The South African Power Flying Association is an independent association affiliated to the Aero Club of South Africa formed in the 1980’s.

First South African Aero Conference – Johannesburg 1 to 6 April 1920

The Aero Club was formed in 1920 by a group of airman, “Millers Boys”, who had served with the Royal Flying Corps and the Royal Naval Air Service. In 1928, due to lack of funds, the club went into recess.

Trophy donated by Mr I W Schlesinger

It was revived again in 1936 when Mr I W Schlesinger offered £10.000.00 in prize money for the promotion of an air race from England to Johannesburg. See the 1920’s – London to Cape Town  page for further details.

A further £10.000.00 was donated by Sir Abe Bailey to promote Civil Aviation in South Africa, part of which was used for the establishment of a National Controlling Body for Aviation.

In 1939 as World War II hostilities began, Aero Club opened a Civil Pilots register to enable government to readily mobilize those in civil aviation or those with any past flying experience. When war was declared all the established flying clubs were turned into military units with many of these men giving the SAAF a name and reputation unequalled before.

At the end of the war in 1945 the Aero Club set about the re-establishment of clubs throughout South Africa. Initially the Aero Club represented only power flying but as other branches of aviation developed new sections were formed.

Schlessinger Race Program

Sub committees were formed to run the various sections, the main one still being the Power Flying committee. As other forms of aviation gained popularity the other sections showed rapid growth.

In the late 1980’s the sections of Aero Club were constituted as independent organisations all affiliated to Aero Club and subscribing to the aims and objectives of Aero Club in their particular branch of aviation. The first committees of the independent sections took office in 1988. The sections are:- Power Flying, Gliding, Parachuting, Aerobatics, Ballooning, Hang Gliding & Paragliding, Aero-Modelling, Homebuilders, Microlighting, Experimental Aircraft, Gyro Planes, Virtual Aviation, Rocketry and Disabled Aviators.

Aero Club is affiliated to the Fédération Aéronautique Internationale – the world controlling body for sport aviation. No competitive recreational flying activity in South Africa is recognized without Aero Club approval. This includes world record attempts.

Recently, the Aero Club became involved in development programs to expose those previously isolated communities to aviation and liaise such with the Department of Sport and Recreation. The development actions of SAPFA can be found here.

A general committee elected by the members and representing each of the 14 sections, is responsible for the administration and development of the Aero Club’s policies in the interest and well being of sport aviation in South Africa.

Since 1937 Aero Club and SAPFA have been organising the President’s Trophy Air Race (formerly the Governor General’s Cup Air Race). For more information on the history of this event – see Race History

The route between London and Cape Town was regarded as one of the challenges for aviators. Parts of the route had been covered but no-one had flown the full distance.

Sirs Pierre van Ryneveld (left) and Christopher Quintin-Brand and crew, stand in front of the Silver Queen before departing. (Brooklands Museum collection)
Sirs Pierre van Ryneveld (left) and Christopher Quintin- Brand and crew, stand in front of the Silver Queen before departing. (Brooklands Museum collection)

In December 1919, the British Air Ministry announced surveys had been completed by the RAF and a string of airfields established on the African route. It was now open to aviators! Urged on by the successes achieved by Alcock and Brown, first non-stop flight across the Atlantic, and the Smith brothers’ first flight to Australia, the challenge began to gather momentum.

In January 1920 the London Times offered a prize for the first person to fly from London to Cape Town. The same reward was offered as had been earned by the two previously successful great flights – £10,000 – that’s £300,000 in today’s terms. Less than a month later, a Vickers Vimy set out from England for the Cape. Piloted by Captains S Cockerell and F C Broome, with Dr Chalmers Mitchell, Secretary of the Zoological Society

General Smuts wanted a South African to be the first so he authorized the purchase of a Vickers Vimy for this task at a cost of £4 500. Lt.Col Pierre van Ryneveld and Flight Lieutenant Christopher Joseph (Flossie) Quintin-Brand left London on 4 February 1920 from Brooklands Aerodrome in Surrey, England in the Vimy named the Silver Queen. The registration was G-UABA.

