Monthly Archives: October 2013

Vickers Viscounts

In Memoriam.

By Mitch Stirling (Air Rhodesia)
Memories of Vickers Viscounts are deeply etched in the Rhodesian psyche. They played a vital role in the history of “our land of lost content”.
If you lived in Salisbury, and listened carefully, you could even set your clock to the distinctive high-pitched whine of 4 Rolls Royce Dart engines, as RH 828 turned left off runway 06 and headed out across the city to Kariba, Wankie and Victoria Falls. Black or white, big or small, young or old, you loved the Viscounts — those elegant, graceful old ndege. “You could balance a coin on edge during flight”. Millions of people travelled on the Viscounts; many of them were famous celebrities, prime ministers, presidents and monarchs. The Queen Mum was a favourite. Continue reading

Lucky Break With Exploding Fuel Tank.

Thanks to Marion Wightman

Cessna 402  Z-WRB had just come out of a C of A check.


Chief engineer, Mr Eric Churcher asked me to take the aircraft into D4 and do a test on it. On my pre-flight I could not drain the fuel from the right aux tank.  An engineer came and attended to that and I went off into D4.   All seemed fine and I transferred the plane to Harare main as it was an early take off the next day.  I was due to take the Canadian Ambassador and his son to Matputo.

Continue reading

Chileka Final Approach


A snippet from Roy Downes‘ memoirs… brilliant!

I learned about flying from that
Most flying magazines devote a page or two to this subject. So perhaps now is as good a time as any to include an account of one of the many lessons I learned, during the twenty-eight years I spent in the air.
It was a beautiful, Central African, late afternoon with eight/eighths of blue sky. Our Viscount was cruising at FL150 en-route from Harare to Blantyre in Malawi. Some sixty miles out of Blantyre, we intercepted the required 242° Radial from the Blantyre VOR and contacted Chileka ATC, who cleared us for a straight-in approach to runway 10, giving the weather conditions as: surface wind 240/10kt, visibility 10+km, weather nil, QNH 1023, QFE 928, Temperature +21°C. The quartering tailwind would give us a tailwind component of 6kt, well within the capabilities of the aircraft.
At +21°C, the heat of the day had passed and we were looking forward to a beer in the Chileka Flying Club, as we were ‘night-stopping’ in Blantyre. Runway 10/28 at Chileka Airport, Blantyre, is 7628ft long at an elevation of 2555ft AMSL. There was no ILS at the time but runway 10 was equipped with a VASI system (Visual approach slope indicator), for glide-slope guidance. At 49 miles DME, I reduced the power from the cruise RPM of 14200 to 10500, set a torque pressure of 40psi and commenced the descent. On crossing the Shire River (the only river that drains Lake Malawi and the fastest flowing in Africa), we were passing 5000 feet on the QFE and 15 nautical miles from Chileka. We were ideally placed for the planned straight-in approach. At five miles DME, I allowed the speed to decay to the flap limiting speed and selected the flaps to 20°, called for the undercarriage extension and increased the torque to 80psi. The co-pilot then completed the final items on the landing checklist. At 800 feet we were correctly positioned on the glide-slope with the speed stabilised at 120kt. The tower controller again passed the surface wind information and cleared us to land – no change, steady at 240/10kt. To think they even paid us to do this!
As I have indicated, I was certainly no stranger to the African Cumulonimbus. Repeatedly, I had successfully wrestled with these gigantic energy fields and their indescribable turbulence. I knew all there was to know about extreme turbulence – or so I imagined. At about 600 feet, I noticed we were going slightly above the glide slope – starting to experience the result of the reducing tailwind – so I reduce the torque pressure to 60psi. With the conditions as smooth as one could possibly wish for, I selected 32° flap. Then it happened. The worst turbulence encounter I had ever experienced. Without warning, the nose pitched down dramatically and the aircraft rolled violently to the left. For the next fifteen to twenty seconds, there followed the most exciting roller-coaster ride ever. Disney’s ‘Space Mountain’ was tame by comparison. I cannot describe the control inputs I made while endeavouring to prevent a semi inverted collision with the ground. A full power application had no immediate effect but as we crossed the runway threshold, we were at least the right way up. The aircraft was not responding to the power application and it appeared that we were going to contact the ground with far too high a sink rate. Then, as quickly as it had started, we flew out of this isolated ‘bubble’ of turbulence into smooth air, about 50 feet above the runway.
I regained control, landed and stopped comfortably in the remaining distance. Had the phenomenon lasted another second or two, I am in no doubt we would have crashed. With no Flight data recorders installed, the investigators could not possibly have determined the accident cause, and ‘Pilot Error’ would have been the inevitable conclusion. What then was the cause? It certainly was not the aircraft. Could it have been wake turbulence? Hardly so. The preceding aircraft, an Air Malawi DC3, had landed an hour and twenty minutes before – Chileka is no threat to Heathrow. Was it a dust devil? It seemed unlikely. African dust devils generate vast columns of dust, visible for miles and the tower controller was adamant that he had seen no such evidence. In any case, with the late afternoon temperature and the steady surface wind, the conditions were not conducive to dust devil formation. I naturally discussed the event with my fellow pilots but all I ever got from them was that ‘glazed’ look of total disbelief. Conversely, meteorologists were extremely interested and obtained detailed weather data from the area, to try to determine the reason. However, no one has yet offered a logical explanation for that ‘bubble’ of extreme turbulence. What then did I learn from this? I learned that above all, pilots should always ‘EXPECT THE UNEXPECTED.’

Lions at Tiger Bay


By Debbie Carter


I have noticed that our darling Mitch has relayed a few of his experiences on this site.. I learned from flying from that. I thought I might tell a story. Not so much that I learned from flying from it … more so that I learned from flying in Africa from it…

It was a horribly “guttie” (sp) day and was wet and low level overcast. My duty that day was to fly 7 fishermen to Tiger Bay for what they hoped would be an amazing weeks worth of fishing. I knew the Tiger Bay strip well, and I also knew the Piper Navajo which I was flying that day.
We landed with no event. I noticed the strip was soggy and very wet. We stopped incredibly quickly, but props, undercarriage, pilot etc were all OK. My wonderful bunch of fishermen alighted with all their kit and were transferred into at least 6 landrovers. They waved goodbye to me with great bravado and I wished them the best of luck.

