DC-4 - The Unexpected Flight

I took a most unexpected flight while in South Africa. I got to fly in a Douglas DC-4 Skymaster - the last one ever built - and one of only two remaining in the world carrying passengers. It was an exciting highlight in my aviation enthusiast career!

I had arranged for a tour of the Skyclass facilities on my visit to Johannesburg (Skyclass maintains and operates the historical aircraft fleet for the South African Airways (SAA) Museum Society). While working on the details of my tour, their office manager Maryna asked me whether I was aware that they were selling seats on their DC-4 flying from Johannesburg O.R. Tambo (JNB) to the Swartkop Airshow and back. I was going to the airshow but did not realize there was going to be a chance to fly on a historic aircraft. At a price of 1295 Rands round trip (equivalent to about USD $140) including admission to the airshow, it did not take me long to decide to take the flight.

First, here are some photos from the tour.

Douglas DC-3 "Klapperkop" ZS-BXF (msn 12107, built in 1943) is typically used for luxury safari charters.  "Klapperkop" wears the 1940s SAA livery.

The two Douglas DC-4s on the ramp together.  Skyclass proudly operates the last two passenger DC-4s in the world.  At right is ZS-BMH "Lebombo" in the 1950s livery, at left is ZS-AUB "Outeniqua" in the 1960s livery.

My flight would be on "Lebombo" (msn 43157, built in 1947), the last DC-4 built, making the flight even more special.

Departure from JNB was scheduled at 7:30 am. Check-in was at the domestic terminal and we went through security check like any other flight.

The aircraft was parked at remote on the cargo apron. It was a relatively lengthy bus ride from Gate E2 to the DC-4.

On board it was open seating. But since we had only 19 passengers (the aircraft had seats for 50), we were told to sit near the front.
We had two pilots (both SAA captains), one flight engineer, and two flight attendants on the flight.
At the front of the cabin, the captain briefed us about the flight: it was to be a short flight; normally during cruise, we would be able to go up to the cockpit but there may not be time on this flight.  He told us seeing oil leaking from of the engines was normal - in fact, not seeing oil leaks would be abnormal!  Unlike the DC-7 flight I was on in Florida, there was not so much oil spewing out the engines marring the view out of the windows.
The flight attendants then did their safety brief. Me along with another guy were chosen to assist in the opening and evacuation of the main door at the rear.  We were personally instructed on the door operation.  Since we'd be the first ones down, there would have been climbing down on ropes and supporting the slide as others jumped off. Let's just say I was glad I didn't have to do that for reals!
Since the DC-4 is piston powered, engine start up sounded similar to single engine prop planes I have been in, except a lot louder.
After a long taxi amidst the rush of morning arrivals at JNB, we took off from Runway 03L. We quickly took to the air (given our light weight) and gradually climbed. We had maybe two minutes to explore the cabin and cockpit before being asked to be seated for landing.

On approach to Swartkop, we made a low and fast approach over Runway 02 for a quick performance for the airshow crowd before turning back making a silky smooth landing on that same runway.
The flight took 25 minutes for a distance of 38 miles. Max speed was 180 mph. Highest altitude was 6100 feet msl / ~1400 feet agl.  The flight was low, slow, and over with quickly.

Unfortunately, the sky was most cloudy at the airshow.  Mango 737 flying display was impressive making the crappy weather even more disappointing.
At 3:30 pm, I trekked back to the remote ramp for our scheduled 4 pm departure. While waiting, the sun broke out and I was able to get some beautiful shots of "Lebombo" along with the C-47 parked at the next spot.

Some guy with/in the plane.

We held short of Runway 02 for departure for quite a few minutes while waiting for the final show act to complete and traffic ahead of us to depart.

After departure from Swartkop, we did a very tight 180 back to the runway for a low pass for the airshow. I definitely felt some Gs in that turn!

The flight back to JNB (landing on Runway 21R) was over oh so quickly. Flight time was 23 minutes, distance 46 miles, highest altitude was 6700 feet msl / ~2000 feet agl. 
After parking at the cargo apron, we spent about 10 minutes waiting for the stairs and the bus to arrive, which gave us some time to chat with the captains and take more photos.

What a great way it was to go to an airshow in style instead driving and dealing with traffic!

(Departure from Swartkop and Cabin Walk-through) 


  1. Thanks for sharing Ben! Glad you enjoyed the flight! Was a pleasure to meet you!

  2. Its a wonderful travel log with some great pictures, will have to share this one on my FB wall! Thanks for sharing - Ken


Post a Comment

Popular posts from this blog

My Flight on Concorde

Going Round the World with Star Alliance!

Quickie Trip Report - A Dream Dashed