C J Quintin-Brand
C J Quintin-Brand


P van Ryneveld
P van Ryneveld

van Ryneveld and Brand had to do some night flying to catch up with the Vimy sponsored by the Times. They encountered bad weather over the Mediterranean so the crossing took approximately 11 hours. Their aircraft was written off in a forced landing at night due to a leaking radiator at Wadi Halfa in the Sudan.

A second Vimy F8615 was loaned from the Royal Air Force at Heliopolis, in Egypt, and they continued their journey 11 days later. They left from Cairo on 22 February. On 27 February the competing aircraft crashed at Tabora in Tanganyika, without injury. The Silver Queen II crashed in Bulawayo due to being overloaded on 6 March. The hot and high conditions over Africa were taking their toll.

de Haviland DH9
de Haviland DH9

But the South African Government and the two South African pilots were determined that they would be the first airmen to complete an end-to-end trip to their homeland. Another aircraft, this time a de Havilland DH9, part of the Imperial Gift, was flown to Bulawayo and handed over to the two pilots.

Their journey resumed on 17 March and the aviators landed three days later at Young’s Field, Wynberg, Cape Town. Their mail cargo of letters had been transferred from aircraft to aircraft and so safely reached its destination. van Ryneveld and Brand were knighted for their achievement.

Their flight took a total of 45 days with a flight time of 109 hours and 30 minutes.

In 1936 when Mr I W Schlesinger offered £10.000.00 in prize money for the promotion of an air race from England to Johannesburg. This race was held flown from 29 September to 1 October 1936 and was 6 154 miles in length. The winners were Charles W A Scott and Giles Guthrie in Percival Vega Gul (G-AEKE). It took 2 days 4 hours 56 minutes and were the only aircraft that completed the course.1

The first production Mew Gull (G-AEKL) was also entered in the race. The pilot was Tom Campbell Black who won the 1934 England to Australia race, co-piloting the DH Comet Racer G-ACSS Grosvenor House. G-AEKL was withdrawn ten days before the race when Black taxied into a military aircraft. Its propeller cut into the cabin killing him.

Alex Henshaw, Jack Cross and restored Mew Gull, 1978 (From The Flight of the Mew Gull)
Alex Henshaw, Jack Cross and restored Mew Gull, 1978 (From The Flight of the Mew Gull)

Two other Mew Gulls were entered but both failed to finish the race to South Africa. Maj Alistair Miller’s retired with a fuel feeding problem at Belgrade and the other, while flying with reduced visibility, flipped on landing to refuel in Africa.2


Miller’s aircraft, named The Golden City and having the registration ZS-AHM, was returned to England where it was subsequently bought by Bill Humble. Humble swapped it for a Leopard Moth owned by Alex Henshaw, and the Mew Gull was re-registered in Henshaw’s name as G-AEXF.

In 1939 Henshaw made an attempt to beat the record for the flight from London to Cape Town in G-AEXF. The flight to Cape Town was done in 39 hours 23 minutes and the return trip in 39 hours 36 minutes. This was in 1939 the fastest time for any aircraft or crew from Cape Town to England. It reduced the existing solo record by 66 hours and 42 mins. Not only were all Cape Town-and-return records broken but also for every stage en route and remain so in the solo classification to this day. The England-Cape Town-England (12,754 miles) was an all-time record.3 The aircraft was placed in the care of the Shuttleworth Collection in 1996, in flying condition.


  • 1  IN SOUTHERN SKIES – A Pictorial History of Early Aviation in Southern Africa 1816-1940. By John Illsley Jonathan Ball Publishers, Cape Town & Johannesburg, 2004
  • 2  America’s Flyways Magazine – January 2005 issue – Article by Gary Williams
  • 3 The Flight of the Mew Gull – By Alexander Adolphus Dumfries Henshaw

South Africa was not left out of the interest in aviation that was occurring world wide after the flight by the Wright brothers.