Here in lies the first mistake. It is always normal at a bush strip for the land vehicle to ensure that the said aircraft gets safely airborne before they leave the area. Well not one of them did that, they all drove away into the distance.

I was concerned about the condition of the strip. I decided that as the aircraft was now very light, I would try and take off from the 3/4 to mid section of the strip, which had more gravel. I taxied to my turning point applied left throttle and right rudder and simply sunk like a boat in water into about a metre of mud. The props started flicking up mud onto the windscreen, so I quickly shut the engines down, as the aircraft sunk deep into the mud. It was over, I wasn’t going anywhere and neither was there anyone to assist me.

The temperature (OAT) was 40c and I didn’t have any water – only the left over water from my fishermen most of which had whisky in. I tried endlessly to relay but there were not many aircraft in the sky that day due to the weather.

Then the worst happened – nature called and I just had to go and had actually considered walking the long and lonely trek through the bush back to the camp on my own. The door on the Navajo is a beast to handle. I lowered the stairs and left the upper door down and stooped out. I walked a couple of metres… and then lo and behold, not far ahead of me in the bush was a lioness and her crouchy  husband and cousins and kids and everything. There must have been a dozen of them. The lioness sat up when she saw me … I cannot describe how I felt in that instant but I think it is obvious. I walked slowly back the few metres I had covered and tried to go up the stairs backwards – banging my head very badly on the lowered top door.

How I closed that door I will never know. The lions continued to walk around the aircraft for a further hour, until I eventually managed to get a relay through Speedbird (BA) about my predicament. Its a long story, I know, but I got to spend 3 glorious days fishing and sunbathing at Tiger Bay. I am not too fond of those who drove the landrovers xxx




Air Rhodesia’s Boeing 720s…. continued


By Mitch Stirling (Air Rhodesia)

Headlines – Rhodesia Herald
Headlines – Rhodesia Herald

I have been advised that Flight Engineer Taffy Powell, the kindest of men, sadly passed away some years ago. He and Jock Elphinstone (RIP — old friends) were involved in the delivery of the first CAA Viscount from Weybridge, England in 1956. Seventeen years later here they are again … in the clandestine procurement of Boeing 720s for Air Rhodesia. Remarkable! Today the last surviving member of the Boeing team is Captain James Mackenzie “Horse” Sweeney. But the good news is … “Horse” celebrated his 90th birthday with a parachute jump in Cape Town recently, so we can expect to have him around for some years to come. He takes up the story from an aircrew perspective:

