Queenstown celebration of the Tiger Moth's 90th anniversary

30th April and 1st May

John Illsley

The three Tiger Moths present at the celebration of the type seen in front of the 47 Air School memorial centred around a wartime engine crane.

A common sight in WW2 when this was a major training aircraft: the Tiger Moths owned by Jeff Earle (ZS-BGN) and Cliff Reynolds (ZS-ATO) climbing out of Queenstown en route to the Hangklip mountain.

This event was originally supposed to have taken place last year, but as with so many things, Covid caused a postponement. The central theme was a celebration of the 90th anniversary of one of the most famous biplanes of all time, the De Havilland DH82a Tiger Moth, a derivative of the famous line of Moths, including the Gipsy and Cirrus Moth variants.

Mark Sahd's Tiger Moth, restored in the markings of a Southern Rhodesian Air Force trainer, flies over some of the beautiful scenery between Queenstown and Tarkastad.

The Tiger Moth formation flies past the sheer rock face of Hangklip Mountain, known in the war years as the "Navigator's Friend".

The Tiger Moth was an adaptation for the Royal Air Force trainer requirement, which resulted in the staggered and slightly swept wings. Unlike most of the earlier Moth biplanes, it used a metal fuselage frame and the inverted Gipsy Major engine. The Tiger Moth was also produced as a trainer for civilian flying schools or clubs and it was in this role that it was first seen in South Africa in the late 1930s, playing a role in the government's Thousand Pilot Scheme. However, it was during World War Two, as an ab initio trainer within the elementary flying schools of the Joint Air Training Scheme, that the type would make its greatest contribution, with dozens in use at several air schools throughout the war. After the war, Tigers were sold off cheaply as war surplus and together with others that were imported, it has remained part of the country's aviation scene ever since, to the extent that for many laymen, any biplane is a "Tiger Moth". It is therefore appropriate that there should be a celebration of the type in this country, where we are fortunate to have very good flying examples in most provinces.

The Tiger Moth formation heads back to Queenstown after the photo sortie at Hangklip.

Who says there are no tigers to be found in Africa: three Tiger Moths over the picturesque landscape of the Queenstown district.

The Queenstown event was a joint venture by the Queenstown Flying Club, the Queenstown Motor Club (also based at the airfield) and the military veterans' organization, the MOTH. Among them, a Fly-In was combined with a display of old cars and tractors. Local food and craft vendors made up most of the stalls and lent the event the type of friendly and hospitable atmosphere that only small towns can achieve.

Another product of the De Havilland stable, albeit the Canadian branch of the company, the Chipmunk, represented by examples based in Queenstown and at Wings Park near East London.

Sadly, the DH Dragon Rapide "African Queen" did not fly at the event and visitors had to be content with seeing it taxy into position at the memorial. The owner, Mark Sahd, watches as his pride and joy is taxied by Captain Flippie Vermeulen.

Queenstown is a reasonably central location for Tigers to fly in from further afield and it seemed that at least ten would attend the event, arriving from Stellenbosch, Port Alfred and Johannesburg. Unfortunately, this was not to be the case as a range of factors conspired to prevent it from happening. One Tiger Moth suffered an engine failure in the week prior to the event and was damaged. Several other owners faced health issues or family crises. Disappointingly, one Eastern Cape owner arrived at the event in a modern aircraft instead of his Tiger Moth! Eventually only two Tigers were flown to the event. Jeff Earl brought his aircraft from the Reef and with good tailwinds, made the flight in seven hours. Facing very strong headwinds, Cliff Reynolds flew up from Port Alfred and was forced to do a fuel stop at Fort Beaufort after his ground speed was reduced to 25 knots at times! Thanks to the efforts of these two owners, there were three Tiger Moths present when counting the one based at Queenstown and owned by the event's main organizer, Mark Sahd.

Queenstown and visiting aircraft at the event.

Surprise visitors were these six gyro copters on a round trip through the Eastern Cape.

A few dozen aircraft flew into the event, almost all from the East London or Port Alfred, although there were a few from further down the coast. One example was an RV flown from Mossel Bay by Horace Blok. This aircraft, ZU-EAA, was built by Chalkie Stobbart and was flown to and from Oshkosh one year. Among the classics were a very neat Cessna 170 from Port Alfred, a Chipmunk from Wings Park and an Auster MkV from East London. The only visiting helicopter was an all-black Allouette III.

One of the visiting gyrocopters departs on the return flight to the highveld.

