This Air Race, one of the most prestigious events on the aviation calendar, has a long and wonderful history. It was originally known as the Governor General's Cup Air Race and was first held in 1937. The cup was originally presented by the then Governor-General of South Africa.
His Excellency The Right Honourable Sir Patrick Duncan, G.C.M.K.C. The trophy, which is still in the possession of Aero Club, was manufactured in Sheffield, England by Mappin & Webb Ltd at a cost of approximately £750.
The event was organized to coincide with the opening of Durban's new airport at Stamford Hill. The winners were W H Hulett and R Coull flying a Hornet Moth and the route being from Durban via Ladysmith to Rand for an overnight stop before returning to Durban via Bloemfontein, Kimberley and Bethlehem. The team averaged 120.3 mph.
Durban again had the honour of being the starting and finishing point for the following year's race. Well-known Durban hotelier Carl Erasmus, who only qualified for his pilot's license the month before, finished first - also in the Hornet Moth, ZS-AOT, - but was disqualified on a technicality. The race was given to JJ Oosthuizen of Klerksdorp, who flew a Hornet Moth, ZS-AKG, at an average speed of 119,5 mph.
With war clouds hanging ominously on the horizon, the 1939 race was from Durban to Matatiele - Aliwal North - Kimberley(night stop) - Rand - Ladysmith and back to Durban. E U B (Usher) Biderley was the winner in Lord Wakefield's Double Eagle at an average speed of 159,4 mph. During the war, he was awarded 2 DFC's (British and American). 9th in that race was Hornet Moth, ZS-AOA. This aircraft is airworthy and still flying in the USA as N74EC, and is still carrying its original South African registration marks.
It was not until 1954 that the Governor General's cup Race was held again, and was won by a young SAAF pilot 2nd Lt BM Fletcher with an average speed of 194 mph in a SAAF Harvard, Lt Fletccer was killed a week later when the Vampire Jet aircraft in which he was practising aerobatics immediately prior to the opening of Louis Botha Airport, crashed.
In 1957, the race started at Wonderboom and went on to Witbank - Vrede - Dundee and Durban to Ladysmith - Bethlehem and Kroonstad - Baragwanath. The upper winds in the Berg area were so strong that several aircraft failed to clear the escarpment and had to turn back. The only Tiger Moth to complete the course was flown by DG van Staden who was awarded a special trophy. The winner of the event was R O Fletcher, flying a Bonanza (178 mph).
1962 Race Program
P Nieman is technically still the holder of the Governor General's Cup as it was he who won the last race for that trophy held in 1961. In 1962 President Swart, the new head of state, presented the State Presidents Trophy to the Aero Club. This trophy has become a much sought after piece of hardware in the flying community. The race was affectionately known as the SP has been held all around the country with aircraft flying to points right across South Africa. Apart from a few breaks, the Race has been held on an annual basis, normally in May or early June of each year.
The format of the race has changed over the years. When it started it was run over a period of two days covering 1 000 statute miles (1 600 km or 863 nautical miles)and all of the four provinces (Cape, Orange Free State, Transvaal and Natal).In 1983 the format was changed and the race consisted of two triangular routes starting and finishing in Vanderbijlpark. The routes were approximately 400nm and took the competitors to Volksrust and Bothaville on day one and to Warrenton and Delareyville on day two. Since 1983 this format has been maintained but the distance has been shortened to approximately 300nm per day for safety reasons. When possible, on the second day, the course forms a bow-tie shape so that the aircraft passes the start-finish halfway through the race to add spectator value.
While there are a number of pilots that have been part of the winning crew more than once, only one team has won the event twice. Mike and Jean van Ginkel won the event in 1969 and 1971 in their Piper PA-30 Twin Commanche, ZS-EVB.
In 1994 the race was renamed the President's Trophy Air Race so that the title of the head of state is in line with the new Constitution of the country. All else remains the same, the excitement, the camaraderie, the spirit and the excitement around the country is a feeling that is very special and difficult to explain to someone who has not yet done it.
In 2019 the PTAR was given a new lease on life when the proven Speed Rally handicapping format was adopted, unfortunately, the Saldhana weather prevented the planned two-day race and only one racing day was possible. The format, however, proved a massive success. All the competitors in 2019 immediately became advocates of the new format, to the extent that 2020 PTAR was expected to be one of the biggest fields ever. Sadly the world was then dumped into the Covid-19 pandemic and the race had to be shelved.
The 2021 race will be taking place at Ermelo Airfield on 20-21 May and it seems the enthusiasm has not dwindled at all, within the region of 60 aircraft already entered. We are all looking forward to a very successful PTAR which will form part of the Aero Club of SA's Centenary Celebrations.