An affaire with beautiful Delaney
STEP ABOARD THE PRIDE OF AFRICA AND ENJOY AN AIR SAFARI OVER JOHANNESBURG-CITY
By Jan Koppen
written February 2004
As an adolescent in the seventies, I did, as so many kids, my early moring newspaper round in one of the small village’s in the vicinity of Amsterdam Schiphol Airport. Halfway through my morning ’tour of duties’ I was always treated by the wonderful, resonant, totally unmistakable, head-turning drone of a pair of well-synchronised Pratt & Whitney R-1830 radial engines. During the seventies, Skyways Ltd. of Lydd, UK, operated the daily early morning newspaper run between the UK and the continent, using the venerable DC-3. Skyways operated in those days mainly DC-3 G-AGJV c/n. 12195, G-AMWW c/n 33010, G-APBC c/n. 27121 and G-AMSM c/n. 27209 on the flights between Lydd and Amsterdam. Unfortunely in 1979 these fine workhorses were replaced by turboprop powered Fairchild-Hiller 227B’s and, the DC-3s were sold to other operators.
As a propliner enthusiast, I always had a great affection for the charismatic DC-3 and observed and discussed the flight characteristics of this round engine transport on many occations. Nevertheless the hunger for more real life DC-3 action is hard to be satisfied ! Making, more or less, work of the hobby, and working for a major airline, I have the possibility to travel worldwide in an afordable way. Some month’s ago, my good friend and well known vintage propliner photographer Mr. Micheal S. Prophet and I, boarded a Flying Dutchman 747 with final destination South-Africa, one of the last strongholds of the widely known Douglas DC-3 and sample some flights in these old transports.
A LEISURELY SOJOURN BY CLASSIC AIRCRAFT
Rovos Air operates almost every Sunday morning a sight seeing flight, including an overwhelming breakfast, around Johannesburg and, as guests of the company, we would accompany Captain Andre Balt and Co-pilot Andrew McCloud on an early morning flight above the city.
Since its establishment more than 10 years ago, Rovos Rail has earned an international reputation for its truly nostalgic train and air travel. Step aboard the vintage traincoaches and classic aeroplanes, meticulous refurbished to mint condition - and enjoy fine cuisine in five-star luxury as some of the most varied scenery imaginable unfolds beyond the windows. Recapture the romance and atmosphere of a by-gone era, when privileged travellers experienced the magic and mystery of Africa in a relaxed and elegant fashion.
The Classic Rovos AirFleet links some of Africa's greatest destinations from Cape Town at the tip of Africa to Dar-Es-Salaam in Tanzania, from scenic splendours as diverse as the game reserves of Mpumalanga to the Victoria Falls, from the desert landscapes of Namibia and the stark beauty of the Karoo to the lush canefields of KwaZulu-Natal and the magnificent Garden Route along the Cape South Coast.
In April 2001 two splendid Convair 440 aeroplanes were purchased from Canedo S.A. of Cochabamba, Bolivia and flown over the Atlantic Ocean to their new home in South Africa. Built in 1954 their first owner was the US Airforce, which based them in Texas until 1992, followed by a 8-year tour of duty in Bolivia. The restoration of the air-conditioned aircrafts to Rovos standards was achieved in Pietersburg and proved easier than expected due to the exceptionally good condition of the airframe. The aircrafts have flown relatively few hours during their 50-year life and as they were operated in dry areas there was no corrosion damage to contend with. The avionics were deemed to be out of date and were thus completely upgraded to incorporate the most modern radar, moving map and positioning systems available. Fitted with the Pratt & Whitney 2800 radial engines the aircraft has a pleasing power to weight ratio, providing a reasonable performance. Pressurized to 23,000 ft (above the bumps) the aircraft will cruise comfortably at 220 knots per hour, carrying 44 passengers in the comfort and style. The geared propellers, a massive 13ft 6ins in diameter, only spin at 1000 RPM helping to keep the cabin noise at a very acceptable level.
Onboard service by our well experienced and friendly staff is of high standard. The Convair’s will be used to convey Rovos train passengers, who enjoyed African adventure travel by coaches driven by vintage steam locomotives. At Pietersburg, they will board the vintage airliner for an two-hour exciting flight to the Victoria Falls (Livingstone / Zambia), one of the natural wonders of the world. The Convair and DC-3 is, ofcourse, also available for charters anywhere in Southern Africa.
