SAA Museum Society, Rand Airport

Posted on 4 May 2009, Report by Jens Frischmuth

The South African Airways Museum Society, currently based at Rand Airport in Johannesburg, was founded in 1986 and aims to preserve the history of South African Airways and that of general civil aviation in South Africa. The static displays are located in an new area next to the Transvaal Aviation Club that was allocated to the SAA Museum Society by the management of Rand Airport in August 2006.

Prior to the formation of the SAA Museum Society, South African Airways had acquired various historic aircraft that were earmarked for preservation. The collection comprised of some pristine airworthy aircraft that were part of the SAA Historic Flight, some that were restored to static display condition and still others that were somewhat neglected and are waiting for much needed funds for their restoration.

For a long time, the historic planes were (and a few still are) kept at the SAA facilities at the then Jan Smuts Airport (now called the OR Tambo International Airport). From 1999 to 2006, they found a new home at Air Force Base Swartkop, when SAA briefly severed its links with the Historic Flight and the collection was taken over by the Transnet Heritage Foundation. When AFB Swartkop was reactivated, the planes moved back to Johannesburg International Airport in 2005 for a short while before finding a new home at Rand Airport in September 2006. The entire collection was donated to the SAA Museum Society in December 2007.

The first acquisition was in December 1973 and consisted of the Lockheed L18-08 Lodestar "Andries Pretorius", registration ZS-ASN. The Lodestars were operated by SAA between 1939 and 1955. This particular plane was found neglected at Grand Central Airport in 1972 and the owners at the time were persuaded to donate the aircraft for eventual display at the museum. It was moved to SAA at the then Jan Smuts Airport in December 1973 and restored. The refurbished plane made its public display at an SAA Open Day in October 1975. It is the oldest ex-SAA aircraft in existence in South Africa.

The De Havilland DH104 Dove "Katberg" (ZS-BCC), one of two operated by SAA between 1947 and 1952, was acquired in February 1979. This plane had found its way to the UK and was kept for spares at White Waltham Airport near London when it was "rediscovered" in 1972. Generous donations by Hawker Siddeley, Goodyear and Dunlop enabled it to be freighted back to South Africa in 1979 to become part of the Museum's permanent static displays.

A Lockheed L1649A Starliner (ZS-DVJ) was acquired in May 1979. It once formed part of the fleet of Trek Airways. After finishing its flying career, it served a stint as a road-side restaurant near Warmbaths, before being shipped to Jan Smuts Airport in 1973. It was restored extensively in 1987/88. It is presently stored at the SAA Technical Facilities at OR Tambo International Airport. There are plans to move it by road to Rand Airport in future.

The Junkers Ju52/3m "Jan van Riebeeck" (ZS-AFA) was acquired in May 1981. As part of the 50th Anniversary celebrations of South African Airways, SAA thought to acquire an example of its first true airliner, the Ju52/3m, of which SAA operated 15 from November 1934 up to the outbreak of World War II. As there were no originals that were suitable for restoration to airworthy status, they had to settle for a CASA 252L, a version of the Ju52/3m built under licence in Spain. This particular plane was acquired from Warbirds of Great Britain on 12 May 1981, from where it was flown to Bremen, disassembled and shipped to Jan Smuts Airport via Durban Harbour. Restoration work began in earnest in late 1982 and the plane took to the skies again in 1984 after an extensive rebuild. On 1 February 1984 (the 50th anniversary of SAA), it took off from Jan Smuts Airport and arrived on schedule overhead Rand Airport to the delight of the expectant crowd. The plane was later certified to carry passengers and soon became a familiar sight over Johannesburg. The plane was withdrawn from service in 2000 due to the lack of availability of replacement tires. To solve this problem, the undercarriage was swapped with a later type undercarriage from a Junkers Ju52 museum specimen housed at the RAF Museum at Duxford in the UK. This later type undercarriage used more readily available and robust DC-3 type tires. With the new undercarriage, the plane took to the skies again on the 30th of November 2005.

