Rand Airport is located South-East from Johannesburg 'Jan Smuts' International Airport. Itís nestled between Germiston Lake and Gosforth Park in the suburbs of Germiston.
Rand can easily be reached via the Electron Highway N24 from Jan Smuts International and then onwards on the N3 South. For the propliner enthusiast this airport is well worth a visit. It has an extremely relaxed atmosphere and ramp permission is easily obtained via the airport manager. Rand Airport offers all the facilities such as avionics, instruments, airframe, sheet metal work, welding, recovering, hangerage and fuel. It even offers scenic flights over the city. Classique Aviation offers Tiger Moth, DC-3 Dakota, Harvard, L29/L39 jets, Pitts Special and Chipmunk rides in combination with pre flight champagne or breakfast afterwards. All this can be observed from the excellent viewing area at the Harvard Cafť. Hot food and cool drinks can be enjoys in the shadow of Rand Airport vintage, Art deco style control tower.
The 1930's tower seems to come straight out a Hollywood movie set and has all the classic lines of the 1950s design. Rand main terminal building and control tower sets the mood for this airport. It even carries the old Speed-bird logo above the entrance. For the aviation spotters Rand is well known for the exotic props and jets residents.
Currently the more interesting operators at Rand Airport are the South African Airways Museum Society (SAAMS), Phoebus Apollo and Springbok Flying Safaris. SAA has recently been donated the oldest B747-200 (Lebombo) and a B747SP to the society. Phoebus Apollo is a major tenant with several activities. The most interesting is the use of the sturdy Douglas DC-3 and DC-4 for cargo use. All cargo flights originate from Johannesburg 'Jan Smuts' International, but at Rand the fleet receives maintenance and TLC. Recently it donated one of its DC-4 to the SAAMS museum. Phoebus is currently owner, of one of only two ATL-98 Carvairs, registered 9J-PAA. Phoebus has gone jet power with the purchase of an all cargo Douglas DC-9s
Flippie Vermeulen, Springbok Flying Safaris CEO is another interesting piston operator. They operate pleasure flight and charter work sector throughout the region. Both DC-3 and DC-4 are based at Rand. DC-4 ZS-AUA arrived at Rand Airport late 2003. It first arrived at Rand airport in April 1946 on its delivery flight from Santa Monica, USA. It landed safely and was maintained at SAA Hanger 5, which is now the home of Springbok. ZS-AUA was the first DC-4 to be delivered to SAA and was involved in numerous historical events, such as being the first DC-4 from a Commonwealth Country to land at Heathrow Airport (June 1946) and the first aircraft to land at Jan Smuth Airport on 17 April 1952. She also made SAA last commercial flight back in 1966. In other words Rand Airport comes highly recommended
Johannesburg Lanseria Airport
Lanseria Airport lies just to the North East of Johannesburg. It is a 45 minutes, drive via the N1 highway, which goes circles the city, then along the Hans Strijdom Drive off ramp, following the R512 North bound.
The airport has a brand new terminal and is the preferred base for Major South African operators including Comair, Execujet, NAC, Ross Air and Rovos Air. It wants to become the regional hub. It is also the chosen port of entry for many of the overseas corporate aircraft visiting South Africa as well as most diplomatic and foreign visiting private aircraft's.
Lanseria has also a comprehensive range of facilities including air traffic control, 24 hour immigration and customs service, 24 hour refueling, Cat 6 fire services and emergency services. Charlan Air Carter provides scheduled flights with Brasilia aircraft to Richard Bay and Nelspruit, while Sunair Douglas DC-9 had scheduled all business, flights to Cape Town. Since our visit, February 2004, Sunair has folded its operations.
For the aviation enthusiast Lanseria airport is a very interesting place to visit. Ramp access can easily be optioned via the airport manager office near Gate-5. One of our main reasons to visit Lanseria airport was the Sunday morning breakfast pleasure flight, provided by Air Route Adventures. They arranged 1hour scenic flights aboard authentic DC-3 and DC-4s. This was mostly done in conjunction with the SA Historic flight DC-3 ZS-BXF Klapperkop.