“In early January 1973, three aircrews consisting of two pilots and a flight engineer were selected for a special job and training on pure jet aircraft. The crews were required to have passports other than Rhodesian and valid non-Rhodesian aircrew licences. I was one of those chosen and I think the only one with jet experience. Tony Beck, Shorty Rosser and Chum Keyter were the three captains, with Bernie van Huyssteen, Bob Hill and I acting as first officers. Harry Smith, Jock Elphinstone and Taffy Powell were the engineers. We were not told what we were going to do or where we were going and we were not to discuss our departure with anybody. Should we be forced to tell any foreign authorities what we were up to and why we were travelling, we were to say that a new holiday and travel low cost airline was being formed in South Africa and it had to remain secret.
At the end of January 1973 we left Salisbury for Frankfurt where we spent the night and only next day were we told to connect to Denver, Colorado to commence training on Boeing Aircraft at United Airlines USA. On arrival Denver we were housed at the Ramada Inn near the Airport and immediately started a conversion on the Boeing 720-025 aircraft — a slightly smaller, high speed, medium range version of the Boeing 707. The course was the standard United Airlines conversion course and was made up of about three weeks of lectures and tests, followed by five days of flying during which time we did 19 hours 30 minutes day and 20 minutes night flying. The night sortie coincided with my 50th birthday so we dropped in to the ‘Peanut Bar’ at the airport on the way home for celebratory drinks. A second round was called, at my insistence, but as we were flying again early the next day, we had to behave. The bar was named after the bowls of free peanuts which were served at the counter. Traditionally you ate the nuts and threw the shells on the floor, so the whole place crackled underfoot when you moved around! To walk between the airport and our hotel was not recommended by our instructors as it was an old WW11 low-cost housing scheme occupied by black folks whose dogs bit white folks … a far cry from the good relations experienced by all racial groups in the American Air Force during the Korean War.”
16 hours 12 minutes airborne training with United Air Lines, Denver, March 1973
Taffy Powell, Bob Hill, Shorty Rosser and Jock Elphinstone
“We departed Denver in early March 1973 for Liestal in the Basel region of Switzerland and were housed for the night in a dump called the Radakahof. I think this originally had been a large open shed, with thin partitions to make up individual rooms. In the early hours of next morning Bernie van Huyssteen, who was a number of rooms away from me,  heard me moving around and suggested we go for a walk. It was still winter and we were not adequately clothed for European cold weather. But after walking for some time we found a place that was open at 6 am and was prepared to serve us hot coffee. This turned out to be the Engel Hotel — a very nice, warm friendly spot where we eventually had breakfast, met the owner/manager and enquired about accommodation and costs for the nine members of our party. The Engel was owned by Hans-Rudy and Elizabeth Hartmann and had been in the Hartmann family for some generations. We reported back to Mervyn Eyett, our deputy GM, who was in charge of the whole operation and suggested that we all move to the very much better accommodation with bathrooms and toilets en-suite at very little extra cost.  Dear old ‘Mr Moneybags’ would not hear of it, so Bernie and I moved into the comfort and good food of the Engel and paid the difference in cost from our allowances.
But it appeared that some people were taking more than a casual interest in our activities, so we were told rather hurriedly to split up into small groups and leave Liestal for a couple of weeks, and to rendezvous in Lucerne at a later date. Bernie and I went to Grundelwart, then to a quiet ski resort nearby. We felt uneasy about skiing in case of injury, which might have jeopardized the whole operation, so decided against it, very reluctantly. The hotel itself was a pleasant kosher Jewish establishment whose proprietors treated two heathens like us very hospitably.
We all met up at Lucern as arranged and returned to Liestal. Our three aircraft were housed at Basel-Mulhouse Airport which lies 6 km north west of Basel on the borders of France, Germany and Switzerland. They had German registrations and were still painted in the colours of a firm [Calair] that had gone insolvent. We had to sit around while the aircraft were being made ready for public auction; by that I mean they were being made to look in poor shape with engines removed and cowlings open and generally looking in a state of disrepair. The auction was held and the aircraft were bought for $1 000 000. I suspect it was all pre-arranged. An application had been made to validate our licences in Germany so that we could fly the aircraft home, but the applications were turned down at the last minute and three German crews were hired to fly them to Lisbon.”
At Basel airport 
“Our three crews flew deadhead from Basel to Lisbon, where we took control of the aircraft. Not having flown for six weeks and in aircraft with a cockpit layout slightly different from the ones on which we had trained required max concentration, not helped by some anxious moments due to delays in departure. And while we were completing customs and immigration formalities and pre-flighting, a couple of strangers were noticed walking around and examining the aircraft in detail. This resulted in a sudden panic to get airborne as it was thought it might be an attempt to stop the departure. We were instructed to get airborne ASAP! A start up problem on one of the aircraft raised the pulse rate further and then there was even more drama to come. The departure pattern consisted of climbing straight ahead to the NDB and then a starboard turn. Once the turn was complete, the next in line was cleared to go in tandem. Shorty Rosser was in the lead with Chum Keyter to follow. Tony and I were bringing up the rear with all the spares on board. After some nail-biting moments Shorty was cleared to go, followed by Chum, but on reaching the beacon he continued straight ahead. We had to hold position for what seemed like a very long time, waiting for take-off clearance. Chum eventually cleared starboard and we were able to get airborne. Apparently his cockpit had suddenly filled with smoke, causing much unhappiness in the front office with no time to concentrate on the departure procedure. It was found that an oily rag that been left in the heating system!
Once airborne we maintained radio silence until about half-way to Sal [Cape Verde Islands] when I broke silence to talk to Bob Hill and ask if he had been able to get any idea of the wind strength and direction. The forecast winds had been light at cruising altitude but I had worked out, with our limited VOR/NDB equipment, that we had a cross-wind component of +/- 100 kts. With my previous jet experience I knew this was probably an un-forecast jet stream. Bob confirmed this and we made the necessary heading adjustments to get us to Sal without any further problems … arriving there in the evening. Surrounded by a sea of hostile black African countries, Sal and Luanda in Portuguese West Africa were two of the very few airports in Africa that offered landing rights to white Southern African airlines, so fuel to destination (plus alternate) was a critical factor in route planning.” [Jock Elphinstone's log book entries with Rosser and Hill supports Horse Sweeney's entries, within a few minutes of each other]
Jock Elphinstone’s log book
“We flew Sal/Luanda/Salisbury the next day arriving in darkness on 14 Feb. After post-flight shut down checks, I got out of the aircraft and noticed that all the temporary German registrations had been obliterated. However, the colour scheme on the aircraft was almost identical to the Air Rhodesia paint work so, apart from the later addition of a twiggy bird and a Rhodesian flag on the tail, the aircraft livery remained the same.
The whole operation was very secret and even our own families had no idea where we were or when we were coming home. Apart from an exchange of a few personal letters  between Mervyn Eyett and the Air Rhodesia office, we had been completely out of contact. An interesting and successful operation.”
L to R …  Harry Smith, Jock Elphinstone, Tony Beck, Mervyn Eyett,
Chum Keyter, Taffy Powell and Shorty Rosser
Memo from Mervyn Eyett
The history of the Air Rhodesia Triplets goes back to September/October 1961 when they were rolled out of the famous Boeing production plant at Renton, Washington State. Five of the original machines were owned by Prudential Insurance and leased to Eastern Airlines, who eventually purchased them in 1966. They changed hands in a trade-in with Boeing Commercial Airplane in 1969, and were refurbished at Jet Aviation in Switzerland for the European charter market. German registrations were adopted and they were then purchased by Fluganlage AG who transferred ownership to Calair — a “bucket and spade” operator awaiting an air service permit. After a month parked at Frankfurt, the aircraft were moved to Basel in Switzerland for maintenance and a new paint job by Jet Aviation. By February D-ACIP was ready for service in two-tone blue and a big “C” for Calair on the tail. However, there was conflict with another German operator, Air Commerz, so the “C” had to be removed. This was the first of many problems that resulted in the whole Calair operation going “wheels up” and their aircraft being impounded. In 1972 they were purchased by Jet Aviation who sold three of the original five to Air Rhodesia … complete with cabin signs, seat numbers and toilet logos, all in German.

The others were: Serial number 18242, originally N8713E, then D-ACIS. Serial number 18244 was originally N8715E, then D-ACIT.

