.A.F. as basic trainers.
The aeroplane quickly became popular for children making long
journeys to and from school. These young air travel "pioneers" are
disembarking from a de Havilland Rapide of Rhodesia and Nyasaland
Airways, or RANA as it became known.
In the meantime, the Africa route had become a target for every
intrepid flier. The record-breaking Britain-to-the-Cape dashes over
a period of years can be said to have culminated with last year's
flight by an R.A.F. Valiant bomber. It flew 11 from Britain to
Salisbury in ten hours 46 minutes, compared with Van Ryneveld and
Brand's time of 31 days from Britain to Bulawayo in 1920.
As flying became more commonplace in Rhodesia the problem arose of
providing competent servicing and instruction facilities. The
distance to Johannesburg, where proper servicing could be done, was
too great for healthy development in Rhodesia.
In April, 1934, the de Havilland Aircraft Company in England agreed
to float the de Havilland Aircraft Company (Rhodesia) Ltd., which
began operations the following year with a staff of two, a
manager-pilot- instructor and a ground engineer. By 1938 the staff
had grown to 16 Europeans and the company would service any make of
The company became contractor to the Government for the initial
training of military pilots. After instruction with de Havillands
they were passed to the Rhodesia Air Unit for further training under
service conditions. The de Havilland Flying School gave instruction
to about 30 pupils a year, and included instruction in blind flying.
Aviation was now growing apace. In 1933 all the companies combined
operated 3 11,708 miles and carried 3,496 passengers.
In 1938 they operated well over 1,000,000 miles and carried more
than 15,000 passengers.
With the outbreak of the Second World War, the situation in Rhodesia
changed drastically. RANA became the Southern Rhodesia
Communications Squadron and Avro Ansons were added to the fleet.
Under its new designation and organization it carried out valuable
work in Central Africa.
The military air force had originally been formed in 1934 when the
Southern Rhodesia Parliament voted f10,000 to be used to raise and
train an air unit as a contribution towards imperial defence. An air
section of the territorial forces had been formed and eight
volunteers began flying training in November, 1935, at the de
Havilland Flying School at Belvedere.
Then during 1936 work started on the first military airfield at
Cranborne. The S.R.A.F. moved to this aerodrome in December, 1937.
On August 27,1939, a few days before the war, this unit moved to its station in Kenya -. the first British air unit to cross its
borders to take up war duties. Under the command of
Flight-Lieutenant Maxwell, three Hawker Harts and three Hawker
Audaxes flew to Kenya and were later to become No. 237 (Rhodesia)
Squadron of the R.A.F. Together with Nos. 266 and 44 (Rhodesia)
Squadrons, it was to build up a proud tradition on many fronts.
No. 237 Squadron
No. 266 Squadron,
, which later switched to Spitfires, fought its way
from Kenya through Somaliland, the Sudan, Eritrea and Libya, into
Italy and Southern France, Through North Africa and into Europe its
spirit of determination earned for the squadron a reputation second
to none. It remained until the end almost 100 percent Rhodesian.
formed on October 30,1939, was first equipped with Fairey Battles, but by January, 1940, was training on Spitfires. Its
wartime duties included patrolling, escorting, offensive sweeps
along it re French and Belgian coasts and the provision of bomber
escorts over the Rhine and France. The squadron was one of the first
to be equipped with Typhoons'
Throughout the war the aircrew of 266 Squadron were almost
The reverse was true with Rhodesia's bomber squadron -
country could replace casualties in the fighter squadrons but not,
for instance' the 35 men - pilots, navigators, wireless operators
and gunners - who failed to return from 44 Squadron's raid on
After initially flying Hampdens, the squadron was the
first to equip with Lancasters.
For the epic raid on Augsburg, to bomb a diesel engine factory that
was producing hall the requirements for Hitler's submarine fleet, as
well as engines for tanks, army transports and warships, six bombers
of 44 Squadron and six from 97 Squadron went into special training.
The attack was to be from a height of only 50 feet. Of Rhodesia's
six bombers, led by
Squadron Leader J. D. Nettleton
, only one
returned. Two bombers were lost by 97 Squadron. But the raid
achieved its object and Nettleton was awarded the Victoria Cross
A week later 44 Squadron helped sink the
German battleship Tirpitz
The squadron's last raid was on April 25,1945. It was the famous
raid that devastated Berchtesgaden, Hitler's fortified hideout in
the Bavarian mountains.