But since her accident, these flights have been taken up by Rovos Air DC-3 ZS-CRV. The flight are conducted on low cruising altitude (1000 feet), which provides for a breath taking view of the city and surrounding area. Champagne and cold drinks are served on board. Once on terra firma, an English buffet breakfast is served at the Wings at Lanseria restaurant which has an excellent view of the main aircraft parking ramp. A Flight Certificate is issued to each passenger to remember his flight experience. Since our visit Air Route Adventures has gone out of business
Back on the ground we visited the maintenance ramps which were littered with old jets. Air Quarius has a small maintenance facility where several Fokker F-28s can be seen. My favorite spot was the Rovos Air ramp. They operate two immaculate Convair 340s and a DC-3. Since the end of 2006 Rovos returned its leased Douglas DC-4, which is now based at Rand Airport. During our visit Convair 440 ZS-ARV arrived from Livingstone Victoria Fall Airport, Zimbabwe with a load off passengers. Both Convairs are used to convey train passengers between Pietersburg Airport and Victoria Falls, on the border with Zambia. During our visit the North West edge of the airport looked like an old-jet bone yard. Nine ex Nationwide BAC1-11s littered the high grass awaiting an uncertain future. All these aircraft has since been scrapped
Pretoria Wonderboom Airport
Wonderboom Airport is located about 15 km north of the city Pretoria. This is about an hour's drive along the N1 highway in Northerly direction. Then itís Westbound on the Zambesi Drive highway number N513 and further onwards on R501 Lavender road Northbound. Although at the moment activities are mainly focused on the recreational market, the handling of smaller aircraft, extensive facilities are available. These include a main runway of about 1 800 m, navigational aids and air traffic guidance services. A popular restaurant and overnight facilities of international standard are available at the Airport. Wonderboom has a very laid-back feel and you must not expect lots of airplane movements
There are however 3 interesting local operators with vintage DC-3s, Turbine Versions (ex Wonder Air), Nature Link and Dodson International. Nature link main office and hanger is located right across Wonderboom small vintage terminal. Nature link flagship Douglas DC-3 ZS-MRU stood inside its spotless hanger. Nature link is one of a few handpicked corporations who are presently doing contract flying for international corporations. The ZS-MRU is currently configured as a 21 VIP seater. Since our visit this immaculate DC-3 has been sold and flown to the UK for final destination of Iceland.
On the opposite side of the airport Dodson International has set up a large maintenance base. During our visit 3 out of a fleet of 5 Turbine DC-3s (ZS-OJK/OJM/OJI) where out on duty. Although Dodson is an American (Kansas) based company, it has set up a base at Wonderboom Airport. The Turbine DC-3s, of which it has several in its inventory, is available on charter and lease basis for cargo and passenger use. Over the last couple of years the Turbine DC-3 have been used in a number of humanitarian aid projects in Africa, namely in Mozambique during the floods and in several other disaster areas in Eastern Congo. During this time the track record of the Turbine DC-3 has been impeccable, delivering cargo and personnel to many destinations with the Southern region of Africa. According to a Dodson general manager the Turbine DC-3 can carry a maximum of 5 tons with an all up weight of 29000 pounds. It has a wide cargo door and it can be converted into a 30-seat passenger configuration within 60 minutes. Combined with the jet prop engine and the rugged airframe it is the ideal aircraft for short and unimproved runway. We were very welcome at Dodson and it was no problem to take pictures
This was not the case at Turbine Versions. A couple DC-3s where scattered around the hanger. An anonymous camouflaged C-47 (ex Rhodesian Air Force) with no markings was parked on the grass. Across the taxiway two mysterious C-47s, coded 7134 & 7310, sat silently inside a small hanger. Both ex Rhodesian VIP C-47s are stored inside, with their outer wings and engines removed! Nobody was interested to answer a couple of questions so in the end we only took some pictures.
Pretoria Swartkop, SAAM museum and SA Historic Flight
Swartkop Air Force Base is situated south of Pretoria along the Jan Smuts R101 Highway and is home to a fascinating collection of airplanes. Although the base is still active, it has a deserted feel over it. It is still used by SAF Puma helicopters. The base is huge and there are many old WW-II style hangers around. For the aviation enthusiast Swartkop is a treasure trove of ex South African Air Force aircraft's. Additionally there is an active flying Harvard Club and itís also the maintenance base of the famous SA Historic Flight, with its fleets of DC-3s, DC-4s, JU-52 and a single non flyable DC-6.
Permission to enter the base is easily obtained, just mention that you are going to visit the Historic Flight and you are on your way. South Africa is home to the world's second oldest air force and the Air Force Museum is a tribute to the SAAF long and varied history. A large number of exhibits are located in and outdoors. An interesting line up of military fighter jets and large transports are on display on the main ramp. Three versions of the Lockheed PV venture are on display plus a Douglas DC-4 and C.160 Transall turboprop transport.
At the end of the line a scruffy looking Avro Shackelton was on display, which represented the Maritime patrol type that replaced the piston engine Lockheed Ventura. Currently the Shack doesnít look her best and she could use a new coat of paint. It has probably been standing outside for some time? The South African Airforce Museum (SAAM) is also a very active museum. During our visit Douglas C-47 '6859' was being worked on in order to get her ready for airshow display.
At the end of the service road you can find the headquarters of SA Historic Flight. Inside the last hangers we discovered the offices and maintenance department of the SA Historic Flight. During our visit on of the DC-4s (ZS-AUB) was away on a private charter up on the Northern Coast with Kenya. Sistership ZS-BMH was inside and was undergoing an engine change on the number 3 position. Surely the Swartkop Air Force Base makes for an interesting stop for the historic aviation enthusiast. Although not actively used there is plenty of activity, if not a DC-4 on the ramp awaiting a load of passengers, or the roar of a T6 Harvard flying overhead.