Should anyone want a full copy then please email Eddy Norris at
On their arrival at Air Rhodesia, the new jets were introduced to the travelling public with a series of demo flights and “round Rhodesia” trips. At $18 a ride, it was the best value in town. A door was not properly closed on one of these excursions, resulting in a bonus take-off and landing for the happy passengers! And on another trip, a Hawker Hunter of the Rhodesian Air Force appeared alongside, with wheels extended as if to say, “You can’t catch me!” Over the next few months more aircrews came on-line and the technical support teams went into action. Ted Methven’s old engine shop was upgraded with machines that could tip a Boeing engine vertically on its nose and lower it into a pit where the guys could work on it. The reason for Ted’s leave of absence in the previous few months suddenly became clear — he had been to school “overseas” and on the hunt for Boeings!
Cargo, Traffic, Cabin Staff, Catercraft, Ground Handling, Customer Relations … all were involved in the enormous task of introducing the “jet age” to Rhodesians. The first scheduled jet flight to South Africa occurred on 1 November 1973. But the stranglehold of UN sanctions should never be underestimated throughout the whole operation. Even United Airlines were heavily fined when it was discovered that they had trained Air Rhodesia crews.
First Day Cover
Memo from Mike O’Donovan 
Miss Elphinstone’s ticket
Air Rhodesia ticket
Sunday Times, 4 November 1973
“Can’t catch me!”
The dream of a young flight instructor who had peered through the security fence at Salisbury airport back in 1973, became a reality on 11 November 1982 when Captain Bernie van Huyssteen carried out my airborne Group 1 conversion on the B720, VP-YNL. An immediate and lasting impression was a very alarming Dutch roll if you touched the rudder with the yaw damper engaged. “Yaw damper disconnect” on approach was a check list item. But I think most pilots will agree … it was easier to land than our later Boeing 707s.
Thereafter it was always a pleasure to fly with some of the “greats” at Air Zimbabwe on the Boeing fleet. My old log book shows men like … in order of seniority, Shorty Rosser, John Heap, Ted Kruger, Bob Hill, Ray Sherwood, Bill Mann, Dave Harvey, Rodney van Rooyen, Robin Hood, Roy Downes, Chris Faber, Tony Thomas, Tom Tarr, Chris Spalding and Lionel Smith. Unfortunately my Boeing roster never coincided with those of John Day, Don Newton, Hew Travers and Bill Wragg who were type-rated captains at the time. Some of the “good old engineering hands” were still at work in the “engine room”…  like flight engineers Jock Elphinstone, Reg Mullen (chief FE after Jock), Jack Davidson, Cliff Hawthorne, and new boys Bob Fletcher, Alec Radnitz, Rob Cocking, Malcolm “Stud” Lane, Billy Eckert and Mike Hulley. Captain Chum Keyter ran the B720 simulator in Harare in those days along with the inimitable Dennis “Poopy” Clur. “It was a very basic ‘A’ model from SAA that handled like a 1946 Bedford truck”, said Roy Downes, “and bore no resemblance whatever to the real thing!”
VP-YNM removed from service in 1983 as Z-YNM. Parked outside the old Air Trans Africa hangar where the first class section was used by senior staff as a lunch-time canteen, giving rise to the rumour that it was a cabin staff training facility! Finally scrapped in 1986 HRE, thus ending its role as a spare parts donor.
VP-YNN removed from service in 1985 as Z-YNN, broken up in 1988 and purchased for spares by Air Charter Services, Zaire.
VP-YNM Air Zimbabwe Rhodesia
Z-YNL  Zimbabwe registrations were issued in 1983

A serviceable Z-YNL was sold to Air Charter Services, Zaire, by public auction and departed Harare in November 1988 as 9Q-CTD. Loaded with spare parts from Z-YNN and accompanied by a B707 of Katale Aero Transport, it flew to its new home at Kinshasa’s N’Dijili International (FIH). New ACS was the new corporate identity allocated in 1992 and its last flight was in late 1993 or early 1994 … which was probably the last passenger scheduled flight of a B 720 anywhere in the world. It was withdrawn from service later that year and moved to a hangar, in very dusty conditions at Kinshasa. Thereafter it was cannibalized for spares for the B 707 of New ACS.

In1997 it found its last resting place when it was moved to “Corrosion corner” at Kinshasa airport. Last heard of in February 1998 with a total airframe time of a relatively low TT 32 713 hours.
Nov 1994, 9Q-CTD with New ACS colours in maintenance hangar (FIH).
First release of pic by Michel Huart. 
Corrosion corner.
Control wheel relic from the scrap heap
 It was a rather ignominious end to the flagship of the “Rebel Rhodesian” airline. VP-YNL and her two companions had been loved by many, criticized by some — particularly Jack Malloch’s DC8 boys, who were occasionally scornful of Air Rhodesia and their fleet of Boeings — but it has to be said that they provided a much needed boost to the Rhodesian morale at exactly the right time. It was a magnificent accomplishment and great credit is owed to all the airline personnel involved (from the pilots, to the men and women behind  the advertising campaigns). Underpowered and noisy they may have been — with loud bangs reported from compressor stalls during take-offs from Salisbury’s 4750 m (16 000 ft) runway — but they slotted into an operational niche and filled a need more than adequately. 40 years have slipped by since their arrival … but the legacy of Air Rhodesia’s B720s will not be forgotten for many more years to come.
To end a wonderful slice of history on a lighter, humorous note … Captain John Heap, Chief Pilot Air Rhodesia, was heard to say on one occasion …  “On take-off you just sat there until the thing decided to fly!”  Hahaha…..
John Heap, “Horse” Sweeney and Jock Elphinstone
With thanks to: Captain “Horse” Sweeney, Nicky (Elphinstone) Pearce, John Reid-Rowland, Michel Huart, Roy Downes, Rob Rickards, Tony Ward, Steve Carter, Vic MacKenzie, Mike Daly, Derek Hill, Walter Downes, Robin Norton, Sandy O’Donnell, Victor Sherwood, Clive Law-Brown, Mike Hamence, Dave Vermaak and Gordon Hall. The photographs come from the book, “They Served Africa with Wings” and the Facebook page of that name. Some previously unseen shots of the B720 in the colours of New Air Charter Services are attached, courtesy of Michel Huart, Henri Marchal and Michel Anciaux.
Addendum: The engine types on the Air Rhodesia B720 were probably (unconfirmed) type JT3C – 12s, as opposed to – 7s. Eastern Airlines was the only one of 17 original operators to install the heavier JT3C – 12 engines to gain additional thrust at 13 000 lbs.



Airline flying is one aspect to aviation that has it’s own uniqueness. To some aviators it may seem boring and mundane, but to those who have had the opportunity to fly and handle large airline transport aircraft, in a multi-crew environment, they would testify that it is a thrill that you have to experience to understand.

On this page, you will find links to that feeling, as seen through the eyes of those who were involved in airline flying from the advent of the profession, right up to present day operations, in an incredible little airline, that has evolved through the political annuls of history in Southern Africa.