The Auster MkV owned by Colin Wilkie was a visitor from East London. The aircraft is a SAAF WW2 veteran that served in the Italian campaign in 1945.

Livening things up a bit mid-morning, amid the arrival of fixed wing visitors, was a gaggle of six gyro copters representing a fair cross section of the types flown in SA at present. They were on a round trip which included a leg down the coast and who made a fuel stop at Queenstown after a weather delay.

Another Auster to be seen at the event was the Auster J1 Autocrat owned by Mark Sahd. It was modified with a 150hp Lycoming engine by the late Bill Keil.

This very smart Cessna 170 with a fabric covered wing was a visitor from Port Alfred.

Apart from visiting aircraft, a number of interesting aircraft are based at Queenstown, with Mark Sahd's collection topping the list. In addition to the Tiger Moth already mentioned, there is also a Chipmunk, an Auster J1 and the beautiful DH Dragon Rapide, the last of its kind in Africa. All of these are in pristine condition. Also, to be seen in the hangar were Mark's Fairchild 24 and Rutan Long Eze. Among more modern types based at the airfield are local businessman Ken Clark's Rockwell Turbo Commander and a very smart new Eurocopter 103, which did much flying during the weekend.

The historic Queenstown airfield hosted the Tiger Moth event. This site has been associated with aviation since at least 1920 and was developed as a WW2 training school for navigators. Most of the wartime hangars and camp buildings still survive today.

An aerial view of 47 Air School during WW2, showing the distinctive crown shape of the layout due to the shape of the apron relative to the hangars and camp.

This 1944 photo shows the wartime air school at Queenstown with two Avro Ansons in one of the Bellman hangars. One of these hangars still serves the Queenstown Flying Club and the others are used by the SAPS.

For those who spent the time at the airfield in the evening, it was time to absorb some of the atmosphere of this historic airfield, which has been used for flying since the 1920s and which became 47 Air School during World War Two, training navigators on Airspeed Oxfords and later Avro Ansons. The present airfield retains a Bellman hangar and other res-brick service buildings from that era. The air school's commanding officer in the last years of the war was none other than Allister Miller, the founder of Union Airways, who had earlier connections to the airfield from his World War One recruiting flight across the country and his barnstorming activities in the early 1920s. That connection with Queenstown's flying activities is commemorated in a new display in the QFC club house, arranged by Mark Sahd, the main driving force behind the maintenance of the airfield as a first-class facility.

The RV variants are a common sight in South Africa and several were present at the Queenstown event.

Vintage and classic cars were also on display thanks to the efforts of the Queenstown Car Club, co-organizers of the event.

Obviously, an event to celebrate the Tiger Moth had to include something special involving those present. Hence, on the Saturday, the three aircraft were flown in formation twice to the local mountain called Hangklip with its impressive sheer cliffs at the peak. During World War Two, this distinctive feature became known as the "Navigator's Friend" to the young trainees who were being trained as air force navigators. A helicopter with two photographers accompanied the Tiger Moths on both sorties and the late afternoon flight provided for some stunning images around Queenstown as the trio, all displaying military markings, were posed against some of the most picturesque landscapes to be found in the Eastern Cape.

This all-black Alouette III was the only visiting helicopter.

Vintage wings and wheels: the 1944 Dragon Rapide (Dominie) with a 1915 Model T Ford seen in front of the 47 Air School memorial.

The other special item arranged for the celebration was a range of Tiger Moth wines produced by a winery, Diemerskraal, that has its own air strip. The attractively labelled bottles were for sale during the event and also featured in the generous "goody bags" handed to volunteer workers and the Tiger owners at the conclusion of the event.

In preparation for the long flight home back to the Reef, Jeff Earle refuels his Tiger Moth.

The bonhomie of the event lasted into the evening each day. Organiser of the event, Mark Sahd of the Queenstown Flying Club chats to Captain Flippie Vermeulen, (SAA, retired) in the clubhouse. Behind them is the exhibition on Allister Miller, the SA aviation pioneer who had strong links with this airfield.

Although the event failed to achieve the intended goal of gathering a substantial proportion of the country's Tiger Moth population in one place, everyone who attended went away with good memories of wonderful food and hospitality and a relaxed event with plenty to see. Mark Sahd and his team are to be congratulated on organizing a most enjoyable event, one which hopes will be staged again in future along similar lines.

Another day visitor was this Yak52 from Port Alfred.

Seen doing much flying during the event was this Eurocopter 130 based at Queenstown and owned by local businessman Ken Clark.

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