Pietersburg (Polokwane) Airport
The ground on which Pietersburg now exists was utilized from the early sixties as an Air Force Base. Plans to convert the base into an International Airport became reality in 1996 when the Honorable Thabo Mbeki officially opened the Airport. The airport functions as an international airport, currently mainly for the Sub-Saharan Africa. Approximately 5000 aircraft use the airport annually, bringing in 38 000 passengers. Itís is about a 2.5 to 3 hours drive North on the N1 from the Johannesburg. Freight to the extent of 1.7 million kilograms is also handled every year. Pietersburg provides the following services, category 1, night operations, Air Traffic control Services including approach control and pilot briefing are fully available. All support services (e.g. Category 7 Fire and Rescue Service), Aircraft handling, Clearing agents; Customs & Emigrations Export and Import Agents Freight are also available
Pietersburg is situated centrally in the Northern Province, close to a wide variety of game lodges, the Kruger National Park and the Drakenberg Mountains. Admission onto the ramp and photo permission proved more difficult then we initially thought. I would advise any future visitors to make advanced preparations with the airport authorities and then it would not be a problem. Luckily for us we could prove our journalistic intentions and we where granted ramp access. Do not expect lots of airplanes and movements. Usually some interesting old jet, in the form of a Boeing B737, B727 and or B707, arrives for storage or maintenance
About a 3 hours drive on the N4 (west of Johannesburg) close to the Southern edges of the Kruger Park and the borders of Mozambique and Swaziland, lies the town of Nelspruit. It is situated on the beautiful mountainous surroundings of the Lowveld of Mpumalanga. The new airport, is located to the North of the City 'Kruger Mpumalanga International Airport (KMIA) and is the Gateway to the National Park.
Our reason to visit Nelspruit was the old Nelspruit Municipal Airfield. It has a narrow runway on top of a hill and has a down wards slope into the local hills ahead. Based at Nelspruit Airfield is Nelair with its immaculate long nose - VIP Douglas DC-3 ZS-LVR. On the DC-3 fuselage it carries the title Nelair, Charters and Travel, which says it all. Flights with the DC-3 are mainly to the lodges of local game reserves. Nelair has a whole range of activities ranging from crop spraying aircraft maintenance, jet repair and overhaul.
In front of Nelair maintenance hanger a Russian MI-8 T heavy helicopter, belonging to the Djibouti Government, was reaching its final stages of rebuilt. There was a slight money problemÖso the delivery of the Mi-8 was postponed indefinitely
Johannesburg- Jan Smuts International
There are two parallel runways (03L/R & 21L/R) for wide body aircraft's available. Arrivals and take off depends largely on the weather condition. As dedicated aircraft spotters and photographers we inspected the runway 03R location.
Which can easily be found, if you take Jones Road from the Domestic Terminal, along the SAA Technical facility and Ceasars Casino? It takes you straight to the approach end where you can photograph aircraft's with a 70-300 mm tele-lens. Another reasonable location is on top of the new Domestic terminal. There is an excellent indoor viewing area for spotting and photographing. Due keep in mind the state of the windows and reflections. For aircraft's parked on the Northern cargo ramp, along runway 03L/21R, it is very difficult to get registration and pictures, unless you are on the ramp.
Another extremely good location to view aircraft up close is the Executive Aerospace facility.
This is located along the Northwest edge of Runway 03R/21L. If you follow the Atlas road into the Bonero Park residence, you have to take the technical area service road, which takes you to SafeAir, Aeronexus, Nationwide and Executive Air technical facilities.
For us, the main attraction was the interesting collection of old-jet at the maintenance area plus Executive Aerospace ramp. Executive Aerospace (EA) operates a fleet of impeccable vintage HS-748s in a 44-seat passenger configuration on corporate and charter flights. Durban, East London, Port Elizabeth and Cape Town are some of the favorite internal routes. Across the border Windhoek, Walvisbay (Namibia), Okavanga Swamps, Victoria Falls (Botswana), Lusaka (Zambia), Maputo (Mozambique) and the Comore Islands are the distant exotic destinations. EA offers a selection of services, such as ad-hoc, contract and freight charters. Aircraft leasing, management and sales are also within the capabilities. The Hawker Sidderly 748 is fully equipped, has a fully pressurized cabin and carries two airhostesses. The HS-748 layout includes an aft toilet and galley, 44 seats on a 30-inch pitch, and three-cabin baggage holds. The aft internal boarding airstair offers easy access on remote landing strips. AE also offer the HS-748 as a 6-ton freighter. Strengthened floor panels, lash-down points and a restraining net can easily replace its passenger interior.
During our visit, on a Sunday morning, the AE ramp was very quiet. Two 748's were inside the hanger (ZS-TPW and 9N-ACP (Necon) under maintenance, while ZS-NWW was parked on the ramp being washed down.
Another interesting Propliner at the airport is the SAAM immaculate Lockheed L-1649A Starliner ZS-DVJ. To view this a/c it is essential to make an appointment with one of the museum member and they will escort to the aircraft which is parked on one of the South African Airways maintenance ramp. In stark contrast, the SAAM second display, the poor Viking ZS-DKH is hidden in a deserted corner. This a/c looks like a discarded hulk and has not been touched by the museum members.