This also includes the incredible history of another aspect of the business, which is freighter operations. Here, you will see an incredible story, when we look at the legendary Jack Mullock’s Affretair operation.

Air Rhodesia’s B720s — “a riddle wrapped in a mystery”

By Mitch Stirling (Air Rhodesia)Rhodesians, dispersed throughout the world, have watched in utter dismay as their once-proud national carrier has stalled and nosedived into obscurity, its demise unprecedented in the annals of aviation history. International aviation watchers and plane spotters have been greatly saddened by this unhappy turn of events — inspired by politics and fuelled by ignorance and incompetence.Built from the remains of Central African Airways, Air Rhodesia Corporation was formalized on 1 September 1967. Once described as “a small airline with a big heart” it faced many challenges during its short years of existence but emerged with a reputation second to none as one of the better smaller airlines in the world. But a report in Time Magazine signalled the beginning of the end for the airline.

          “For the first time in 21 years the United Nations Security Council resorted to mandatory sanctions to bring down a government. The council declared an international embargo on 90% of Rhodesia’s exports and forbade the UN’s 122 member-nations to sell oil, arms, motor vehicles and aeroplanes to the Smith regime following a Unilateral Declaration of  Independence on 11 November 1965.”
During those troubled times Air Rhodesia’s operation depended on its ageing fleet of Vickers Viscounts and Douglas Dakotas but, faced with the growing burden of international sanctions and worrisome passenger loads, management realized that more competitive aircraft types were needed on their Africa routes if they were to survive. The solution to the problem appeared on the evening of the 14th April 1973 as Captain Roy Downes was taxiing out in a Viscount at Salisbury (FRSB) for the scheduled departure to Bulawayo (FRBU). He clearly recalls seeing three large, blacked-out “shadows” landing in quick succession. This was followed by a cryptic message in the Rhodesia Herald on that Easter weekend:
      “To Pat and Ray, congratulations on the arrival of the triplets.” Pat Travers, then general manager of Air Rhodesia, was delighted.
Boeing 720-4.
Boeing 720 -1.
Prime Minister Ian Smith said,
      “For a long time we have been trying to get something like this to give a boost to Air Rhodesia and we never knew whether it was going to succeed or not; I am thrilled.”
Pilots’ Association of Rhodesia chairman Captain Robin Hood announced,
  “It’s a wonderful feeling knowing at last the day has arrived.”
The Triplets
But the questions in the minds of all Rhodesians was:  who was flying them, how did they get here, from where had they come?
Over the years these unanswered questions have remained shrouded in mystery. The “facts” about their purchase and delivery have been muddled and contradictory and the identities of the air crews involved and their friends around the world have remained secret — as under international law they were all liable for prosecution. So the jet trails were deliberately erased and smoke screens were released in the news media to deceive British government and CIA investigators.
Speculation grew. The BBC suggested that they had come from Bern in Switzerland via Lisbon and Lourenco Marques. A strange South American millionaire was involved. A front organization in Paraguay bought them third hand. Secret flight plans had been filed from Lisbon to Paraguay. Jet Aviation in Switzerland was involved and Eastern Airlines in Miami. As political negotiations with the British government were in progress at the time, some thought it might have been a settlement deal in anticipation of a political break-through. Perhaps there was South African involvement? The aircraft had changed hands through a shady middle man and an unregistered company in Liechtenstein with PK van der Byl connections. Henry Kissinger was behind it all. Others thought it was an expensive propaganda ploy. A load of second-hand rubbish, said some critics. It was reported that some Air Rhodesia crews had been in training at SAA and TAP. Vague phrases began to appear in the tabloids:
   “Sources close to government said…”
   “It was reported that…”
   “The alleged aircraft were cast-offs from an aviation world, changing to wide-body jets.”
The “facts” were… nobody was really sure and those who knew were not saying a word. It remained one of the best-kept secrets in aviation, although Mr Elie Zelouf of Jet Aviation, Basel said the operation had taken 10 years off his life with M15 or M16 pitching up in Basel demanding explanations. Air Rhodesia management refused to comment, except to say it was a package deal. Minister of Transport Roger Hawkins broke official silence on 17 April ’73 with the brief announcement that VP-YNL Matabeleland, VP-YNM Mashonaland and VP-YNNManicaland had been added to the Air Rhodesia fleet in defiance of United Nations sanctions. Shortly after a member of the British parliament was heard to say, “The aircraft will sit on the ground as Rhodesia will not be able to get spare parts.”  Wrong;  the aircraft were maintained in beautiful condition by the engineers at Air Rhodesia’s workshops at Salisbury, whose ingenuity had been long-since tested by futile United Nations sanctions.
Vic MacKenzie cartoon.
Aircraft manufacturer Boeing and engine manufacturer Pratt and Whitney announced that they would cut off spares to any airline indirectly supplying spares to Air Rhodesia. “We have had extreme difficulties”, said chief engineer, Henry Radnitz, “but we have overcome the lot.” Those difficulties involved refurbishing and re-equipping some fairly weather-beaten machines. Some spares were actually designed and built in the Air Rhodesia workshops… often better than the original parts. Engine overhauls were carried out and a new engine test bed was constructed. Air crews, ground crews and all aircraft handlers had to be brought up to speed in a new “jet age” in Rhodesia. Marking their new identity were dark and light blue cheat lines on the fuselage with a stylized red Zimbabwe bird and Rhodesian flag on the upper tail fins.
720 on Apron
Jameson Hotel, Salisbury Menu With Signatures – 25th April 1973.
IDS (Rhodesian Prime Minister) on the jump-seat.

During the early days the threesome could be seen behind a tall security fence around the maintenance area at Air Rhodesia’s headquarters at Salisbury main, away from the public gaze. But the circuit at Salisbury airport was alive with the crackling sound of JT3C turbojet engines as they laid down dark exhaust trails. More air crews, their careers stunted by sanctions, were eventually converting to jets.

