Algoa Flying Club, including Algoa Flight Training Division, finds its roots before the Second World War when the Port Elizabeth Aero Club was formed in 1929, training pilots on Tiger Moths. In the mid 1950’s private and civilian flying was all but dead in the Port Elizabeth area. Named after Algoa Bay on the coast of which the city is formed, the club is one of the oldest and most established Flying Schools in South Africa.
Phil Smulian, the owner of Southern Aviation became frustrated in his efforts to resuscitate flying through the Port Elizabeth Aero Club as it had become a social and drinking club. Phil and his wife got together many local aviators including Captain Nic Carter, Les Humphries and others to establish a new flying club, with membership restricted to currently active and former pilots with flying logbook entries to prove their flying status. No social members were permitted, with this being enshrined in the club constitution up until today.
ALGOA FLYING CLUB was formed on 26th November 1956, commencing with the first training class for 12 students in November 1957. The first Wings Parade was held in March 1958.
The first president was Colonel Lewis Lang, first treasurer Phil Smulian with Les Humphries as Club Secretary. Chester Chandler was also one of the founder members, serving as Club Secretary from 1958 to 1962. Club members assisted with furnishings, and it was then that the members adopted the Royal Air Force 2nd World War mystical “Gremlin” as its unique logo. The pub became known as the “Gremlins Grotto”, which only opened when the last aircraft landed.
The first instructors were Phil Smulian, Nick Carter and George Hodgkinson. Aircraft were Piper J3 Cubs ZS-BAG and ZS-BTB. Other aircraft included Piper PA-12 Cruisers ZS-DAW and ZS-DCI, a Miles Messenger, a Tiger Moth and an Aeronca Champion.
Covid-19 prevented last year’s Annual Wings Parade and dinner, so this year was a double celebration, including the 65th Anniversary.
On Saturday 20th November, eighty six members gathered at the Port Elizabeth Walmer Golf Estate to make merry.
Festivities started with a sponsored flypast from Hangar51 using a L29 and Yak 52.
After snacks, guests were seated as Master of Ceremonies and Club Chairman Gareth Godwin introduced the evening’s guest speaker Colonel H.J. Kieck.
Colonel Kieck (ex-SAAF), entertained all with excellent stories from his former days.
A delicious four course meal was spread out between the prize giving ceremony, which saw numerous prizes handed out to students.
Chester Chandler (founding member) with Bennie Bergmann were present as honourable guests as the two oldest surviving club members respectively at 65 and 58 years of active membership. Bennie won the award for ‘Most Active Non-Flying Club Member’.
Springbok and Red Bull pilot, Patrick Davidson surprised all guests present by donating two substantial amounts on behalf of Stu Davidson & Sons for training. A R29 000 bursary was awarded to Tristan Botes and R86 000 awarded to Qhawe Nxumalo towards her Commercial licence on completion of her PPL.
Patrick Davidson graciously accepted the award for ‘Best Licenced Pilot’.
According to well-known and past historian Dave Becker (R.I.P.), JLPC – Johannesburg Light Plane Club is the oldest flying club in South Africa from 1927, and used to be at the Old Baragwaneth airport.
His research shows the following clubs in this order:
- Witbank Aeronautical Association
- Kimberley Aeronautical Association
Benoni Light Plane Club was established 29 March 1929 (documentary proof hangs in the Club house) on a sight where the suburb of “Airfield, Benoni” now exists. Around 1960, (due to construction of Jan Smuts Airport), the Club had to find a new home. The new Airfield was built where the present-day FABB is found, and the Club changed its name to “Benoni-Brakpan Aero Club”. During 1996, Brakpan town council re-aligned and tarred the main runway, and the Club name was finally changed to “Brakpan Aero Club”.
Brits Flying Club is also one of the oldest and most respected flying clubs in South Africa. The club is synonymous with Springbok (South African National) colours. Formed in 1952, the club has produced top sportsman, some who has represented South Africa all over the world.
One of the biggest flying clubs in South Africa around today is Stellenbosch Flying Club with over 600 members and 160 aircraft based on the airfield.
Debate still rages on as to how one can correctly measure the age of a club, as many clubs change names, move or merge during their history. But irrespective of these conundrums, South African Flying Clubs have a strong history, and will only continue if we give them the added support they deserve.