IT WAS TIME TO ENCOUNTER THE ’MOTHER OF ALL AIRLINERS’
After a short sleep, we scrambled at 0600 hours in our rental car from Johannesburg International Airport to Lanseria Airport approximately an hour drive from Jan Smuts. Here we were greeted by Mrs. Samantha Belcher of Air Route Adventure, manager of these sight seeing flights. On the ramp sat the pristine Douglas DC-3 ‘Delaney’, registrated ZS-CRV, in the morning sun. The massive wings, to which two dependable Pratt & Whitney R1830-92s are attached, held no de-ice boots. In her distinguished green and cream trim of Rovos Air, she is looking absolutely immaculate. ZS-CRV, one of the whopping 10,656 DC-3s being built.
Constructor’s number 13331 was build at the Douglas Aircraft Company’s Oklahoma City Plant and delivered to the USAAF in May 1944. Under the lend-lease programme she was transferred to the RAF and as such she saw action in the Arnhem landings and Operation Varsity during the final stages of the 2nd World war. After the war she was transferred to the Canadian Airforce and returned to Canada, where the aircraft served in various units until 1953, after which she became a ground instructional airframe. In 1958 the wartime DC-3 was retired by the military and sold to the Beldex Corporation in the USA as a civilian career. In 1959 she was registrated as N96U with the Freeport Nickel Company. In May 1959 the aircraft was exported to Cuba where she became CU-P-702 with the Moa Bay Mining Company. The aircraft went again to the UK in November 1962 where she saw service for the Company Standard Telephones and Cables. During the late sixties she was purchased by TD Keegan and operated by Transmeridian Air Cargo as G-AJRY.
In April 1974 the aircraft was sold to United Air Services of South-Africa and received registration ZS-PTG. During a scheduled flight between Sishen and Johannesburg a baby girl was born on board the DC-3. The baby was called “Delaney” – a name the aircraft sports to this day ! By January 1986 ‘ Delaney’ was standing engineless and inactive at Rand Airport near Johannesburg. In 1988 she was sold to WonderAir’s subsidiary Avia Air Charter and, by 1992 she was based at the short lived airfield at Freeway, north of Pretoria where she operated until the closure of Avia in 1995. Avia sold her and she went into service with Debon Air. On June 14, 2002, ‘Delaney’ was finally purchased by Mr. Rohan Vos of Rovos Rail and registrated her as ZS-CRV.
“COME ABOARD AND BE IMPRESSED”
We were introduced to the aircraft, by Captain Andre Balt, an thirty-year DC-3 veteran and his co-pilot Andrew McCloud, long before the rest of the passengers would board. Both men seamed well qualified for the job ahead, as Andre has a total of 7000 hours on propliners such as the piston and turbo DC-3(TP)s and Convair 580s. He even flew for some month’s Basler Turbo Daks from Patriot Hills, Antartica at the South-Pole. Co-pilot Andrew also has a large number of hours on propliners and is primilinary emplowed by Naturelink, who operates the splendid DC-3 ZS-MRU (c/n. 4367).
The flight crew started with a thorough briefing from a technical manual and comprehensive engine handling notes. After giving us a few facts and figures, both men led us to the waiting airliner. Approaching her I admired the streamlined shape, the big, four-foot diameter, fifty psi tyres and oblong windows. The controls are fabric-covered and the three-spar, aluminimum wings, on which two powerful Pratt & Whitney R1830 radials are attached, are fastened by 328 individual bolts per side. Before boarding, both crewmembers needlessly reminded me that the big old thirty-litre, fouteen-cylinder powerplants require careful, sympathetic throttle and pitch movements to last their full 1,600-hour life. Passengers and crew alike enter through the forward of two wide doors, mid-way between tail and wing.
As we climbed the steps it was the smell of a rare essence of aviation fuel and hydraulic fluid that impressed us. In 2002 the aircraft had undergone an extensive overhaul and the interior of the aircraft has been splendid refurbished. The leather covered, tube framed seats had been displaced by 21 very comfortable green leather, victorian style, seats. She is absolutely the most stylished DC-3, I have ever met.
