1980 State President’s Trophy Air Race

1980 State President’s Trophy Air Race

Pietermaritzburg to Ermelo, 30 to 31 May 1980.


Maureen and Juliette triumph in 1980 State President’s Air Race

By Godfrey King

The 1980 State President’s Air Race, held over the Republic Day weekend, saw a historic finish with an all-female team coming in ahead of the field for the first time. Pilot Maureen Forrester, and navigator Juliette Serrurier, both of Johannesburg, were several minutes ahead of the second-placed aircraft – and 27 minutes and 35 seconds ahead of handicap – in their Beechcraft Sundowner at Ermelo’s aerodrome on May 31.

The moment of triumph as Deputy Minister of Defence, Mr Kobie Coetzee, hands the State President’s Trophy to Maureen Forrester (left) and Juliette Serrurier.

For Maureen it was a particular triumph, as last year she was pipped at the post to lose the trophy by only 14 seconds.

In 1979 Maureen had Jeanette Fraser-Jones as her navigator, and, when Jeanette was unable to team up with Maureen again for the 1980 race, Juliette stepped in as a last-minute replacement. The couple had never flown together before, but that did not deter them from showing the men a clean pair of heels.
The race started at Pietermaritzburg on May 30, with competitors flying to Vanderbijlpark via Mkuze, Zululand. Then they flew to Ellisras and on to Ermelo, which had been chosen for the finish as the town was celebrating its centenary.

“Our flight went very well,” said a jubilant Maureen. “Juliette kept us on track and we were never more than a few miles off course.” “We had a fantastic tail wind of 30 knots and at Mkuze we were nine minutes ahead of our handicap. At Vanderbijlpark we were 20 minutes ahead of handicap.”

There was a VIP reception at Ermelo Aerodrome for the first team home and the photograph shows (from left): Mr H J Otto, Mayor of Ermelo; Maureen Forrester; Mr Kobie Coetzee, Deputy Minister of Defense; Juliette Serrurier; and Mr H J Tempel, MP for Ermelo.

Maureen said they were unaware of their position at the finish because they had been tuned in to the wrong frequency. “It was only when we climbed out of the aircraft that we heard that we were first.”
Although Juliette is actively connected with aviation – she is a member of the Beechcraft Sales team at Rand Airport – Maureen only took up flying three years ago . . . and then it was only because of an argument she had had with her husband, Nigel, the winning navigator in the 1978 State President’s Air race.

A housewife and mother of two boys aged seven and eight, Maureen explained that she had told Nigel that there should be more women in the race. “But Nigel, being the male chauvinist that he is, said I was just a dumb housewife and that women, anyway, only fooled around in the air,” she said.
“I wanted to prove to him that he was wrong – and I went solo after only nine-and-a-half hours. But when I obtained my licence he said, ‘Any monkey can fly’ so I was doubly determined to beat him”. And beat him she did.

For the past two years Nigel has had to eat humble pie, trailing his wife – who only has about 150 hours of flying experience as one of the “also ran’s”. This year, navigating a Beechcraft Baron with Graeme Conlyn as pilot, Nigel could only manage 15th position.

Mr Matthys de Wet collects his trophy for coming second, as well as the Place trophy for the first Piper home, from Deputy Minister of Defense, Mr Kobie Coetzee, while Mr Charles Wotherspoon, vice-chairman of the Aero Club of South Africa, looks on.

In 1978 the Graeme Conlyn/Nigel Forrester team won the event. Last year’s winners, Allan Hodgson and his father Cecil, could only come 47th this year.

Not only did Maureen and Juliette capture the State President’s trophy, but they also collected the Wakefield trophy for the first female pilot home; the Hoofstad trophy for the first Transvaal aircraft home; and the Beech trophy for the first Beechcraft home.

After the race, Maureen paid full tribute to Juliette’s help – “she was fantastic and kept telling me to relax” – and said she thought it had been a very well organised race.

Maureen, whose main pastimes are tennis and bridge, aims to “have a go at the race again, next year.” She wants to accomplish a hat-trick, she says.

Somewhat overshadowed by the women was Mr. Matthys de Wet, of Mooinooi in the Transvaal, who came second in his Piper Tomahawk. It was a notable achievement nonetheless – for he flew solo without a navigator. Last year he also flew solo, winning the Handicapper’s Trophy for his sterling effort.
Although one aircraft blew a tyre on landing at Ermelo, there were no major mishaps during the race. The trophy for the fastest time – 224,9 knots – was won by W.A. Burgener (pilot) and K.D. Heinemann (navigator) in an Aerostar. The Vickers trophy for the most meritorious performance was won by W.H. Barnard (pilot), and A.D. du Plessis (navigator) in a Baron.