The Lowveld Aero Club hosted an aviation awareness open day at Nelspruit Airport on Saturday 16 September. The day, which was targeted the school going youth, was a huge success and drew quite a crowd hopefully some of them were inspired to start flying.
Pugs Steyn and Lowveld Aero Club (LAC) instructors took more than forty young people for introductory flights.
In addition all the visitors were treated to water bombing runs by the Working on Fire and LEFPA.
Jacques Mollentze and Joggie two local skydivers did a jump from a Robertson 44 opperted by hover.co.za and expertly piloted by Phillip Cope.
The Lowveld Model Aircraft Club or LOMAC had a great attendance but could unfortunately not fly. The mornings entertainment was kicked off with a Powered Paraglider display followed by a display by Simon Bennett in his beautiful Stunt Jag 1942 Steadman.
Ryan Beaton in hisRV7, Pierre Gouws in his RV8 and Derek Hopkins flying Peter Lea’s RV10 did a wonderful flypast and break. Pierre and Ryan, both members of the Raptor Aerobatics team showed of their ability to fly manoeuvres in very tight formation.
Lowveld Aero Club is the longest running flying club is South Africa and has a very interesting history which is linked very closely with that of Nelspruit Airport .
Barlows needed to fly in contractors for the construction of their Headquarters at Nelspruit in 1949 but there wasn’t an Airfield in Nelspruit, H L Hall & Sons graded a strip on the farm Woodhouse for this purpose and this was the beginning of the airport. The very first aircraft to land on the grass field, in 1949, delivered flowers for the wedding of Bob and Peggy (née Hall) Snaddon.
The ground for the Nelspruit Airport (previously known as the Lanion Hall Airport) was donated in 1952 by Wilfred Hall to the Town Council of Nelspruit to develop as an airport on condition that should the airport not be used for this purpose, the property would revert back to H L Hall & Sons.
In March 1953 a flying club was formed and Peter Manfred Cruse, founder of the former Vinto Minerals, was elected the first chairman. Cruse had Vinto provide many facilities for the club and in fact had one of Vinto’s trucks sent to Lyttleton, Pretoria, to have the first plane brought to Nelspruit. Norman Holford, manager of Barlows in Nelspruit, and Pat Egan were the prime movers in stimulating flying in Nelspruit.
Legend has it that the old tree alongside the main hangar, was the first ‘hangar’ at Nelspruit airfield and it was under this tree that the Tiger Moth was housed. The purchasing of this aircraft lead to a private company being formed in 1953, Lowveld Aviation, with P M Cruse as the first Chairman. This company owned two aircraft, a Tiger Moth and a Fairchild, which were available for hire. Later a Piper Cub was acquired. John Hiles, who was a mechanic at Barlows in Nelspruit, maintained these aircraft.
A meeting was held on 5 July 1956 to discuss the merits of forming a flying club and thus getting flying onto an organised footing. The essential ingredients for establishing a flying club could be said to be that there must be people interested in flying, an aircraft and a flying instructor. The latter two were available in the form of aircraft owned by Lowveld Aviation and Pat Egan who had an instructor’s rating and was prepared to teach interested persons to fly.
It was now a question of whether there were sufficient people interested in flying. Twenty-nine people attended the meeting on 5 July 1956 and a proposal that a flying club be formed was carried unanimously with the first committee, consisting of ten members, being elected.
One of the first items to be handled was the name of the club. A proposal that this be decided on by the committee at a later date was rejected by Pat Egan, who explained that this was a matter of urgency as an Operator’s Licence had to be applied for immediately. The name ‘Lowveld Aero and Social Club’ (LASC) was adopted at this meeting as a temporary name and this has survived until the late 90’s when the name was changed to Lowveld Aero Club. It is today the oldest continuously active aero club in the country.
The first year of operation was by no means a smooth one for the club. An Air Rally was organised and this turned out to be a financial disaster. A Chipmunk crashed during an aerobatic demonstration and the club assumed responsibility for this aircraft.
Rob Ferreira, then Mayor of Nelspruit, donated a Floating Trophy and a miniature for the winner of the Air Race held on the day of the Rally. This later became part of the Annual Club Day.
In 1957 two aircraft were badly damaged in a hailstorm – the hail stones penetrated the flimsy hangar roof and ripped the fabric of the aircraft to shreds. In the same year a second Tiger Moth, that had been purchased, crashed when its engine failed after take-off; Pat Eagan was lucky to survive this accident. In 1958 a Cessna 172 (ZS-CIP) was bought and in 1962 the Piper Cub was replaced as the trainer by a Piper Colt. By 1963 the LASC was the biggest shareholder in the Company.
In 1964 Lowveld Aviation started running into financial difficulties and in 1965 a group of club members got together and decided to contribute an equal amount of money to create another company to replace Lowveld Aviation. This company still operates under the name of Lowveld Aviation.
The Cessna 172 (ZS-CIP) was replaced by another Cessna 172 (ZS-EDJ) and in 1966 the company obtained a Piper Cherokee 140 (ZS-EMN) which filled the gap created by the Piper Colt being written off after an accident. Later a second Piper Cherokee 140 (ZS-ESW) was bought, the company thus running three aircraft. Over the years the Flying Club managed to get itself onto a stable footing, buying shares in the company until the company was phased out.