John Weston, a civil engineer, began the construction of his own aeroplane in 1907 at Brandfort, in the Free State. He lacked an engine with enough power so he dismantled the aircraft and shipped it to France. It is possible that John Weston based his design on a Voisin. In France he fitted a Gnome rotary engine (50hp) and flew it successfully (in France) in 1910.

The first aircraft imported to South Africa was a Ralph S. Mansel glider that was built by Voisin Freres of Billancourt, France, arrived on 20 October 1908 in the Cape Town Docks aboard the “Varzin”.
On 18 December 1909 the Voisin single-sea engine powered pusher bi-plane of the visiting French aviator M. Albert Kimmerling was off-loaded from the “Kenilworth Castle” at East London.

Voisin Canard Seaplane
Voisin Canard Seaplane

Kimmerling, a Frenchman, made the first powered flight in South Africa in East London on 28 December 1909 over the Nahoon Racecourse. He managed to achieve an altitude of about 6 meters and a speed of approximately 30 miles per hour. At the end of February 1910 Kimmerling made three flights at Sydenham Hill, near Orange Grove. Thomas Thornton of Johannesburg was the first fare paying passenger when he paid £100 for a flight on 19 March 1910. Kimmerling was killed in an aircraft accident on 9 June 1912 in Mourmelon, France

The first aircraft designed, built and flown in this country was built by Alfred Louis Raison, based on the design that Louis Bleriot used to fly across the English Channel. Raison built the aircraft for a wealthy Johannesburg based timber merchant, Cecil Bredell. Bredell flew the aircraft on 2nd May 1911 at Highlands North, Johannesburg

On 16 June 1911 John Weston made the first flight in Kimberley establishing a South African non-stop flight record of eight-and-a-half minutes in his Weston-Farman biplane. His energy and drive led to the formation of the Aeronautical Society of South Africa in 1911. he was, however, prevented from ever establishing a flying school.

Cecil Compton PatersonCecil Compton PatersonIt was the start of the John Weston Aviation Company of South Africa, which did much to popularise flight in the country by touring the main centres and offering flights to the public. One of his passengers at Turffontein Racecourse in Johannesburg was the actress Cressie Leonard who recalled, ‘I had dressed for the part in a close-fitting jersey costume, with no motor scarves to vex the propeller . . . The crowd roared and I could hear the distant clapping from the stand like rushing leaves.

The African Aviation Syndicate was formed and Captain Guy Livingston, Cecil Compton Paterson and Evelyn Frederick (Bok) Driver arrived in Cape Town in December 1911 for a series of demonstration flights. The syndicate had two aircraft – a Bleriot monoplane and a Paterson biplane.

The demonstrations were held in the Cape, where the first air mail was transported, in Johannesburg and then Kimberley. These flights brought aviation to public notice. A flying school was established at Alexandersfontein, but no pupils were trained, owing to the liquidation of the Syndicate in September 1912.

On 27 December 1911 the first airmail was carried by Bok Driver in his Bleriot monoplane. He travelled between Kenilworth Race Course and Oldham’s field near Muizenberg, a distance of approximately eight miles (almost 13 km.), The flying time was seven and a half minutes.

A group of prominent Kimberley businessmen bought up the assets of the Syndicate which a enabled Paterson to continue his flying activities as the Paterson Aviation Syndicate Ltd (Kimberley). He immediately negotiated the building of a hangar at Alexandersfontein and established his own flying school.

Cecil Compton Paterson's pupils at Alexandersfontein. Paterson appears in the inset (top right)
Cecil Compton Paterson’s pupils at Alexandersfontein. Paterson appears in the inset (top right)

As a result of a visit by Brig Gen C F Beyers to England and Europe in August 1912 the government decided to start flying training for military purposes. In a Government Gazette published on 13 May 1913 citizens were invited to join the South African Aviation Corps (SAAC) as officer-aviators. Successful candidates would be paid 17 shillings 6 pence and an aircraft allowance of 5 shillings. Ten candidates were selected – John Clisdal, Gordon Shergold Creed, Edwin Cheere Emmett, Hopkins, Solomon, Basil Hobson Turner, M van Coller, Kennith Reid van der Spuy, Gerard Percy Wallace en Marthinus Steyn Williams.

