Commemorating 100 years of trans-African flight

By Willie Bodenstein

Pierre van Ryneveld and Quintin Brand. Photo ©

In 1920, Lieutenant Colonel (later General) Pierre van Ryneveld and Major (later Air Vice Marshal) Quintin Brand attempted to make the first England to South Africa flight.

Van Ryneveld and Brand in front of the WWI Vickers Vimy bomber "Silver Queen". Photo

The two left Brooklands in the UK on 4 February 1920 in the Vickers Vimy G-UABA named Silver Queen. They landed safely at Heliopolis in Egypt, but as they continued the flight to Wadi Halfa with 80 miles (130 km) still to go they were forced to land due to an engine overheating.

A second Vimy, named Silver Queen II was lent to the pair by the RAF at Heliopolis. This second aircraft continued to Bulawayo in Southern Rhodesia where it was badly damaged when it failed to take off.

An Airco DH.9. Photo

Van Ryneveld and Brand then used a South African Air Force Airco DH.9 to fly to Pretoria where they landed on the grounds where the University of Pretoria is now situated. After a brief sojourn, they took off for the least leg to Cape Town, where forty-five days of travel later, they landed on the 20 March 1920.

The two who spent forty-five days, 13 hours and 30 minutes flying were awarded £5,000 each by South African government.

It has been 100 years since this massive feat was achieved by the two pilots, and to commemorate this historic event the University of Pretoria's (UP) Faculty of Engineering, Built Environment and Information Technology (EBIT), held a celebration on 14 March 2020 at its brand-new Engineering 4.0 building, at UP's Hillcrest Campus. The significance of hosting the commemoration at the Engineering 4.0 facility is that the first landing point in South Africa of the London-to-Cape Town flight route was where the facility now stands.

EBIT Dean Professor Sunil Maharaj

Professor Sunil Maharaj and Professor Tawana Kupe during the unveiling

Some of the invited guests at the unveiling

The celebration coincided with the re-installation of a monument at the site; the monument was relocated last year when construction began on the Engineering 4.0 building.

EBIT Dean Professor Sunil Maharaj said UP is proud to be an inextricable part of South Africa's aviation history. "Technological advancement has gotten to a point where travelling from London to South Africa is as easy as taking a flight that's approximately 12 hours long. One hundred years ago, this was not the case. So, it is important for us to commemorate this event, because it helps us take stock of how far we've come," Prof Maharaj said.

Professor Tawana Kupe Deputy Rector of the university during his speech. The monument, still covered, is in the background

"It is a mere 100 years ago that the first plane landed from the UK in South Africa. We often take existing technology for granted. I believe that the visibility of the memorial will make us remember that apparently impossible feats become possible when good people put their minds to it, and become common-place once we understand the issue or challenge or technology better. That is why we do engineering, for the benefit of humanity."

"We have the opportunity to change the development and supply of road and transportation technology. This will improve people's lives, which is the focus of any competent engineer's career," Prof Kupe said."

Jeff Earle in the de Haviland Tiger Moth

John Illsley in the Auster

Ivan van der Schaar in the Boeing Stearman

Gavin Brown and Grant Timms in the de Haviland Chipmunks

Mark hill and Son Jon-Marc in the Antonov AN2

Charles Fuller and Gary Freeman in the Allo II

Charles Pratley in the Cessna 210

Rob Osner and son Nicholas in the Allo III

Kim Pratley in the MD 500C

Pierre Gouws, Nigel Hopkins and Jason Beamish in the Atlas Bosboks

Scully Levin, Rodney Chin and Arnie Menaghelli in the Puma Energy Flying Lions Harvards

The celebrations included an exciting formation fly-over of mostly historical aircraft to commemorate the establishment of an air route across the African continent.

Captain Karl Jensen

Captain Karl Jensen, SAA retired, was present on the day. Karl is a distant relative of Sir Pierre. Karl's Great Grandmother was Claudia van Ryneveld. Her brother in law's son was Pierre van Ryneveld, so his Ouma, Christine van Ryneveld was a cousin to Pierre van Ryneveld and his Mother Ravenna Christine Jensen (nee van Ryneveld) was second cousin to Pierre van Ryneveld, therefore he claims to be a 3rd cousin of Sir Pierre van Ryneveld. Karl only met Sir Pierre once when he was about 10 years old on his farm near Bronkhorstspruit around 1953. He remembers this Uncle had an armoured car that he used for ploughing.

Capital Sounds

Brian Emmenis and Francois Hanekom

Brian and his team from Capital Sounds supplied was there to entertain and inform the guests as well as a small contingent of casual visitors.

Hentie de Wet and Francois Hanekom

The idea of celebrating the unveiling of the monument with a fly-past originated with Anton de Jong, the leading architect of the new engineering building. Anton, a keen aviation enthusiast and friend of Hentie de Wet, the chairman of the Botswana based Matsieng Flying Club, approached Hentie with the idea. Hentie ran it past Chris Briers who suggested the he approach Colonel Francois Hannekom who, now retired from the SAAF, ran with it and arranged what was probably one of the most well-organized civilian fly-pasts that we have seen in years.

The fly-past was a fitting finale and a tribute to two aviators whose daring contributed to the technological advances that have been made over the past century.

Events 2020

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