Port Elizabeth of Yore: A Typical Early Flight to Cape Town

The first flights offered to Cape Town by Union Airways commenced in November 1929. The aircraft used was a De Havilland DH60 with a two-person passenger cabin. The facilities were rudimentary at best but in all likelihood non-existent. In this blog, a Mr. Dowdle, recounts his flight to Cape Town on Christmas Day 1931.

In recalling this experience of this flight to the local press he remembers the difficulty in getting to the Fairview Airfield which was out of town in Newton Park opposite the horse racing track in King Edwards Road [now First Avenue]. As neither the tram nor the bus service extended so far into the countryside, Dowdle was compelled to hire a taxi.

The airfield comprised an open field with only a single hangar, a ticket office and a fuel pump. Passenger comforts such as a waiting room or a kiosk selling hot tea before flights were unavailable. With none of current pine trees, passengers waited in the sun and rain for the arrival of their flight.

Mr. Dowdle was the single passenger for the flight in the red and yellow Fokker to Cape Town. The pilot on the return flight was a Mr. F.C.J. “Frikkie” Fry, who, upon disembarking, happily spread out his lunch hamper of Christmas fare, prepared by his wife, on the ground. Mr. Dowdle was then invited to partake of some Christmas cake with him.

Avro 504K

Mr. Dowdle does not comment on the bumpy take-off as the plane scuttled across the unprepared patch of grass, but he did recall that he “found it a most pleasant way to travel” as the Fokker flew at a low altitude and with the high wing, it provided an unobstructed view of the scenery.

A stop was made at George which apparently was even more primitive than the Fairview Airfield, comprising only a fuel bowser. After departing from George, they made a detour around the mountains and then the remainder of the flight was made over the sea. The flight culminated at Wingfield just outside Cape Town which Dowdle felt was the more civilised than the other two airfields.


Poster at SAAF Museum in Port Elizabeth

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