The Union Government did not have any training facilities so negotiated with Paterson to have military pilots trained at his flying school. In July 1913 The Paterson Aviation Syndicate was registered and on 10 September General J C Smuts signed a Memorandum of Agreement with Paterson whereby the ten pupils were to be trained as pilots. The pilot testing would be supervised by the Aeronautical Society of South Africa as prescribed by and on behalf of
the Federation Aeronautique Internationale.

Patterson Bi-Plane: A reproduction of the Paterson biplane (SAAF Museum)
Patterson Bi-Plane: A reproduction of the Paterson biplane (SAAF Museum)

The training was on a Paterson bi-plane (No 36) with a 50 hp Gnome engine. Paterson appointed Edward Wallace Cheeseman as co-instructor. The school also accepted three private pupils. One of these was South Africa’s, and as a matter of fact, the first woman pilot in the whole of the African continent at the time, Ann Maria Bocciarelli, born in 1897 in Kimberley, the daughter of Sculptor Achille Bocciarelli. She obtained her pilots license in 1913, after the death of the co-instructor E W Cheeseman (11th October 1913).

This facility featured a runway cut from scrub so thorny that its single aircraft had to have its wheels protected by thick leather coverings to avoid punctures, and a corrugated-iron hangar that also served as a workshop where the trainees were taught to carry out aircraft maintenance. On the work benches were a spare engine, a few spare parts, a chest of tools, wire and canvas.

Edward Wallace Cheeseman
Edward Wallace Cheeseman

In an attempt to make the flying as safe as possible flying was limited to the early morning and late afternoon in wind still conditions. Early in the training Paterson and K R van der Spuy crashed. The aircraft was written off but luckily there were no injuries. A new aircraft was built out of the wreckage of the original and training continued.

The new aircraft was involved in a second crash. E W Cheeseman was seriously injured and died in a Kimberley hospital a few days later. Paterson purchased a replacement aircraft from one of the private pupils so that training could continue. The training was comprehensive and tough with eight pupils qualifying in December.

After the pupils had left in early 1914, the Flying School at Alexandersfontein was abandoned due to the commencement of World War I, Paterson’s return to England. A replica of a Paterson biplane stands in the Paterson Museum near the Kimberley airport.

They continued their training at Tempe and six were appointed as Lieutenants at the end of April 1914. These were Creed, Emmett, Turner, Van der Spuy, Wallace and Williams. These officers were sent to England under the command of Captain (temp) Wallace to complete their training with the Royal Flying Corps (RFC) at the Central Flying School at Upavon (Salisbury Plain), where five of the original ten pupils qualified for their certificates. They were in England when World War I was declared. Having recently qualified for their wings, they had immediately applied for permission to proceed to France for service in the RFC Their applications were successful and they joined two of the first four squadrons which were mobilised. They were to participate in the first aerial reconnaissance and artillery spotting missions over France during the closing months of 1914

K R van der Spuy
K R van der Spuy

In January 1915 the South African pilots were appointed in the Permanent Force an recalled to the Union to help man the SAAC established on 29 January 1915 for service in German South West Africa. On 6 May 1915 the SAAC went into action when K R van der Spuy (later Major General, CBE, MC) flew a reconnaissance sortie at Walvis Bay. The SAAC had access to six Henri Farman F-27 and two BE2C aircraft and provided air support of General Botha’s forces. The aircraft were used for reconnaissance patrols to keep Gen Botha informed of the enemy’s movements and positions. The Farmans also carried out a number of bombing missions.

After the German South West Africa campaign, the majority of the SAAC pilots volunteered for further service in England, where they were to form the nucleus of 26 (South African) Squadron (Sqn) of the RFC. This unit was dispatched to East Africa in December 1915 to carry out reconnaissance, bombing and communication missions in support of Gen Smuts’ forces.

