A rare Douglas DC-6B airliner will Saturday make its last flight from Swartkop airbase in Pretoria to an improvised airstrip at the Drakensberg Truck Manufacturers (DTM) facility at Pyramid, just north of Pretoria. Once there it will become a gateguard at the armoured vehicle builder.
The wikipedia reports the DC-6 is a piston-powered airliner and transport aircraft built by the Douglas Aircraft Company from 1946 to 1958. Originally intended as a military transport near the end of World War II, it was reworked after the war to compete with the Lockheed Constellation in the long-range commercial transport market. More than 700 were built and many still fly today in cargo, military and wildfire control roles.
The aircraft, now listed as ZS-XXX, was delivered to Canadian Pacific Airlines in August 1957, as the “Empress of Suva.” An adventurous career followed.
In November 1961 she was sold to Transair Sweden AB and used for charter flights – including for Swedish United Nations peacekeepers flying to the Congo. In June 1965, she moved on to Braathens-SAFE, flying charter from Oslo and by some accounts took part in the “Biafran Airlift”, flying in support of those who supported the region’s succession from Nigeria during a bitter 1967-1970 civil war.
In February 1971 she joined Greenland Air as OY-DRC with the name “Amalik”,carrying passengers and cargo. In March 1979 she moved to British-based Air Atlantique and in December 1979 she was sold to Air Swaziland. She was again sold in February of 1987- to an American company, and then in August of that same year to Interocean Airways flying out of Beira. The aircraft next joined African Air carrier and in June 1990 Avia Air (Pty) Ltd. Here she reportedly became one of only two DC-6Bs ever registered in South Africa, becoming ZS-MUL. Trans Air Cargo purchased her next – in 1992 – and operated her from Kinshasa in the Democratic Republic of Congo, then Zaire.
She was donated to the South African Airways Museum Society (SAAMS) in 1998 and taken to the then-Johannesburg International Airport and subsequently Swartkop Air Force Base. The reconditioning of AFB Waterkloof forced the SA Historic Flight and SAAMS to vacate Swartkop.
South African Air Force (SAAF) Museum historian Leon Steyn notes that challenged with the option to either fly the aircraft out of Swartkop or moving her by road, the SAAMS 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 SAAF Museum in 2008. They declined the offer. Scrapping the aircraft remained the only other option, but when two business partners and avid collectors Witold Walus and Willie Muntingh learnt about the aircraft, they duly made an offer to purchase the DC-6.
Walus adds that they then faced the same dilemma, but faced with the task of dismantling her, and cutting her main spar, “came up with a bold idea: Why not let the old girl stretch out her wings for one last time?”
They approached their neighbours who, “also seduced by the idea, agreed to temporarily take down their fences to provide a sufficiently long landing strip.” Walus continues that the aviation community responded admirably. A volunteer crew was assembled and work to rehabilitate the aircraft to flying status after 10 years of dereliction commenced. “Lots of components and sub-assemblies had to be sourced and bought or borrowed for the flight. It wasn’t easy; only a 30 km (18 mile) flight, but everything must work in order to obtain the ferry flight permit from the
Civil Aviation Authority, he says.
“The big day has now arrived and the Empress of Suva will settle in her final resting place on Saturday. And we feel the story of the final flight is worth telling and showing,” Walus enthuses. He says anyone interested in joining the volunteers for “this both historical and memorable occasion” can contact him at 082-412-7358 or 087-751-0440.