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Airship Sheds   Cape Town and Durban
Country: South Africa Locations: Cape Town and Durban
2 Masts
2 Sheds
2 Base Facilities

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.

A collection 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.

They 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.

Maitland - 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.

The missing masthead.

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 early 1929.

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 sheds facilities.

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 AHT.



Cape Town: Views from Table Mountain of Ysterplaat Airfield site today, not to be confused with Cape Town International Airport and Zeppelin NT in Cape Town, Photo courtesy of Chris Scott showing how it "may" have been






South Africa - Cape Town

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