In addition to those that served in 26 Squadron, a number of South Africans served as volunteers in other RFC squadrons in the course of the World War I. This was mainly due to the success of the recruitment drive of Major Allister Miller . Between 1916 and 1917 he persuaded approximately 2 450 South Africans to enlist with the RFC. These recruits became known as “Millers’s Boys”.

Andrew Weatherby Beauchamp Proctor the first South African pilot to receive the Victoria Cross (Photo: SAAF Museum)
Andrew Weatherby Beauchamp Proctor the first South African pilot to receive the Victoria Cross (Photo: SAAF Museum)

A number of South Africans pilots excelled in the war, the most famous of these were Maj Allister Miller, Capt Andrew Weatherby Beauchamp-Proctor, Capt Helperus Andrias. (Pierre) van Ryneveld, Maj Arthur E. Harris, Capt C J (Boetie) Venter and Capt Sam Kinkead. For a list of South African Aces – see The Aerodrome Site

30 enemy aircraft, Boetie Venter (22 aircraft) Douglas John Bell (20 aircraft) and Sir Hugh W. Saunders (19 aircraft). Capt Kinkead, Lt Col K R van der Spuy and Lt Col Pierre van Ryneveld also served in Russia. van der Spuy was taken prisoner and only released in 1920.

At the end of hostilities in 1918, 26 Squadron was eventually recalled to England and disbanded in 1918. The British Government offered aircraft to each of their Dominions to allow them to start their own Air Forces. South African received a total of 113 aircraft. These aircraft were used to form the South African Air Force at a new base close to Pretoria on the farm Zwartkops. In June 1920 Sir Pierre Van Ryneveld was promoted to Lt Colonel and appointed to the Instructional and Administrative staff of the Union Defence Force, back-dated to 1st February 1920. This date, in the absence of any official date is taken as the birth date of the SAAF.

In 1919, The Daily Mail offered a prize of 10,000 Pounds Sterling (about 300 000 Pounds in today’s terms) for the first successful non-stop flight across the Atlantic. This was followed by a further 10,000 Pound offer made by the Australian Prime Minister, Billy Hughes, for the first flight to Australia. Not to be outdone, the South African Government offered a similar prize for the first flight to the Cape.

Flight in South Africa in the 1870’s – Fact or fiction

John Goodman Houshold

There is a belief that, in the early 1870’s, John Goodman Houshold and his brother built a glider and launched it from the top of a 300 metre precipice on the farm Der Magtenburg, in the Karkloof area of KwaZuluNatal. The first flight was just over 1 kilometer and a height of 50 to 80 meters was achieved. During the second flight the craft soared for a while before beginning a rapid descent in which it clipped a tree and crashed, breaking his leg in the process.

It was the first ever recorded heavier-than-air flight and Goodman and his brother could have been accorded a place in history had it not been for their mother. When she heard of the crash she persuaded them to abandon the project out of fear that the family would incur the wrath of God for challenging their natural state of being earthbound. It is believed that the glider was stored in a barn and eventually burned with other rubbish.

All drawings, sketches and calculations were supposedly burned at John Houshold’s insistence so he would abide by his promise to his mother never to discuss or attempt flying again.

This allowed the German Otto Lillienthal to take the honour when he made a successful glider flight in 1896. Eight years later, Orville and Wilbur Wright made the first powered flight at Kittyhawk in the United States. It was the dawning of a new era; an age of adventure, excitement and glamour that gripped the world, including South Africa.

The Goodman Household Monument has been erected near Curry’s Post, in the KwaZuluNatal Midlands to commemorate his achievement.

Is this fact or myth? According to an article by J.W. Swinnich in the National Soaring Museum Historical Journal Vol 25, (1), 2003. titled “History Without Evidence is Myth: J.G. Household and Claims of Flight in 1870’s Africa” (attached below), no written evidence has been found to substantiate the claim. J W Swinnich suggests that further research is required as there could be evidence in the archives in South Africa.

Thanks to the National Soaring Museum ( www.soaringmuseum.org ) for supplying a copy of the article.

Attachment Size
History Without Evidence is Myth 389.48 KB