Home Forum Shop Alumni

In Southern Skies

A pictoral history of early aviation in Southern Africa

Author: John Illsley

ISBN: 1 86842 168 6

Reviewed By: Dean Wingrin

South Africa has a long tradition of flight. The first glider flights over a substantial distance in South Africa were probably made around 1875 by a farmer's son near Howick in Natal by John Goodman Houshold. The first time that a person took to the air for any reasonable length of time was when Jim Price took to the air in his balloon on 28 October 1891, while British military forces tested a balloon detachment in Bechuanaland during 1885. The very first powered flight in Southern Africa took place on 1 January 1910 when Monsieur Albert Kimmerling was invited to East London.

As December 2003 marks the accepted centenary of flight, it is a most appropriate time to celebrate flight in Southern Africa. John Illsley has compiled a pictorial history of early flight in this country, from 1816 to 1940. This lavishly illustrated, large format book tells the story of civil and military aviation in South Africa between 1816 and 1940. Each chapter has an introductory article, to set the scene for its subject, and the rest of the chapter is made up of pictures with comprehensive explanatory captions. 

Among of the topics featured are:

  • First flights on man-made wings

  • Siege balloons in two colonial wars

  • Balloons on imperial service

  • Box kites

  • The first aeroplanes

  • South Africa's first true aviator

  • Major Alister Miller's recruiting tours

  • The establishment of the SAAF

  • South Africans on the Western Front

  • First to the Cape and back

  • An airline for the Union

  • Aviatrixes

  • War planes and the SAAF

  • Air shows and air races

  • Indigenous aircraft design

  • Aviation history in envelopes and stamps

Completing the book are ten appendices, including South African aces of WW1, SAA fleet 1934-1939, civil aircraft registered in SA up to mid-1940, SAAF serial numbers 1920 - 1939 and surviving aircraft and parts (1910 - 1940) in South Africa. A comprehensive bibliography and index is provided.

The photographs are well reproduced on matt paper, with many of the photographs not being published before. The coffee-table nature of the book makes it easy to pick up and study a few pages at random, allowing oneself to be lost in the memories of airfields long gone, such as Wingfield, Youngsfield, Stamford Hill and the glory days of Rand Airport with SAA airliners parked outside the magnificent terminal building. One can only marvel at photographs of these early aviators landing on the beach at Muizenburg, Hermanus and the various horse race courses around South Africa!

Although not a definitive history of early aviation in South Africa, this book goes a long way to filling a sorely needed gap. In African Skies is a "must have" for anyone interested in the history of flight in South Africa.

340x240mm, 361pp, over 800 images

Purchase this book Kalahari.net now!

See Archive for all reviews