By Andre Venter
I arrived early at Baragwanath Airfield early on Saturday morning and met up with Frank Persson and his lovely wife Jane, they were busy setting up for a potentially busy day. Baragwanath haven’t hosted a Fly-in for many years the last one was the Bara Festival which was way back in 2017. Frank had organized that a braai fire was on the go and ready for the first 50 aircraft that arrived who were, coffee was brewing in the clubhouse promised a free breakfast.
The first visitor to arrive was Neil Bowden from Krugersdorp in his Sling 2, Neil is the owner of Air Adventure Tours which arranges the South African tour group to Oshkosh every year. From then on there was a steady trickle of arrivals from airfields all over Gauteng.
Frank was joined by his good friend Richard the two of them spent the morning entertaining the visitors with their fine musical talent, while the visitors sat on the balcony overlooking the aircraft, with the Impala and Harvard “gate guards” keeping an eye on things from their vantage point up on their poles.
I then decided to take a walk around the hangars. I popped in at Ron Weldon’s hanger, which has a few interesting toys tucked away and Ron recently added a Jodel D11 to his collection. His Focke Wulf P.149D, which looks very much like the North American Navion, stood outside ready to display later in the day depending on the weather, which had changed as the clouds started building up to west behind the clubhouse. Ron decided to take his J5 registration ZU-FRB out for a flight which recently had a new cowling painted, it really suited the aircraft.
While waiting for more arrivals, I saw an aircraft in the distance, from the front, it looked almost like a Tiger Moth but didn't sound like one. It was a Russian Avitika flying out of Brakpan Airfield, definitely an unusual aircraft not seen in my travels around the country.
Baragwanath is one of the oldest airfields in South Africa and possibly one of the oldest in the world. The Johannesburg Light Plane Club (JLPC) was formed in 1927 at a meeting in Johannesburg, and when it was finally disbanded, it was regarded as being one of the oldest active flying clubs in the world. In its Heyday JLPC was one of the greatest flying clubs in the world with six hundred members and over three hundred aircraft, including seventeen Tiger Moths reckoned to have been the most anywhere in the world based at one airfield. In addition, there was the thriving gliding community which provided pilots of world-class standards who represented South Africa in many countries, and later a parachute club. This was all at the old “Bara-G” as it was affectionately known.
In the early 1980’s the Baragwanath Airfield was closed down and JPLC moved to Syferfontien, unfortunately, the gliding fraternity could not be accommodated at the “new” Bara-G and they moved to Orient near Magaliesberg and became the Magalies Glider Club.
Pilots started leaving one by one due to weather that seemed to brewing up behind the clubhouse. An Auster belonging to the Crause family had starting problems and it was amazing to see how many pilots came to help. Mike Puzy from Eagles Creek Airfield had flown in from Silver Creek with a friend Paul in RV10 and came to see if he could help. It was decided to jump-start it with double batteries as it 24v system. That got it on its way so he could head for home joined by Michael Crause who recently achieved 4000 flying hours.
The committee at Bara are planning to sell off the remaining large hangars to raise funds to resurface and hopefully widen the runway. They are also keen to try to get a flight school to operate from the airfield as well as a resident AMO. There is a lot of talk about getting a professional company to manage the restaurant, bar and accommodation as these are being seriously under-utilised at the moment.
Well done! to Frank and his team and we hope to see you soon at another Baragwanath Fly-in