Vic Stow - 90-year-old goes flying again

By Brian Spurr (Photos by Brian Spurr except where specified.)

Vic Stow (front) and Stu Low do a pass at Virginia for his family and friends

At Virginia Airport on Sunday 8 March 2020, Durban North resident Vic Stow was given a flight in a 1946 Piper J3 Cub owned and flown by Stuart Low. This aircraft was previously owned by the late Glen Dell. Vic's family and friends arranged this as a birthday treat for the ninety-year-old ex-aviator. He turned 90 two days before the flight (on the 6th). Those there to witness the special occasion included daughters Vivienne Forrest and Jackie Cilliers, his son Jonathan Stow and granddaughter Jessica Taylor. His son Jonathan was on a surprise visit, to celebrate his father's birthday, from his home in Western Australia. Also present were their husbands, wives and friends that included the organiser of the flight Brenda Shankland.

Thumbs up from Vic with 'Mossie' Mostert

Family and friends

Vic ready to go

Stuart Low (left) and Vic before departure

A smile and a thumbs up from Vic while Stuart Low climbs aboard

Ready to go

Family and friends

After the flight Mossie Mostert, Vic Stow and Brenda Shankland

The flight along the coast included a view of the old Stamford Hill aerodrome site that Vic used to fly from when he was with the SAAF auxiliary air unit. These were civilians that were trained to fly SAAF aircraft on a voluntary basis.

Vic grew up in Illovo Beach on the South Coast and said he saw an advert for volunteers in the Sunday Tribune and decided to apply for flight training. Initial training was done on Tiger Moths operated by Comair at Stamford Hill. He told me that he used to have his lectures in the Durban Wings Club building at Stamford Hill. This was located near to the present-day Argyle Road and Umgeni Road intersection. He says the airfield did not have a specified runway; the airfield was all grass. This meant you could take off and land directly into the wind no matter the direction.

He had to complete 50 hours on Tiger Moths before being sent to Central Flying School, Dunnottar, in July/August 1951, for three weeks on the junior course to convert onto Harvards. After 36 hours flying on Harvards there, Vic returned to Durban to continue his training. Commercial Air Services had the use of two Harvards, supplied by the SAAF, to train the air force auxiliary pilots. Vic completed 80 hours with Comair and then in June/July 1952, he was sent back to Central Flying School to complete the senior course. Here he flew a further 38.15 hours. At the end of this course he qualified to proudly wear the SAAF Flying Badge (wings) on 26 July 1952.

Vic Stow in full attire! (Vic Stow collection, photographer unknown)

Once qualified they returned to Durban and joined 5 Squadron, based at Stamford Hill. 5 Squadron was disbanded after WW2, but re-formed in Durban in December 1950 as an active citizen force unit flying Harvards.

Nice air-to-air of a SAAF Harvard IIA just up from the Air Force Base at Durban, in 1951. This was one of the Harvards Vic flew later. It was being flown here by Captain Bill Sykes. - (Photo Credit - D. John Lucey via CAHS / Ed Coates collection)

Vic flew for 5 Squadron from 1952 to 1962. He amassed 1072.25 hours in Harvards and says he flew at least 71 different aircraft. See the details below.

Harvards in a formation Vic was part of. (Vic Stow collection, photographer unknown)

In October 1953 he went to Zwartkop, Pretoria where they used to have a 3-week jamboree involving all squadrons. The flying was accompanied by a lot of social interaction and Vic met one of the girls invited to a function by 25-squadron. Her name was Valerie Drummond. She eventually came to Durban as his girlfriend and on the 4th of January 1955 they married! They settled down in a new home in Durban North in December 1956 and Vic have lived there ever since. Val was a concert pianist and clarinet player and was also a well-known piano teacher in the area.

His time in the citizen force included aerial weapons training (rockets and armaments) in Bloemfontein and also a conversion course onto Vampire jet trainers at Zwartkop.

The conversion course was meant to be 15 hours but Vic's aircraft was unserviceable at the end when he was meant to complete his long cross-country flight. Based on the hours he completed (12.55) he was still signed out and marked as proficient for further jet training. On 4 Feb 1954 his first Vampire instructor was Lieutenant Pikkie Rautenbach. Eight days later it was Captain Rautenbach after Pikkie was promoted. Captain 'Horse' Sweeney did his conversion test, which he passed. Vic said that the Vampire was a pleasure to fly, so quiet and responsive. Unfortunately, he did not get to do more time on this aircraft.

In May 1962 his clothing business was demanding more and more of his time and he then decided to stop flying. He did not fly again except with friends on occasion. One of the benefits of volunteering is that all of his flying experience had not cost him anything but his time. A contributing factor in his decision to stop flying was an accident he witnessed.

On 19 Feb 1962, Vic's good friend, pilot Rowan Rex Bowden, was killed flying Harvard # 7040. He was practicing aerobatics after being selected by the squadron to represent them in a forthcoming competition in Bloemfontein Vic was watching from a hangar at Louis Botha when the aircraft went in. While the aircraft was doing aerobatics, a wing came off and the aircraft went into the ground "like a dart." This had quite an effect on Vic. Vic had flown this machine many times and it was quite well known as "Bumble Bee" due to the orange stripes it had. It was used as a target tug aircraft and needed to be easily seen! Vic tells me that the date shown in various places is incorrect as the 19th February was a Monday and he believes it happened on Saturday 17th.

Vic's last flight for 5 Squadron was on the 14th April 1962 in Harvard # 7386. As if to confirm he had made the correct decision to retire, another accident followed not long afterwards he stopped flying. A 5 Squadron Harvard was involved in the unusual and well reported accident with a Douglas DC-4 Skymaster. The Harvard was being flown by two very close friends of his and luckily, they both escaped virtually unscathed. This accident is set out below in a post from the website "Facts About Durban" courtesy of Allan Jackson.

On 30 June 1962, at 3:52pm, an SAA Skymaster (ZS-BMH) with 46 passengers aboard, was bound for Durban when it collided with an SAAF Harvard trainer flown by Lt Paul Sinclair and Lt Arnie Frolich above Edwin Swales Drive. The Skymaster lost its rudder and some of its tail but managed to land safely at Louis Botha Airport a short while later. Sinclair and Frolich bailed out of their aircraft. Apparently Frolich was fiddling with the quick release mechanism on his parachute in an attempt to get it to open. He remembered just in time to pull the ripcord instead!

Sinclair deployed his parachute correctly but it got caught on a lamppost at the intersection of Edwin Swales and Bluff Road, leaving him dangling in the way of the traffic. A man driving a Landrover narrowly missed hitting him and then offered him a lift back to Louis Botha Airport, never asking how he came to be up the lamp post in the first place. The pilotless Harvard narrowly missed a bowling green on the Bluff and crashed in a nearby road.

This year's celebratory flight in the Piper Cub was preceded (2 years ago), by another flying experience, when Vic flew in a Tiger Moth courtesy of Lance Porter and in a Chipmunk courtesy of Les Rhind in Scottburgh.

Vic really enjoyed his flight which took him back in time. He had a small feel of the controls but handed them back to Stu Low as he preferred to take in the view. Stu said afterwards that it had been a real privilege to fly Vic after achieving his milestone birthday. Vic and his entourage all went to the Durban Wings Club for a well-deserved celebratory beer afterwards!

Here is Vic's list of the serial numbers of the Harvards he flew, 71 in all. He says there should be a few more but he did not have them recorded.

He also flew these Tiger Moths:
These Vampires:
203, 205, 210, 223, 224
And Vic was also a co-pilot on Sunderland N on a trip from Durban harbour to Richards Bay!

Aviation Personalities

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