I remember gazing at the Triplets through the diamond mesh of the security fence when I was a young flight instructor. Perhaps even dreaming a little as I admired those BIG birds… so near, yet so far away. They looked like 707s but were shorter by about 4 metres. They were structurally lighter, said the technical manuals, with ventral fins and wing “gloves” between the fuselage and inner engine pylons to increase the Mach number in the cruise and improve the takeoff and landing performance. Said Flight Engineer Bob Fletcher in years to come,
   “Their stove pipe engines, with 12 000 lbs of thrust at ISA sea level turned fuel into noise and only provided thrust as a bi-product, but we loved ‘em.”
Take off (only 65 of original B720s were built)
On Camera

Air scoops above the inner engines were notable features too. Fresh air from these intakes was routed to turbo compressors which, combined with 12th/ 9th stage bleed air from the engines, was the primary source of cabin pressurization. This created a problem at top of descent when thrust was reduced to idle, as the engine bleed was now insufficient to supply enough air. The flight engineer and pilots had to work closely to control the pressurization with throttle and coordinate the descent profile. Freon was used as a coolant for air conditioning. Big leading edge Krueger flaps were a notable feature too, used to enhance take-off performance. In short, the B720 was an aircraft well-suited for Air Rhodesia’s Africa route requirements. They were high-speed, designed for short haul and intermediate stage lengths and with a passenger configuration of 126, a cruise speed of 930km/h and a range of 3 700 km they compared favourably with South African Airways B727 trijets.
Boeing 720 Flight Patterns
Relevant text reads;-
MAX. TAXY WEIGHT – 230 000 lbs
MAX. T/O GROSS WEIGHT – 229 000 lbs
MAX. ZERO FUEL WEIGHT -149 000 lbs
MAX. LANDING WEIGHT – 175 000 lbs
5 000′ – 380
10 000′ – 383
23 500′ – 398
MM0:- 23 500′ AND ABOVE – MO.906
GEAR LOWERING: TO 30 000 – VLO 270
30 000 & ABOVE – VLO 280 OR MO. 83
VLE 340 OR MO. 90
FLAPS 20° – VFE 220
30° – VFE 210
50° – VFE 185
VDCE 275 OR MO.83
VMCA 100
MAX. DIFFERENTIAL – 8,6psi ± 0,15psi
RELIEF VALVE SETTING – 9,42psi ± 0,15psi
START EGT MAX. – MOM 610°C 450°
T/O 620
Normal Take Off 20 ° or 30 °
Relevant text reads:-
L4 – V2+10
L5 – 500′ (min) Flaps 20/30° V2+10 Min Max 15° Bank Turn into Heading OR V2+30 Max 30° Bank Turn Into Heading
L6 – On Heading Accelrate to V2+30 Flaps° Climb Thrust After T/O CHecks
L7 – 250KTS After T/O Checklist
L8 – Fl 100 290 KTS
L9 – M-77
R1 – 1000′ AGL Accelrate V2+10 – Flaps 20°, V2+30 – Flaps )°
R2 – V2+50 Climb Thrust After T/O Checks
R3 – 250KTS After T/O Checklist
R4 FL 100 290 KTS
R5 FL300 M.TT
B1 – V1
B2 – VR Rotate Smoothly to 8° Nose Up
B3 Postive RoC Alt and VSI Gear up
Approach to Stall and Recovery
ILS 2 Engine Inoperative
First Scheduled Salisbury to Durban (South Africa)
The new additions were placed on the Salisbury-Johannesburg route on 31 August 1973 and on the Salisbury-Durban route the following day. In November they supplemented the Viscounts on the tourist class service to Johannesburg as well as providing a service to Beira, Lourenco Marques and Durban. Blantyre remained a Viscount destination. Flying time on the Johannesburg run was now reduced from 155 minutes to 85 minutes in the jet. The first international jet commercial flight was a Dods Brooks rugby charter from Salisbury to Durban on 6 July 1973, the 27th anniversary of Captain Tony Beck’s time with the airline. It began with a flight to Bulawayo where embarking passengers were inconvenienced by the late arrival of some Plumtree school boys who delayed the flight — its first departure from Bulawayo. This in turn resulted in a delayed Salisbury to Durban departure for the VIP passengers, the Rhodesian rubgy team, plus B team, Under 20s and all their supporters destined for the Currie Cup game against Natal. They were not amused! No comment came from the Headmaster of Plumtree school, as his boys were on a Rhodes and Founders break. It was a slippery “side step” by old JB Clarke, as good as any rugby international’s.
Captain Tony Beck with Ron Maskell, Henry Radnitz (Head of Engineering) and Jack Cocking.
But to return to the mystery of who/how/where… what better person to ask than Captain James “Horse” Sweeney who was a member of the original delivery crews? Only he and Flight Engineer Taffy Powell are alive today to tell the tale. “Horse” tells the story in his own words in Part 2 of this article, along with some very interesting photographs and documents from Flight Engineer Jock Elphinstone’s old photo albums……..


Seize the day boys, seize the day

By Mitch Stirling
When I look at the 1950 photograph of No1 Squadron Southern Rhodesia Auxiliary Air Force I’m reminded  of that great line from the movie “Dead Poets Society” when actor Robin Williams entreats his class of schoolboys to lean closer towards an old pre-war photo of past pupils… and listen carefully.
“Can you hear them?”, he asks. “Come closer, listen carefully”… and in a whisper, “can you hear them?”

And then they heard them, those voices low, coming down through the years.. “Carpe diem, seize the day boys, seize the day.”

