1985 Barnib State President’s Air Race
Held at Virginia Airfield, Durban – 31 May to 1 June 1985
The Junkers J52
By Allan Blain
Iron Annie, a name I can no longer use comfortably since flying in the beauty, or is it the beast. Confused? Well, it all started when I was invited by SAA staff to fly the second leg of the S.P. Trophy Air Race in the J U 52.
At the appointed day and time I arrived and was shown to my seat by a charming hostess. I was then welcomed by the crew of Joe Prozesky, Brian Wallace, Scully Levin, Captain Gus Schoeman, our “hosty” Antoinette Durand, and flight engineer, Theo Steyn.
Firstly, I must compliment SAA and especially those who have lobbied from within the organisation to keep the Junkers flying, and making appearances at airshows. It is vitally important as it is our historical link to our flying heritage, and an incentive to all to keep flying.
Secondly, let’s get back to the flight. We took off in rather inclement weather just before lunch, and the noise is immediately an overwhelming reminder that she is powered by three Harvard engines. Even with the industrial earmuffs we wore for the flight, it was deafening. Once fitted with the upholstery of the airline model it will be much quieter, but even so air travellers of old must have had strong eardrums. Flying in those days must have been a rather grand affair. The hostess had only a few people to look after and could give each passenger special attention. Each passenger had his own window and a large comfortable seat. Antoinette did a fantastic job of feeding us from a mouthwatering menu which consisted of caviar, crayfish tails and wines of outstanding quality. Yours truly had not one, not two, but three crayfish tails. It was heaven on earth, or accurately in the sky. I don’t think there is any finer platform for observing any aviation event, and watching the competitors pass us way below was fantastic.
To coax more speed out of the supercharged engines we stayed at over 3 000 ft agl for most of the race. Tension mounted as the other aircraft started catching us, and later as the hotships started passing us. By now crew and passengers alike were one team and we shouted encouragement to our pilots. As we finished our coffee and pralines, we started the descent for Durban and the end of the race. Soon the coastline was in sight, and we crept over the last ridge before Virginia. As we flashed over the tower, Scully Levin changed the props to full coarse pitch, and with a mighty roar we zoomed over the crowd at the finish. The strong ground winds gave Capt. Gus Schoeman some trouble and we finally landed on the third attempt. That was a flight I will never forget, as it not only gave me an insight into the early days of commercial airlines, but was a ringside seat to one of the world’s finest aviation events, the S.P. Trophy Air Race.
All the SAA staff that fly or maintain the J U 52 do so in their spare time, and they must be complimented for their dedication. And me, well they can take away my Bop TV, but they can never take away my experience of flying in that grand old dame, the one I now call “Beautiful Betty”!