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Circus Airfield- The Gem of the Vaal

15 Jan 2018

 

Circus Airfield is located just off the R59 past the Engen 1-Stop a mere 16 miles south of Johannesburg (S 26.4861°- E 28.0583°). The airfield is on a farm belonging to Robert Wilkie; from Boswell-Wilkie Circus fame hence the name. 

 Circus Airfield Clubhouse 

The 1000m grass runway (05/23) is currently a bit bumpy but I was assured by Mark Clulow that it is being attended to and it can be clearly seen that new grass has been planted in all the bare patches so after a few good rains and a cut it will be much better.

 Gordon Dyne landing in his Piper Arrow 

The airfield currently sports three hangars, a clubhouse with lockers, toilets, and nearby accommodation and the famous Café du Cirque is a short 300m walk from the hangars.

Café du Cirque

Café du Cirque is a quaint restaurant/ coffee shop with a distinctive circus feel. The friendly staff went out of their way to accommodate our group of twenty-three visitors that had flown in; tables were quickly moved to make up a long table in the beautiful garden.

 EAA Chapter 322 members 

The service was really fast and friendly only surpassed slightly by the amazing food, being such a big group many different items were chosen from their wonderful menu and everyone was bowled over by the quality and value for money.

 After breakfast I took a stroll through the restaurant building, the interior is a museum to the Boswell-Wilkie Circus with many exhibits showcasing the history of the Circus from it establishment in 1972 to it eventual disbanding in 2001.   

 

Boswell Wilkie Circus 1954 - 2001

In 1954 – one W H Wilkie landed on the shores of Durban, complete with his circus from New Brighton, England. W H Wilkies Great Continental Circus took South Africa by storm, featuring top class international artists.

The start was a two pole canvas tent, and the now famous red and yellow trucks could be seen trekking all over the country, not an easy journey, what with the primitive dirt roads. But W H Wilkie had to share the excitement of the circus with all, and so it was a journey well worth it.

In 1972, W H Wilkie bought the shares in Boswell Circus and the Boswell Wilkie's Great Combined Circus was formed. Due to the size of the circus now, rail travel became the means of transport for the artistes and animals.

1981 saw the start of a new circus under the wing of W H Wilkie, Robero's, named after his son Robert, who took over the reigns. This was the team that traveled by road, and due to the improvement in the roads, the two circuses amalgamated in 1982 and rail travel was a thing of the past.

In 1991 Boswell Wilkie Circus brought the highly acclaimed Moscow Circus from Russia to South Africa. The circus consisted of 72 artists and staff, 9 horses, 12 bears, 24 dogs and 70 tons of circus paraphernalia. The cost to fly out the entire circus cost an astounding R7 million.

When in 1994, the no animal Chinese Circus joined the circus, the public stayed away due to the demand for animals in the circus.

Mr. W H Wilkie passed away at the great age of 91 in 1998, and South Africa lost a truly amazing man. Robert, who had been in full control of the circus since the age of 21, in 1983, had a major decision to make regarding the viability of the circus, due to the fact that people were now spending their money on the lotto, gambling etc. and sadly the circus was no longer a part of the family tradition.

So, in 2001, the Boswell Wilkie Circus performed the last show in their neighbouring hometown, Alberton, to a tent full of circus fans.

 

Circus Airfield is also home to Rainbow Air School who cater for students from Weight Shift Trikes to Light Sport Aircraft as well as instructor courses from Grade C to Grade A, accommodation is available for students that are from out of town. Rainbow is both CAA and RAASA Accredited.

 

Rainbow Skyreach Bushcat Cheetah ZU-DZW

Special thanks to Shane and Mark for laying out the proverbial “Red Carpet” for the members of EAA chapter 322 that decided to make the breakfast trip to Circus from various airfields in Gauteng. Thirteen aircraft and one Alouette II arrived and there was more than enough parking space for almost double the number if needed.

Circus is a very worthwhile destination for any pilot looking for a quick flight on a Saturday morning or any other day except Mondays as the Café du Cirque is closed on Mondays. Tuesdays to Fridays they are open from 10am to 5pm,Saturdays, Sundays and holidays from  8am to 5pm.

 

Thanks again to Karl Jensen for inviting me along, it’s always a pleasure to join in with the chapter 322 activities.

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