On Saturday the 4th of December 2010, a classic Douglas airliner “the Empress of Suva” took to the sky over the city for a brief but memorable ferry flight to its new owners north of Pretoria. The Douglas DC-6B, which first flew with Canadian Pacific Airlines in August 1957, had languished at Swartkop airfield for the past eleven years and was destined to be scrapped, unwanted.
Two avid aviation enthusiast and business partners Willie Muntingh and Withold Walus however learnt of her fate and decided to save the aircraft. They duly purchased the DC-6 and devised a magnificent plan - to fly the old propliner to their small holding and business premises north of Pretoria. Years of neglect meant that the old aircraft would need a great deal of attention. Meeting a great deal of scepticism and disbelief at such a huge enterprise, the restoration team under the leadership of flight engineer Mike Mayers gradually repaired the old aircraft back to flying condition during the course of two years.
For its arrival at its new home, a micro-light airstrip was extended to 850 meters and widened significantly to accommodate the arrival of the DC-6 there. Expertly flown by SAA Captains Johan van den Berg, Laurie Raath and flight engineer Mike Mayers, the aircraft eventually took off from Swartkop airfield at 07:15 on Saturday morning the 4th of December 2010 and headed north. The aircraft passed to the west of the city and were then positioned for the crucial landing. Twenty minutes later the big DC-6 touched down on the make-shift runway, and amidst a cloud of dust, came to a complete stop just 500 meters from touch-down.
The aircraft will be kept in a running condition and at its new location it will remain, much loved, perhaps to fly again one day.
Written: Leon Steyn, Historian, Air Force Museum, Photos: Townsend/Hopkins