Call me a sentimental old fool, but I loved that “bioscope”… with its powerful message of yesteryear. And it got me thinking about our Rhodesian families and about how many glorious days were “seized” by our own  old boys, our heroes of World War II.
In the year 1950 Captain Neville Brooks (seated R3 in the photo) lead a formation of Harvards over the Drill  Hall at the King’s Birthday parade on the 8th of June. Jenny Taylor, daughter of Neville Brooks, writes:
“The photo below is absolutely fascinating and brought back so many memories. Most of those photographed were  very much a part of my childhood. It would seem that friendships continued even after those concerned were no longer Air Force colleagues. My sister Rilda was even named after Basil Hone’s wife (Basil is back row R2 standing between David Barbour and Ozzie Penton). Parties and drinks seemed to have played a huge part in all the relationships in which we children were often unwilling participants and often  unnoticed observers! I can still see their faces and hear their voices.”
The following stories were received from another of Neville’s daughters, Wendy. She is researching her  father’s part in WWII as a Hurricane pilot with 17 Squadron RAF. The squadron had been deployed in 1942  to defend the Burma Road, along with an American Volunteer Group flying those old Curtiss P-40  Warhawks – the Flying Tigers with the sharks’ teeth emblem on the nose cowling and a winged tiger on the  fuselage.”By that evening”, records Wing Commander Bunny Stone DFC of 17 Squadron, “Brooks, my Rhodesian  pilot, had not turned up. But he arrived the next day with an interesting story. Having mixed it with some  fighters north of Rangoon, he had to bale out. This occurred near a small Burmese village with a temple.
 The locals, gazing at this ‘globe’ descending from the heavens (perhaps the equivalent of us seeing a UFO  today?) rushed out with any weapons they could find to where ‘Brooky’ was trying to disentangle himself  from his parachute harness. Thus surrounded by this rather terrifying horde of fierce-looking men, he  naturally submitted. They must have been equally astounded to find that the object was but an ordinary  white man. He was led off to the local temple and handed over to the Buddhist priests, amidst much excited  chatter. By this time ‘Brooky’ felt that he was about to become a sacrificial pig! After certain rights were  performed over him, however, he was given to understand that he was now an honorary priest – the only  pilot ever to achieve such an honour.  He was given a lift most of the way back to Magwe, near Rangoon, on a 17 Indian Army Division tank!”
Later, the Japanese nearly annihilated all of them at Mangwe in a sustained, 24 hour attack when they  dropped over 147 tons of bombs. One of the American pilots remembers:
“His engine on fire after an attack by Ki-27s, Hurricane pilot Neville Brooks tried to land in the middle of  one such attack. He came in fast and skidded, throwing flames and smoke in every direction … the pilot  looked trapped for sure. But crew chiefs Fauth and Olson jumped out of their shelters and rushed to the  wreckage, breaking through and rescuing the RAF pilot from the burning mass. They put Brooks in a jeep,  which Olson drove off the field. Johnny Fauth was hit in the shoulder by a machine gun bullet and crazed  with pain he began running across the field. Frank Swartz – one of the Americans from the Flying Tiger  Squadron ‘Panda Bears’ – left his trench to sprint after him. One big bomb fell within fifteen feet of them and both were wounded badly. Each man lost part of his jaw and Fauth’s arm was nearly torn off. Swartz’s  throat was laid open.”
“Fauth and Henry Olson probably saved my father’s life, wrote Wendy, “and reading that Johnny Fauth was  so badly injured after leaving his shelter to rush to the wreckage has had a profound effect upon me” (Fauth  died in India some weeks later). A fitting tribute to the AVG 2nd Pursuit Squadron “Panda Bears” from  Winston Churchill reads:
“The victories over the rice fields in Burma are comparable in character, if not scope, with those won by the  RAF over the hops fields of Kent in the Battle of Britain.”
Hurricane Mk1: early models in Burma campaign were fabric-covered, two-bladed wooden propellers,  320mph, Merlin engines, Eight .303 Brownings (four each wing)
Nakajima Ki-27: code named “Nate” or “Abdul” by the Allies. Speed 292mph, 710 hp, two 7.7 forward-firing  machine guns.
But there are deeds that shall not pass away
And names that must not wither
(Byron, Childe Harold)
In Southern Rhodesia at this time there was another link in the Brooks family chain: one Alexander  Parkinson (Sandy) Singleton, who married Polly Brooks, Neville’s cousin. A remarkable man of many  talents, Sandy Singleton (1914-1999) had been a very accomplished cricketer before the war. As a right nhanded opening batsman and off-break bowler, he played for Worcestershire and Oxford University and  faced the mighty Don Bradman during the 1930s Australian tour to England. With his impeccable manners,  on and off the cricket field, he was known to “walk” when he knew he was out, before waiting for that  “howzat” decision from up the wicket.
Text for above.
 Sandy SingletonCricketer who captained Oxford and Worcestershire and played for RhodesiaSANDY SINGLETON, who has died aged 84, was a right-handed batsman and slow left-arm bowler, and  captain of Worcestershire in 1946.

Alexander Parkinson Singleton was born at Repton, Derbyshire, on August 5 1914. After Shrewsbury and  Brasenose, Oxford, where he was a cricket Blue for three seasons and captained the side in 1937, he taught  at Repton.

He made his debut for Worcestershire in 1934 and went on to make 58 appearances for the county. As  captain in 1946 he enjoyed an excellent season with the bat, storing 1,615 runs at an average of 37,55.  Altogether in his career he made 4,700 runs at 27,65 and look 240 wickets at 30,49.

Singleton remembered vividly playing against Don Bradman, who never failed to score a double century  against Worcestershire, in the first match of Australian tours in the 1930s. Singleton recalled a moment of  hope in 1938; “I was fielding at leg slip when Bradman hit a ball my way and it just fell short of my grasp.
He went on to score 258.”

In 1939, Singleton joined the RAFVR, and at the outbreak of war was called up into the RAF. Serving in  Rhodesia, he met his future wife.

At the end of the cricket season of 1946 he emigrated to Rhodesia and took to farming – though he found  time to play for Rhodesia (1946-47 to 1949-50). Eventually, he returned to teaching at a hoys’ school called  Peterhouse,at Marondera. In 1985 he and his wife went to live in Australia.