At home Rhodesians were also making their own valuable contribution.
At the outset of the war, the Southern Rhodesia Government proposed
the establishment of one training station under the Empire Air
Training Scheme. The United Kingdom asked for three — and got them.
In the later stages of the war the
Rhodesian Air Training Group
no less than 11 stations in Southern Rhodesia, training thousands of
fighter and bomber pilots, navigators and air gunners for the R.A.F.
The training schools continued after the war, the numbers gradually
decreasing until the last shut down in March, 1954.
Altogether some 2,400 men from Rhodesia and Nyasaland served in the
R.A.F. and S.R.A.F. during the war. They were distributed over all
Commands and in every theatre. They earned 146 decorations,
one C.G.M. Their casualties totalled 498 killed and 97 wounded.
After the war the S.R.A.F. was to all intents and purposes
disbanded, but in 1947 the nucleus of a small communication flight
was formed within the framework of the Southern Rhodesia Staff
Corps. Its main purpose Was to provide transport for Government
officials between various centres. The scope was gradually increased
until in July, 1949. flying training of territorial volunteers
No. I Southern Rhodesia Auxiliary Air Force
formed and manned by ex-combat pilots living in Salisbury, who
volunteered to carry out squadron training in the early mornings,
evenings and all weekends.
The deterioration of the international situation over Korea in 1950
led to the need for accelerated training and the Short Service Unit
came into being to give pilots a concentrated two years of full-time training. Spitfires were
acquired in 1950 to augment the Tiger Moths and Harvards used until
In December, 1953, the first de Havilland jet Vampires arrived and
in October, 1954, the Queen gave permission for the Royal prefix to
be added to the title of the S.R.A.F. It became known as the Royal=
Rhodesian Air Force and at the same time adopted R.A.F. ranks in
place of the military ranks that had been in use since the war.
Today the R.R.A.F. has five operational squadrons — two Canberra
bomber squadrons, two Vampire fighter squadrons and one transport
squadron with Pembrokes, Dakotas and Argonaut troop carriers. In
addition there is also a light squadron of Provosts.
With its modern, balanced Jet force, the Federation is now a small
working partner in the defence of the free world.
In civil aviation, the Southern Rhodesia Communication Squadron,
formerly RANA, became Rhodesia Aviation Services after the war and
resumed its commerciak activities. In 1946 the Southern Rhodesia,
Northern Rhodesia and Nyasaland Governments decided that this
service should become Central African Airways, capital for the new
airline being provided on the basis of 50 per cent by Southern
Rhodesia, 35 per cent by Northern Rhodesia and 15 per cent by
The Corporation's first steps were to order Vickers Vikings for its
regional services and de Havilland Doves for its domestic routes.
Later Dakotas were also used for the domestic routes, and in July,
1956, Vickers Viscount turbo-prop aircraft came into regional
service. Meanwhile on remote routes in Barotseland and Nyasaland
de Havilland Beavers replaced the Doves.
At the same time charter operators moved in as passenger and freight
requirements rapidly grew.
A nostalgic feature of the Central African post-war scene was the
regular arrival and departure between May, 1948. and November, 1950,
of the 35-ton Solent flying boats at the Victoria Falls. These huge
British Overseas Airways Corporation machines cruised at 210 m.p.h.
and carried 39 passengers in the utmost luxury and comfort. Their
route from Southampton took four and a half days, with four night
stops. Faster and more economical land planes, however, forced out
these flying boats.
With the opening of an international airport at Livingstone in 1950
new airliners began to call in the Federation. But partly because it
was inconveniently situated for the international routes, traffic
began to dwindle. With the opening of the inter- national Salisbury
Airport in July, 1956. many world-famous airlines started bringing
in regular services, and such names as Alitalia (Italian), U.A.T.
(French), Sabena (Belgian), became house- hold words in the
Federation, together with B.O.A.S., S.A.A., E.A.A. and C.A.A.
Above: Over Victoria Falls flies a da Havilland
Puss Moth. part of the RANA fleet in the I930's.
Above: Some years later the Zambezi was to see aircraft like this. a B.O.A.C. Solent flying boat, moored near Livingstone.
Paul Changuion Snr was a personal friend of the late Ted Scannell
and therefore ORAFs received the article from Paul via Al Bruce
(RhAF) Thanks to both the gents. Thanks also to Mitch Stirling for
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Labels: Aviation, Central Africa, Changuion, Scannell