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100 years of Trans-African flight Commemorated

It has been 100 years since Lieutenant-Colonel Pierre van Ryneveld and Captain Quentin Brand departed completed their record setting first Trans-Africa flight from London to Cape Town. The Times of London launched a competition to see who could successfully complete the trip from London to Cape Town, with a £5 000 prize for the first reach Cape Town, this would have been approximately £225 000 or R4.7 million today.

Lieutenant-Colonel Pierre van Ryneveld Captain Quentin Brand

It is believed that then South African Prime Minister Jan Smuts wanted a South African to be the first to complete the challenge, so he authorised the purchase of a Vickers Vimy at a cost of £4 500. On 4 February 1920 Lieutenant-Colonel Pierre van Ryneveld and Captain Quintin Brand took off from Brooklands Aerodrome in Surrey in a Vickers Vimy named The Silver Queen.

Vickers Vimy

Two crashed Vimys and borrowed South African Air Force Airco DH9, 109 flying hours and 45 days. This is what it took to write history by completing the first flight from London to Cape Town on 19 March 1920.

South African Air Force Airco DH9

To commemorate this historic event the University of Pretoria's 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 it’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.

Engineering 4.0 building

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,"

Professor Sunil Maharaj

Professor Wynand Steyn, Head of the Department of Civil Engineering at UP, said it was important that this event be commemorated and its landing site restored, because it is a reminder of the technological advances that have been made over the past century

Professor Wynand Steyn

"lt is a mere l00 years ago that the first plane landed from the UK in South Africa," Prof Steyn said."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 commonplace once we understand the issue or challenge or technology better. That is why we do engineering, for the benefit of humanity." He added that the new Engineering 4.0 complex would endeavour to continue making breakthroughs that help humanity live better. "For many people in Africa, travelling to their nearest shopping centre, school, police station, hospital or market is a similar challenge to what travelling from the UK to South Africa was 100 years ago. A challenge over non-existing and bad routes, through rivers without bridges, with a real danger of not arriving. We have the opportunity to change this through continuous improvements in our understanding, 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 Steyn said.

Other speakers at the commemoration included Professor Tawana Kupe Deputy Rector of the university, who unveiled the new restored memorial.

Professor Sunil Maharaj and Professor Tawana Kupe

Retired SAA Captain Karl Jensen, who as always injected some humour into proceedings, with an interesting story of his meeting with Sir Pierre van Ryneveld on a farm in the Bronkhorstspruit area, Karl incidentally is a far off family member of the Sir Pierre.

Karl Jensen

The event was the brain child of Anton de Jong, an aviation enthusiast that was involved in the construction of the new Engineering 4.0 complex, He was advised by good friend Hentie de Wet from the Matsieng Flying Club to approach Lt Col Francois Hannekom. Francois, a veteran airshow safety officer, is an expert at organising fly past with organising such events as the presidential inauguration fly-pasts, Nelson Mandela’s Memorial and funeral fly-pasts and countless local and continental airshows on his resume.

Hentie de Wet and Brian Emmenis

Francois made a few calls to long-standing friends and before long an amazing line-up was confirmed for the commemoration fly-past. Brian Emmenis from Capital Sounds was also contacted and promptly agreed to make the long journey from Welkom to supply the sound equipment for the event. No air event is complete without the expert commentary by Brian and his team.

Brian Emmenis and Elvis Manene

The aircraft that made an appearance included a de Haviland Tiger Moth flown by Col Jeff Earl, an Auster flown by John Illsley, a Boeing Stearman flown by Ivan van der Schaar, a two-ship formation of de Haviland Chipmunks flown by Gavin Brown and Grant Timms and the beautiful Antonov AN2 “Little Annie” flown by Mark and Jon-Marc Hill.

de Haviland Tiger Moth


Boeing Stearman

de Haviland Chipmunks

Antonov AN2

Charles Fuller in a Alouette II joined by Rob Osner in the Alouette III and Kim Pratley in the MD 500 made up the helicopter component.

Alouette II

Alouette III

MD 500

Other fixed wings to join were a Cessna 210 flown by Charles Pratley and a Bosbok formation by Pierre Gouws, Nigel Hopkins and Jason Beamish the flypasts were concluded with a display by the Puma Energy Flying Lions.

Cessna 210

Bosbok formation

Puma Energy Flying Lions


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