Singleton married, in 1941, Polly Brooks; they had three sons arid two daughters.
John Reid-Rowland reports that Sandy’s flying career began with the RAF VR at Derby, England in 1938-9.
And after moving to Southern Rhodesia in 1940 he attended No 25 EFTS (Belvedere) where famous  Rhodesian names in aviation began to appear in his log book as he converted to Tiger Moths – Flight  Lieutenants Jack Finnis and Keith Hensman (Mark’s grandfather) among them. Harvards followed at 20 SFS (Cranborne), with John Lamplough mentioned (see photo below)

Then, as an instructor on a number of advanced war-time courses, Sandy Singleton flew Harvards, Audaxes  and Harts and more familiar names began to appear in his log book: Moss, Small, Downes, Hughes,  McDowell, Taute, Biddulph, Smith, Balance, McGibbon, Blackwell, Mollett, Rogers, Ritchie, Green,  Shepherd, Hughes, Creese, Franklin, Fraser (Scotty?) are some.
By 1942 Singleton was at CFS 33 (Norton) and in the following year he unfortunately lost his flying licence  on medical grounds. But that didn’t stop him becoming Chief Ground Instructor with a promotion to acting  Squadron Leader. John Reid-Rowland has a comprehensive list of students and war-time instructors from  Sandy’s log book, many of whom ended the war with wonderful decorations for valour. Herein lies some  more happy family coincidences: John is married to Jane, one of Sandy’s daughters and Polly’s niece,  Merilyn Brooks, married Norman Walsh… so the link to aviation continues through the generations.
After the war Sandy captained Worcestershire and later Rhodesia. In all he made 4 700 runs and took 240  wickets in first-class cricket. As a teacher at Peterhouse School in later years he was always willing and able  to demonstrate his integrity and share his wonderful gifts with the boys in his charge. He believed in the old-school credo: “For when the One Great Scorer comes to write against your name, He marks not that you  won or lost but how you played the game”. It was a sad loss to the country when Sandy Singleton and Polly  emigrated to Australia in 1984, where he had the greatest difficulty adapting to the one-day cricket format  … the “Pyjama Game” he called it!Bibliography:  “Hurricanes over Burma” by Squadron Leader M C “Bush” Cotton DFC  OAM with quote from Byron. ITALIC “Flying Tigers”  by Daniel Ford.
    SALISBURY 1940 (Bill Teague says SAAF Harvards had different pitot tubes).Photo credits with thanks to Rob Thurman, Jenny (Brooks) Taylor and John Reid-Rowland.End


Our Rhodesian Heritage

Mount Hampden, lying somewhere to the north in the wilds of Mashonaland, was the intended destination of the Pioneer Column. The eponym was in honour of John Hampden, an English gentleman-hero who lived in the days of Charles I, first used by the guide Frederick Courtney Selous. But on arrival in the area in September 1890 a more convenient spot was discovered near another prominent landmark that became known as the Salisbury kopje. Selous may not even have been present at the time, being away on a visit of goodwill to Shona Chief Mutasa. So they outspanned and hoisted the flag of the British Union on a makeshift pole. The commanding officer, Colonel Pennefather, raised three cheers and the pioneers spread out across the fertile lands of the Lomagundi and Mount Hampden regions to stake their land claims and search for gold. And so Rhodesia began, one hundred and twenty three years ago… a blink of an eye in historical times.
In years to come the young Southern Rhodesia was somewhat isolated at a time when great advancements in technology were taking place in Europe. The Great War inspired much of this rapid development, with aviation in the forefront. But it was not until 11 June 1920 that the first aircraft visited Salisbury, landing on the racecourse where the Magistrates Court stands today.”The hooter at the brewery sent its voice abroad in short spasms”, said the Rhodesia Herald. Late, but it was here, at last, to the delight of thousands of awaiting spectators. Imagine the excitement. It was a hugely significant moment in time when pilot Earl Rutherford of the South African Aerial Transport Company flew into the pages of history in a converted, war-surplus Avro 504K. The aircraft circled the town and landed in front of the crowded grandstand and when the pilot and two passengers, Messrs Ulyett and Thornton, disembarked they were greeted with loud shouts and cheers of approval. George Elcombe, the mayor, formally welcomed Mr Rutherford and congratulated him on behalf of the town for being the first pilot of the first aeroplane to come to Salisbury. He expressed the hope that the day was not far off when aeroplanes would be in daily use in Rhodesia.
More intrepid airmen and women began to appear in the coming years from ‘beyond the blue horizon’ as a new generation of flying machines became more reliable and affordable, popularized by sport-aviation in Europe. There were records to be broken too, as aviators like Lieutenant Dick Bentley, Lieutenant Pat Murdock, Lady Mary Bailey, Lady Heath and the prima aviatrix Amy Mollison (nee Johnson) joined the race to the Cape. Military machines appeared as well with Fairey Gordons and Vickers Valencia troop carriers from RAF Cairo.
In Mashonaland, Salisbury aerodrome became the centre of it all in those early days and the flying fraternity gathered there for the first Southern Rhodesian Air Rally and Aerial Display on 15 August 1936 under the distinguished patronage of Sir Herbert Stanley GCMG, Governor of Southern Rhodesia. The president was The Honourable Godfrey Huggins, Prime Minister. Chairman was His Worship the Mayor of Salisbury, Councillor Leslie Fereday. A number of prominent citizens were on the entertainments committee including Lieut-Col Ernest Lucas Guest who was to lead by example in the stormy years ahead. Sir Digby Burnett was another committee member – general manager of London and Rhodesian Mining and Land Company (Lonrho). Lieut-Col Ellis Robins DSO was the resident director of the BSA Company and vice-chairman of Rhodesian and Nyasaland Airways (RANA). He was a great supporter of aviation as a means of conveying businessmen around central Africa and further to the south.
‘Never before has Salisbury been treated to the sight of so many aeroplanes in the air at the same time’ boasted the printed programme of events with its photographs of all the major players, plus some comical sketches of the day’s proceedings. 20 000 spectators and 51 aeroplanes were organized and coordinated by Mr John Davidson, the resident director of the De Havilland Aircraft Company (Rhodesia) Limited.
ph6 Danby Gray

With thanks to the McGeorge brothers who very kindly handed me the Air Rally Souvenir Programme in about 1986.
Photos from National Archives of Rhodesia and the book ‘They Served Africa with Wings’ by Mitch Stirling and John House.
The first of a few articles on 28 EFTS Mount Hampden and Mashonaland Flying Club… for a pictorial book in preparation to help raise funds for the Flying Club. If anyone would like to contribute photos or anecdotes please send to for inclusion.