Looking around the cockpit, I saw a somewhat cramped, slightly cluttered, matt-black and blue painted cockpit highlighted by chipped corners on the worn rudder pedals and the floor beneath. This flight-deck boasted no EFIS, no smart annunciators, no INS or flight director. The instruments lacked coloured segments or red radials. This was a front-office of monochrome dials, muscle-power, mnemonics and memorized limitations. Dominating the central panel were the antiquated Sperry autopilot’s DG and horizon, and below them, the six long engine control levers marked, from left to right, P, T and M for props, throttles and mixtures. Andrew first duty after scaling the heights to the front was the bicep-building task of restoring hydraulic pressure (it trickles away overnight) by manually pumping up the 500 psi safe-braking minimum with one of the long red and yellow levers on the floor just inside the right bulkhead.
With all anxious passengers onboard and looked after by our charming air hostess Louise Nineman, we were prepared to start the engines. At 0900 precisely, we contacted Lanseria Ground Control for start-up clearance. This was duly approaved and Andre clutched the direct-drive electric motors, pressed the starter, hit the boost pump, primed and, after counting nine blades, switched on the mags. Then, when the engine fired, he push the mixture lever forward to auto rich, while continuing to give blips of prime with his thumb to keep the Pratt & Whitney’s running. The geared engines were slow to build to their 800 rpm idle, but when stabilised, the heart-stimulating rhythmic of the gleaming propeller blades just outside the open window set the tone for an exciting flight ahead.
‘Delaney’ was parked on a small hard standing which was connected to the main taxiway by a narrow lane tightly bordered by parked light aircraft. The DC-3 has no steering wheel, so to taxi, the tailwheel lock is pulled out, the brake latch selected off. With taxy clearance received Andre throttled back one engine, opened up the other while treading on the inside brake, we left our confined space. According to Andre, particular care is needed when running downwind, with reduced speed and the tailwheel lock engaged on straight stretches to control the eleven and a half tons of momentum. The modern DC-3’s MTOW is 25,900 lbs. and, with 400 gallons of fuel and 20 passengers, we weighted 25,000 lbs. At the holding point of runway 6L, the engines were run up together at 1,800 rpm. Andrew checked the feathering pumps and doubly checked them out of full fine by exercising the props again. Then rpm were increased one at a time to 2,500, with the sticks held hard back and both of the men clinging on to the snatching columns. They still jerked frantically as Andrew ran up to static boost for the magneto checks. With take-off clearance recieved by the Tower, Andre taxied the aircraft cautiously into the very centre of the small runway. He let it run straight for a few yards to ensure tailwheel lock engagement.
THE EXCITEMENT OF A FLIGHT IN A VINTAGE AIRLINER
Andre released the brakes, increased the throttles and with the roaring sound of the two R1830s engines, coming through the fuselage, ‘Delaney’ started to move forward and shook violently. We were on our way ! The tail came up very rapidly and the old bird was eager to fly, but Andre kept her pointed straight down the runway. With Andrew calling out the rising manifold pressures and, the speed passing fifty knots, he took over the throttles and continued increasing power to 48 inches in a rising crescendo of noise. With full power and 85 knots we were at take-off safety speed and after a couple of ready-to-fly bounces, Andre relaxed the back pressure and allowed her to fly into a shallow, accelerating climb. Once the 91-knot single engine climb speed was indicated, Andre shouted for “Gear up”, releasing the up-locks, then hauled up the big lever on the floor beside him. At 100 knots, with the gear in transit, Andre called for “Power one,” the reduction to the METO (Maximum Except Take- Off) setting of 1,050 bhp at 41 inches and 2,550 rpm.
Once the wheels were up and with the 110-knot two-engine climb speed on the dial, “Power two,” for 35 inches and 2,350 rpm climb-power and “Off we bumbled”. On first contact with Johannesburg Control, Andrew advised our position and speed, and after several further minutes we levelled off a 6,500 feet. Reducing power to 28 inches and 2,050 rpm, Andrew pulled the mixture levers back to auto lean to establish the usual 135-knots cruise, with an average fuel consumption of around eighty gallons per hour. Looking outside I watched those stationary silver blades chattering infinitesimally on their reduction gears in the twilight airflow and gave me tremendous confidence in the aeroplane. I found the nose surprisingly low in the cruise and the forward view consequently very good. The predominant cockpit sound is of the slipstream rather than engine noise.
