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

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.

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