South Africa had been
one of the key points of reference in the International
trade routes, and since the British had key connection with
this country, it was seen as a crucial point for all trade,
commerce and communications.
of staff left London consisting of GP Cpt Fellowes (Director
of Airship Development) Mr M A Giblett (Superintendent of
Airship Meteorological Work) and Fl Lt S Nixon, attended
a meeting of the South African Civil Air Board in the Post
Master General Office in Cape Town on Monday 4th April 1927.
advised the board of the specifications for mooring masts,
weather research, wireless requirements and logistics for
airships ,including methods of production of hydrogen.
The proposed visit by
an airship was scheduled for late 1928 to early 1929. The
recommendations stipulated that the bases should be at sea
level due to the fact that each 1000 feet of altitude reduced
the lifting capacity of an airship by one 30th.
Hence with this stipulation,
Cape Town was selected as one of the South African bases.
Durban being the other possibility for mooring sites.
Cape Town City Council,
realising the economic and prestige advantages of the proposed
base , resolved to give the venture their full support.
A site was identified in the Maitland - Goodwood area that
met the requirements of space, proximity to the city yet
sufficiently removed from any mountain or other obstructions.
Today the site is the
militarty Ysterplaat Airfield, close to the city centre.
- Brooklyn - Ysterplaat.
From as early as 1929,
the site of Ysterplaat Airforce Base was being used as a
civilian airfield, orignially named as Maitland Aerodrome.
African Air Transport (AAT) opened at Maitland in 1938,
and was involved in training pilots for the Union Air Training
Group's pupil pilot training scheme. AAT moved to Tempe
at the start of World War II and Maitland was taken over
by the South Africa Airforce (SAAF). On October 24, 1941,
Air Force Station Brooklyn, as it was then known, opened
as a SAAF unit. Activities on Brooklyn scaled down so much
that the airfield was nearly presented to the private sector.
In 1946, the first jet aircraft to reach South Africa, a
Gloster Meteor III, was assembled and flown at Brooklyn.
On the 1st April 1949 Air Force Station Brooklyn was renamed
Air Force Station Ysterplaat.
The plans did not come
to fruition with the construction of a mast due to the crash
of the R101 and the cancellation of the Imperial Airship
Scheme. However the area which the airship base was to be
sited was in fact utilised later on as an air base.
Babcock and Wilcox Ltd
were the main contractors for the mast head machinery. They
had already produced the mooring machinery for the Cardington,
Ismaila and Karachi masts . The second sets of orders were
already being placed and the Montreal and South Africa masts
were ordered at the same time and it is noted that Babcock
and Wilcox gave a 2% discount on the mast head prices due
the "bulk" order. The Montreal mast was completed first
as it was the Montreal trip was which deemed to be one of
the primary trips for the demonstration flights of the new
airships. This was delivered to Montreal in August 1928
and so it is expected that, at that time, the South African
mast heard would have been completed after this date, maybe
Whatever happened to
the South African masthead was unknown but however years
later a comment was made to a member of the AHT stating
that when posted in Aden during the second world war, a
"airship masthead was seen in storage". How true this is,
we cannot confirm, however it would tie in with the fact
that the Canadian mast had to be constructed first as it
was always agreed as part of the "demonstration" flights
of the 1924 Airship Programme. Therefore if the first masthead
was constructed and delivered in 1928 then the second mast
head would have been constructed and also forwarded for
onward delivery to South Africa. Aden is a key port for
trade on the west coast of Africa. On the 1926 proposal
map, both Cape Town and Durban are noted, however on a later
edition map, presumed to be end of 1930 shows both Durban
and Cape Town to be proposed Airship bases with masts and
In the Durban area it
was known that a series of farms were purchased for the
proposed mast site and landing area for airships. The exact
location of these farms is still being investigated by the