Ricochet News

London to Cape Town challenge: 3 plane crashes along the way

By Matthew Collins - Feb 4, 2015
London to Cape Town challenge: 3 plane crashes along the way

With all of the recent plane crashes around the world splattering headlines on just about every news website imaginable, including today’s shocking air disaster in Taipei, a piece of Anglo-South African aviation history was made on this day, 95 years ago...

After the Wright brothers had conquered the skies with man-powered flight in 1903, aircraft were envisioned as being the ultimate vehicle. They would go faster and would arrive at destinations sooner than any of their land or sea-based cousins.

At the dawn of the First World War, the airplane was introduced as a weapon of war, increasing the level of destruction and changing the face of conflict forever.

By the end of the Great War, the limits of the airplane were once again questioned; the route between London and Cape Town was seen as a challenge over which to stretch the wings of a very recent invention.

In the midst of the first successful non-stop flight across the Atlantic Ocean, as well as the first flight to Australia having taken place in 1919, the inspiration was there to take on the African challenge.

No one had ever dared to tackle such an enormous obstacle. To some it might have even been considered pure suicide. Africa was a mysterious and unforgiving continent (as many knew), but in 1919, after the Royal Air Force had established airfields along the continent, the London to Cape Town route was declared open.

The Times advertised a cash-prize (of what would amount to millions of rand today) for the first people to journey from London to Cape Town, with the first crew to leave being sponsored by The Times itself.

However, the Prime Minister of the Union of South Africa at the time, General Jan Smuts, wished to see a South African crew make the journey in one piece, and so he had organised for an aircraft, namely the Silver Queen, to be provided for Lt. Col. Van Ryneveld and Lieutenant Quinton-Brand; gentlemen who would depart from London on this day, the 4th of February 1920.

However, they had a lot of ground to cover as the Times crew were already well on their way.

After having crossed the Mediterranean Sea and having headed into Sudan, the Silver Queen would crash, after which the South African crew would loan the “Silver Queen I”I from Egypt and continue on their journey.

Soon after the South Africans’ misfortune, the Times crew would crash and fall out of the journey in Tanganyika, now known as Tanzania.

Despite the advantage being handed to the South Africans, fate was to speak once more as the Silver Queen II plummeted to the ground in Bulowayo, in modern-day Zimbabwe, after having arrived there safely but subsequently being overloaded on take-off.  

However, this would still not deter the eager gentlemen, and a nation who was determined to see South Africans be the first to complete the journey between London and Cape Town flew over another aircraft, their third of the journey, for the men to operate.

They would arrive in Wynberg, Cape Town in late March of 1920 after having travelled for almost 50 days.


Information courtesy of: the South African Power Flying Association & “Early Aviators” (www.tothevictoriafalls.com)

Image courtesy of:www.thesouthafrican.com