Flying conditions were smooth, with visibility over thirty miles, and our flightpath took us over the city centre thereby passing, very close,the famous Hertzog Tower. We flew over southern part of the city, and then north until the Kyatarri race track came into view.
A heading of 030 degrees then set the Douglas on course for Pretoria-Wonderboom Airport. Listening in to the R/T revealed little traffic, with only some South-African Airways commuters sharing the frequency.
At 0957, Wonderboom Tower cleared us for a low pass over its 6000 feet runway 11. Next to a Boeing 727-100, several parked DC-3s were spotted in a glimpse. We contacted Johannesburg Control again, and Andre directed ‘ Delaney’ on to a heading of 090 degrees, which took us over the Cullinan diamond mine. After completing two orbits over the mine, during which, Andre executed a slow turn for the photographers on board, we headed west, with the city of Pretoria on the port side of the aircraft and the Hartbeespoort Dam clearly in view ahead on the starboard side.
All too soon we then headed south to prepare for the upcoming landing. Andre configured for the approach in plenty of time, to avoid too many power and pitch changes. He told me that it’s important not to reduce power below fifteen inches until touchdown to prevent the props from driving the engines. We started our descent at 120 knots with 25 inches and 2,050 rpm. Andre then reduced further to eighteen inches to slow below the 139-knot gear limit and 135-knot quarter-flap limit, and called for gear down, one flap and the landing check. Lanseria Tower was contacted on five miles from touch-down, and we received landing clearance together with the wind of 040 degrees at ten knots. Then Andre held us near level again for the speed to drop to 95 knots, using small, early power changes and increasing flap deflections to steepen the approach until he was sure of making the touchdown point.
The headwind demanded a power increase to twenty inches before Andre called for the very effective full (45 degrees) flap at the last minute and reduced to the eighty-knot threshold speed. Wrestling the slow-rolling old lady into line with the runway, Andre established a proper approach angle and a split second later we hit fairly the deck positively with both wheels at once. After a single brief skip and a bit of frantic pushing and pulling, Andre quickly edged the controls forward to pin her down and hold the tail up in clear airflow and with the now remarkably free rudder pedals to keep straight. As Andre did so, Andrew whipped up the flaps, and when they were retracted, Andre lowered the tail and he hauled back on the stick, started squeezing the brakes and cranking on ever more aileron as we slowed to walking pace. Waiting until we were almost stationary, Andre disengaged the tailwheel lock and Andrew completed the rest of the landing check. By a labyrint of taxyways we trundled back to our assigned parking spot.
After the propellers wounded down, our delighted passengers disembarked, we were asked by Andre to come along with ‘Delany’ and them, to Rovos Air maintenance hangar on the south side of the airport. With ‘ Delany’ R1830s re-started, Andre steered ‘CRV’ through a mass of parked and retired Swearingen Metro’s, Gulfstream 1’s and Fokker F-28 Fellowships, to the Rovos ramp. In front of the hangar Rovos Air splendid Convair 440 (officially a VC131-D c/n.228) ZS-BRV was parked, awaiting some maintenance. Andre and Andrew showed us around the facility and many interesting aspects about the company and it’s classic propliner fleet were discussed. As we were scrolling around the crowded ramp we were pleasantly surprised by the sound of a pair of Pratt & Whitney R2800 radials. A Convair 440 appeared on the horizon on approach for Lanseria’s runway 06L. After a textbook landing the mighty Convair taxied to the modern passenger terminal in order to let it’s passengers disembark. It appeared that Rovos Air Convair 440, ZS-ARV, had returned from a flight, bringing back Rovos Train passengers from the Vitoria Fall, Livingstone, Zambia. After the passengers left the luxurious Convair, ‘ ARV’ made its way to its sisterships at the Rovos ramp and, after a short tour onboard this splendid Convair, we concluded our visit with Rovos Air, which gave us a very good opportunity to observe the operations of a well organised Classic air Travel Company.
LUCKY WE HAD BEEN
During lunch that day, we reflected on what a great day it had been and how lucky we had been to be able to fly such historic airliner and I hope that round engined classics like ‘Delany’ will continue to meet the challenges of South-Africa’s unique operating conditions.
Die skiijwer wil graag Andre Balt, Andrew McCloud en Adventures Air Route bedank vir hulle vriendelikheid, behulpsaamheid en bijstand, wat die samenstelling van hierdie artikel moonhik gemaak het.