AIRCRAFT ARRIVE IN MAUN...
Flying and the use of various types of aircraft in the Maun region can be traced back to the 1920's.
The earliest known flights over the Okavango region took place in July 1925, and were part of a survey of the rivers of the Okavango region, using aircraft based in Livingstone. Two aircraft were used and both were the D.H. 9 type, numbers 142 and 144 of the then Union Defense Force of South Africa, piloted by a Capt. C.W. Meredith and Lieut. L. Tasker. They routed to Livingstone from Johannesburg via Bulawayo.
D.H. Leopard Moth
This survey, that was also the first aerial survey of the region, was to investigate the water systems of the Okavango and Chobe Rivers, with a view to using the waters for a project to re-route the rivers to form a large lake in the Southern Kalahari. The lake, it was suggested, would cause an increase in the annual rainfall in the Southern Kalahari and Northern Cape and thus assist in the development of agriculture. The Okavango has been under threat for a long time.
It is also noted that a similar aircraft, a D.H. 9 named - Voortrekker, of the Union Defense Force, was the first aircraft ever to land in Bechuanaland – at Palapye in March 1920. Palyape was the first airfield in Bechuanaland, opened in 1919. Aviation was then in its infancy and aircraft were very unsophisticated. 1920 was only seventeen years after the first powered flight.
The use of aircraft moved slowly and was, in the early stages, confined to aviation pioneers who used their private aircraft to explore the region. Records are confined to the notes and diaries of those who were involved.
The first aircraft to land in Maun would seem to be a D.H. Puss Moth, piloted by Pat Judson from Bulawayo. His passenger, prophetically, was an insurance agent and this took place in 1930. By this time, Maun had been the regional center for Ngamiland for fifteen years.
The Puss Moth was at that time based in Bulawayo and used for some of the first aircharter flights. The Maun Airfield was an open area near the old Riley's Hotel, an area now occupied by the new Council Buildings. Flights during the 1930's used this airstrip and could re-fuel at Riley's Garage. All aviation fuel was brought by truck from Palapye and took three days to make the journey. Angus McDonald, now living in Johannesburg, remembers the drive well. He celebrated his twenty-first birthday on one of the fuel runs in 1939, somewhere near Mopipi. He worked at the time for the N.T.C. and drove for Riley's Garage.
D.H. Puss Moth
Flying in the Maun region moved ahead slowly during the first years after the 1930 landing, but the use of aircraft became more accepted by the Administration. The then Resident Commissioner, Sir Charles Ray, was enthusiastic about the use of aircraft and was instrumental in encouraging the idea of air transport as a way of opening up the territory. He may have been partially influenced by his wife Nina, who was a founding member of the Royal Aeronautical Club in England. As Ray also visited Maun for the first time in 1930, by road from Kasane, and enthusiam for flying around the territory was probably much enhanced.
During 1934 Ray had discussions with the Aircraft Operating Company of South Africa and Captain Douglas, who was the Johannesburg representative for the De Havilland Aircraft Company and also the leading light behind the Johannesburg Light Plane Club at Baragwaneth Airport, where the De Havilland Aircraft Factory was based. This was with a view to using A.O.C. De Havilland aircraft for both survey and mail flights in Bechuanaland.
The result was the first air service in Bechuanaland and the first such flight to Maun. This took place in a D.H. Leopard Moth, which flew from Johannesburg to Mafeking and the on to Serowe, Rakops and Maun. The plane carried mail and had space for two passengers. The pilot was Captain Francis, and the flight was on Saturday, May 18, 1934.
One of the veterinary officers at that time, a Doctor John Hobday, was also using his own Leopard Moth. He flew in and around Maun to check on outbreaks of foot and mouth disease amongst the cattle. He flew throughout the region during the 1930's.
R.A.N.A. D.H Rapide
Later during July Ray arranged for a larger aircraft through A.O.C. and as a result the first twin engine aircraft, the D.H. Dragon Rapide, flew into Maun on Tuesday, August 28, 1934. This was to inaugurate a new regular service between Johannesburg, Mafeking, Serowe and Maun, returning bt the same route. The aircraft was also used in Maun for checking on foot and mouth outbreaks. Ray and his party used the aircraft for what was probably the first scenic or game flight over the Okavango Delta and Lake Ngami. During this period there were flights in the Leopard Moth, probably the one belonging to Hobday, between Maun and Ghanzi and Maun and Palapye.
In 1935 Ray began discussions with R.A.N.A the air service backed by Imperial Airways and already serving the Rhodesia's and Nyasaland, with a view to linking their existing servies to those in Bechuanaland. R.A.N.A. Dragon Rapide's also began to visit Maun on charter flights, as did the aircraft of Spencer's Air Services from Victoria Falls.
Ted Spencer used the D.H. Fox Moth which could carry a pilot and four passengers. On one occasion, he was flying from Vic Falls to Maun with his African assistant when he saw a magnificent lion in the open area. He landed and shot the lion. He loaded it into the passenger compartment and continued to Maun, unloading the lion at Riley's Garage.. Angus McDonald and friends from Maun made a scenic flight around the Delta with Ted in the Fox Moth in 1939.
In 1936 Ray had discussions with the new South African Airways, previously Union Airways, about a service from Johannesburg via Mafaking, to Maun and Ghanzi, terminating in Windhoek. This obviously took some time to arrange because of the need for the right type of aircraft. S.A.A were in the process of ordering the new Junkers 86 light twin engine passenger airliner which could cover these routes and carry up to 10 passengers. Deliveries to S.A.A. started in 1937, the year in which Ray retired, but his work bore fruit and this service did eventually start. Regular flights took place from 1938.
D.H. Fox Moth
The scheduled flights continued to pass through Maun where passengers on the outbound route had breakfast at Riley's Hotel and lunch on the return trip. Wet conditions during the rains caused at least one aircraft to become stuck in the mud outside Riley's Garage, and it was pulled out by the trucks that also brought all the aviation fuel up from Palapye.
An inconvenient incident put a stop to all these flights, and much more. In September 1939, the world went to war, and the Junkers? Well they were commandeered by the South African Air Force and converted into bombers – in fact they wee designed as bombers in the first place. They were moved to Kenya where they took part in the bombing of Addis Ababa in the compaign against the Italian forces in Ethiopia.
And after the war? Well that's another chapter.
John Spencer Allott
Maun, November 2005