The next acquisition, a Vickers VC1A Viking, ZS-DKH, was received in March 1987 and was the first plane acquired by the newly founded SAA Museum Society. It once belonged to Trek Airways and was a landmark atop Vic de Villier's Service Station in Armandale, south a Johannesburg, for a time. It was donated to the Museum Society in 1987 and shipped to Jan Smuts Airport that year. Unfortunately, 20 plus years later, the plane has not been restored and is a tatty hulk standing not too far from the run-up area at OR Tambo International Airport.

The SAA Historic Flight was established in November 1993 to ensure the continued commercial viability of SAA's vintage aircraft fleet. Initially established to formalise the operation of the Ju52, a DC-3 and two DC-4s were soon added to the flight.

The Douglas DC-3 Dakota "Klapperkop" (ZS-BXF) was acquired by the Historic Flight in February 1991 and its first flight after restoration was on the 16th November 1993. This Dakota served with SAA for nearly a quarter of a century and this particular aircraft was in service with SAA from August 1948 to February 1971. It was then disposed off to the South African Air Force, before being returned to SAA 20 years later. It is painted to represent the DC-3s that began service with SAA during the 1940s.

The Douglas DC-4 Skymaster "Lebombo" (ZS-BMH) was received from the SAAF in 1992 and entered service with the Historic Flight in April 1993 after an extensive rebuild. This aircraft was initially delivered to SAA on 18 August 1947 and was the last DC-4 Skymaster ever off the Douglas production line. It was operated by SAA until January 1966, when it was sold to the SAAF to be operated by 44 Squadron.

The Douglas DC-4 Skymaster "Outeniqua" (ZS-AUB) was first delivered to SAA in May 1946 and was the last DC-4 to be sold to the SAAF on 29 September 1967. In December 1995, it was delivered to the Historic Flight from AFB Waterkloof to Jan Smuts Airport, still in SAAF colours. The Skymasters are two of very few passenger-licensed Douglas DC-4s operating in the world today.

The DC-3 and the DC-4s are currently leased to the Rand Airport based charter operator Skyclass Aviation who specialise in African Flying Safaris to Southern Africa.

In March 2002, the SAAMS approached SAA with the request to donate a soon to be retired Boeing 747. SAA agreed and appropriately earmarked the B747-224B "Lebombo" (ZS-SAN) for preservation. Lebombo was the first Jumbo Jet to be seen in South Africa when she arrived on 6 November 1971. In her service life spanning 31 years, 11 months and 14 days, this plane flew a total of 107689 hours and completed 20304 landings (this equates to spending over 12 years in the air). On her final flight, the plane was delivered to Rand Airport by Captains Dennis Spence and Stuart Lithgow on 5 March 2004, when she performed a textbook landing on runway 11. This acquisition has been described as "possibly the most pro- active event in preserving civil aviation history in South Africa".

In January 2006, Hennie Delport, owner of Phoebus Apollo, agreed to donated the recently retired Douglas C-54-15-DC "Helios" (ZS-PAJ) to the South African Museum Society. One of the stipulations was that the plane remain in the Phoebus Apollo livery in perpetuity.

In May 2005, the Museum Society wrote to SAA requesting the donation of one of two retired Boeing B747-SPs stored at the Denel facilities. Again, SAA agreed and the Boeing 747 SP-44 "Maluti" (ZS-SPC) would be the one to be preserved. It would be the first SP to be preserved by a museum in the world when the plane touched down on runway 11 at Rand Airport at 7:48 on the 30th of September 2006. Maluti's last commercial flight was on 24 October 2003, having flown a total of 82313 hours until her last flight, and she will be left in pristine condition. She will be left 100% intact, unlike Lebombo, which had her engines removed and replaced with time-expired ones. But even Lebombo's systems are still fully functional and she could be brought back to airworthiness if required (with the installation of new engines, inter alia). The SAA Museum Society now had the distinction of being the only museum in the world with two Boeing 747s in its possession.

Besides the static display area that is dominated by the two gigantic Jumbo-jets, the SAA Museum Society's facilities at Rand Airport include a display hall that exhibits historic items such as photographs, aircraft instruments, timetables, models of planes and uniforms worn by SAA personnel. There is a gift shop as well and the Museum is well worth a visit.

The South African Airways Museum Society runs an excellent website. For more information, go to

Below is a photographic record of the SAA Museum Society's displays at Rand Airport, taken in February 2009.