Aero Club Celebrates a Centenary of Recreational Flight

By Rob Jonkers


There is a sense of achievement on reaching a Century, on all manner of occasions it calls for a celebration, subject for congratulations on the significance and justifiable pride, the past century of the existence of the Aero Club of South Africa has been integral in seeing the growth in Recreational Aviation, the collective of the various disciplines that make up flying for fun, that has allowed the freedom of development in the achievement of products, ideas, adventures, competitions that are existential of this magical world that is recreational flight.

This journey has been long, sometimes tedious and difficult but the persistence and passion of our members across the century has made it possible for the Aero Club to be the success it is today. One of the many great benefits and joys of living since the 20th Century is that we have had the immeasurable privilege to be able to fly, as since the dawn of mankind we have aspired to the ease and freedom of flight that only birds could enjoy, and from those early 20th Century years mankind learned to fly!


On the 10th October 2020, after many months after postponement since C-19 made us all go into hiding, the Aero Club’s official Centenary Balloon Launch took place at Bill Harrop’s Balloon Safaris in the Magalies Valley. The weather outlook also looked great, and the launch event was a go sent out by the organisers just after 5 am. The wind started picking up somewhat, and first off the ground were the three commercial balloons that occurred at 6 am, thereafter the Aero Club Balloon which was rebuilt in Aero Club Centenary colours (carrying the registration ZS-HOI as the ex Capital Radio balloon) was unfurled and prepared for a tethered inflation and launch.

Chairman of BAFSA Richard Bovell who was also this Centenary event organiser was the first pilot supported by student pilot Sema Mathebula, got the balloon off the ground in somewhat gusty conditions, the wind at that stage would not have been favourable to actually fly. Hanke Fourie took over from Richard for a second tethered stint, giving a good photographic opportunity for the guests in attendance.

After the balloon landed and was furled up again, the guests were treated to a scrumptious breakfast, as only one can experience as an early morning African sunrise breakfast in the bush. As MC for the event Richard Bovell gave a short speech on a brief history of sport ballooning in South Africa, thanked the guests for their attendance, and handed over the very first Aero Club Centenary Yearbook which is hot off the presses to the Doyen of Ballooning in South Africa Terry Adams, who since his arrival in SA in 1976 established the mainstay of balloon manufacturing and pilot training in SA.

Thereafter Rob Jonkers as the Chair of the Aero Club thanked BAFSA and their team of hosting this one of a kind event, and the only event marking the Aero Club’s Centenary that will take place in 2020. A ceremonial Centenary cake cutting was then carried out by the Aero Club’s Executive Committee, Rob Jonkers (Chairman), Marthinus Potgieter (Vice-Chairman), John Gaillard (Hon Treasurer) and Hanke Fourie (Exco Member).

Although the year 2020 will go down in history as a great disrupter and has essentially rained on our Centenary parade, we will be looking at recovering much of the planned events in 2021 as time and resources will allow to bring justice to our 100-year heritage, especially poignant is to hold a 100 aircraft of all types flypast (101 also looks like a good number…) and an all Recreational Aviation Airweek as was initially planned for this year at Middelburg.

The Centenary coffee table book, which is now available for sale (details on the Aero Club website), is a compendium of each of our flying disciplines, historic and contemporary with numerous personalities with some remarkable stories in recreational flying as a celebration for this signature Centenary Year.

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