In a far away corner of the Zwartkops military Airport, sad and forlorn, stands a lonely aircraft. Her broad fuselage and wide wings pockmarked with countless dents and scratches, her paint and markings faded away, worn out tyres sagging and cracking, her mighty engines and huge propellers still and silent for nearly a decade.
Yet, just over 50 years ago she was a proud and admired, state of the art luxury airliner capable of flying across the Atlantic or over the North Pole for the Canadian, then Icelandic airlines. But just two years after her coming to service the first jet airliners began ferrying their passengers across the Atlantic. Higher speed, shorter flights. Though magnificent the DC6B’s four 18 cylinder, 2500HP piston engines were no match for the new technology.
The slow decline began, flying for less and less affluent airlines in obscure parts of the world. There were some bright moments like landing on a stretch of country road in the war torn Nigeria during the Biafra crisis, to snatch from the clutches of advancing government forces 80 foreign doctors threatened with extermination. Later came the period of tedious but gratifying work of flying for the Red Cross in Mozambique. Later still the old airliner deglamourised and stripped of her internal fittings settled into the thankless work of a cargo carrier supplying various mines in the central African region. Years of hard work with minimum maintenance took their toll.
Sometime during the mid nineties the old airliner, worn and tired came to land in Johannesburg for the last time, never to fly North again. But the old lady still had her admirers, various museums, enthusiast groups and indivi-duals tried to save her, moving her in the process from one airfield to another until at the turn of the millennium she came to rest in Zwartkops destined to be part of the museum display. Unfortunately the economics turned against her once more. The museum could not afford her upkeep, airport management needed the space she occupied.
By mid 2008 the cutting torch seemed the only solution. Yet despite the age and hard life the old girl still has her charm. She managed to seduce two slightly ageing businessmen who decided to save her from a smelter and have her parked permanently as a landmark in the front of their office building near Pretoria.
Faced with the task of dismantling their new baby to pieces ,transporting her on lowbeds and then re-assembling again they 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. The aviator’s community is as always responding admirably. The volunteer crew is ready and eager to go. The engineers are busy preparing the schedules of check ups and repairs. Lots of components and sub assemblies will have to be sourced and bought or borrowed for the flight. It won’t be 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.
This big day has now arrived and the Empress of Suva will settle in her final resting place on Saturday, 30 October 2010. And we feel the story of the final flight is worth telling and showing. If interested in joining us for this both historical and memorable occasion contact: Witold Walus at 082 412 7358 / 087 751 0440