African Aviation

Sidebar: The first flight from Britain to South Africa

Lt. Col van Ryneveld with First Lt. Quintin Brand, February 1920, in front of Vickers Vimy Silver Queen, before their England to South Africa flight on 4 February, 1920. Photo: WIKIMEDIA COMMONS UNITED KINGDOM GOVERNMENT

On 20 March, 1920, two South African pilots completed the first flight from Britain to South Africa after a flying time of four days, 13 hours and 30 minutes. General Sir Hesperus Andrias van Ryneveld KBE CB DSO MC (2 May, 1891 – 2 December, 1972), known as Pierre van Ryneveld, was the founding commander of the first flight of the South African Air Force (SAAF). He began his military career in the first world war, in which he served in the Royal Flying Corps (later the Royal Air Force), where he distinguished himself as a fighter ace. After the war, van Ryneveld was called back to South Africa by the prime minister, Jan Smuts, to set up the SAAF. Air Vice Marshal Sir Christopher Joseph Quintin Brand KBE, DSO, MC, DFC (25 May, 1893 – 7 March, 1968) was born in Beaconsfield (now part of Kimberley, Northern Cape) in South Africa. During the years 1914-1915 Brand served in the Union Defence Force. In 1915, he travelled to England where he transferred to the Royal Flying Corps. During the first world war, he flew Nieuport 17 scouts, serving as a flight commander in No. 1 Squadron RFC in France.

Van Ryneveld and Brand left Brooklands in Surrey (one of the first purpose-built racing tracks ever built and the departure point for many aviation firsts) on February 4, 1920 in a Vimy G-UABA named Silver Queen. They landed safely at Heliopolis, near Cairo. but as they continued the flight to Wadi Halfa they were forced to land due to their engine overheating with 130 km still to go. The RAF at Heliopolis lent the pair a second Vimy and they continued to Bulawayo in Southern Rhodesia, where it was badly damaged when it failed to take off. Van Ryneveld and Brand then used a South African Air Force Airco DH.9 to continue the journey to Cape Town. The South African government awarded them £5,000 each. First published on Pilot’s Post, a South African weekly online aviation magazine – www.pilotspost.com. Republished with permission.