The Douglas DC-6 represented the pinnacle of piston propliner technology during the 1950's. First flown on 15 February 1946, the DC-6 followed the very successful DC-3 Dakota and DC-4 Skymaster that Douglas developed. It secured a large segment of passenger aircraft sales of the time in which Lockheed, with its sleek and elegant Constellation, was the main rival of the era. The two companies competed throughout the 1950's,

each responding with new and improved models designed to fly further and faster. By the time that Douglas introduced their ultimate DC-7C model and Lockheed had answered with the Super Constellation/Starliner series, a new era had dawned. The immergence of turbo prop liners and large jet powered aircraft meant that by the late 1960's piston engined aircraft were no longer in front line service. Feeder, charter and cargo operators were however eager buyers, which continued to operate them for many more years. The DC-6 remained the most enduring of the type. Many ascribe it to the economic efficiency of the dependable Pratt & Wittney R-2800 Double Wasp engines that powered the aircraft. The DC-7 suffered from the unreliability and complexity of the mighty Wright Turbo Compound engine, while the Constellation similarly was never as suitable for cargo operations.

Suva's Saviour

On the southern side of the historic South African Air Force airfield Swartkop, almost noticeably removed from the rest of the activities on the field, a very unique DC-6 has been left derelict the best part of ten years. This aircraft was manufactured by Douglas in the summer of 1957 and delivered new to Canadian Pacific Airlines on the 15th of August 1957 as CF-CZV. They named the aircraft "Empress of Suva" on account of their passenger service to Fiji on the Vancouver - Hawaii - New Zealand - Australia route. After forty years of service with no less than ten different commercial operators, having ended up in South Africa, she was retired from service in 1997 at Rand Airport.

She arrived at Swartkop in 1998 destined for the South African Airways Museum Society, which then occupied a hangar with the SAA Museum flight at Swartkop operating the Douglas DC-3 and DC-4. She was in good company. However during 2005 the South African Air Force found a need for the area when the nearby AFB Waterkloof's facilities had to be renovated, necessitating the move of all the squadrons back to Swartkop. SAA's Museum flight together with the Museum Society was forced to vacate the premises. Challenged with the option to either fly the DC-6 out of Swartkop or move the aircraft by road, the Museum Society found both options too costly and decided to sell the aircraft. She ended up with enthusiast Peter Bauman, but facing ever-increasing costs associated with her lengthy stay at Swartkop, he decided to offer the aircraft to the South African Air Force Museum. They declined the offer. Scrapping the aircraft remained the only other option, but when two business partners and avid collectors learnt about the aircraft, they duly made an offer to purchase the DC-6. The Air Force wanted the aircraft out of Swartkop and the new owners had to prepare an ambitious plan to fly her out of Swartkop - to their small holding north of Pretoria. There she will adorn the entrance to their business as a gate guard which will involve the construction of an airstrip across several adjacent small holdings to accommodate the arrival there.

The first technical inspection on the aircraft at the end of 2008 provided professional advice that the aircraft should rather be moved by road to avoid unnecessary costs. The aircraft had been standing for ten years and would need considerable technical attention. The option to move her by road would however involve cutting the main spar to remove the wings, and as the owner put it "would render the aircraft useless" a final death knell. And with that, the decision was made that she would be flown out of Swartkop. An experienced DC-6 engineer was recruited and his team started the tedious if obnoxious work to repair the aircraft back to flying condition for the ferry flight. Many challenges have been met, and a few remain, but the passionate aviation moguls have kept their promise; let it be said amidst a chorus of pessimists; to honour the history of this special aircraft.

1957 - Service History - 2010
1957 Built as Douglas DC-6B “Super Cloudmaster” c/n 45329
15/8/1957 Delivered to Canadian Pacific Airlines
CF-CZV “Empress of Suva”
1961 Transair, Sweden SE-BDG “Stockholm”
1965 Braathens, Norways LN-SUT
1971 Greenlandair OY-DRC “Amalik”
1980 Air Atlantique, Conventry G-SIXB
1980 Air Swazi 3D-ASA/B
1987 Aerostar International N90300
1987 Interocean Airways C9-ASR
1990 Avia Air ZS-MUL
1992 Trans Air Cargo 9Q-CJE
1998 SAA Museum Society ZS-XXX
2005 P. Bauman
2008 W. Walus & W. Muntingh

Written by Capt Leon Steyn, Historian, Air Force Museum