Opening of the Syferfontein Airfield

By Jenny Zeederberg

23 October 1982

After so many months of problems, crises, difficulties and no airfield, Saturday 23rd October dawned clear and bright for JLPC. There was red dust and blue fibreglass toilets but the move had been made, the runway was tarred, 2 blocks of hangars were up and JLP was alive again.

The official ceremony was simples; a speech from the Chairman, Mr. Phillip Hesselson, who thanked everyone who had made the move possible: Crown Mines, Mr. J. A. Stewart, City Engineer, .Aero Club of South Africa, D.C.A., the JLPC Committee and particularly Paul Godwin. Major General James Gilliland, Chairman of the Aero Club of South Africa, asked to cut the symbolic white ribbon, said that JLPC had shown initiative and determination in the face of adversity and the new airfield would carry “the spirit of Bara-G” into the future. Though a passing glider nearly cut the ribbon prematurely with his wheel, Major General Gilliland officially opened the taxiway and Paul Godwin in ZS-CRB rolled out to make the first ceremonious flight.

He was followed by quite a crowd as Brian Zeederber had co-ordinated an informal air show for the afternoon. Captain Wallace and Richard Proudfoot of the SAAF Museum hovered about in the beautifully restored Fiesler Storch under the watchful eye of Col. Dave Becker.

There were a number of other watchful eyes in the crowd that afternoon. One pair belonged to Karl Sembach of the Directorate of Civil Aviation and another to Mr. Arthur Thomas, Director of Flight Services D.C.A., which somewhat subdued and hi-jinks.

Nick Turvey, looking as good as new, kept a close watch on aerobatics. Another pair of sharp eyes belonged to Mr. J.A. Stewart, City Engineer, who was very impressed with how much work had been done in such a brief time. Mr. Stewart also pointed out that the Syferfontein land is dolomitic and unsuitable for residential purposes. Mr. Stewart also mentioned that Syferfontein is out of the “foggy area”.

The air show, informal though it was, showed just how diverse flying at JLPC is. The many EAA members who flew in represented the large element of home builders. A formation of five Tiger Moths showed the Baragwanath tradition of housing one of the largest Tiger squadrons in the world would continue at Syferfontein. Basil Brandt in the N.A.C. Beech Duchess did a very impressive demonstration, showing that executive twins can also make flying exciting, in the hands of the right pilot. Lucio Vasylenk did a spectacular smoke-trailing aerobatic display followed by Dave Murchie in the Citabria, both representing the aerobatic section and rejoicing in the lack of vociferous residents complaining about revving engines. (Jus a quick reminder here that the 1982 S.A. National Aerobatic Championships will be held in Welkom on 2, 3, 4th December; Contact Brian Zeederberg 786-0814 for details)

Four Pipers took to the air to show that JLPC still has a Flight School to be operated by V. de Villiers, and is aware of modern technology and also showed that not only a Pitts can make a crowd gasp.

Steve Thomas waltzed his glider through the air to remind everyone that though the glider section is based at Donaldson Dam, they are still an active part of JLPC. Mike Piche’s Scorpion helicopter rotored in to show wings are not necessary for flight – a point also made by Richard McLain’s Mitchell Cotts balloon sailing majestically over the hangars power only by hot air. The highlight of the afternoon was the teatime visit of the Spitfire en route from a show at Nylstroom. A series of low level passes culminated in a glorious victory roll much to the delight of the crowd.

Construction of the new clubhouse, designed by Paul Godwin, has begun. The clubhouse will be built in stages, depending on funds and needs, but the foundation will be for a larger building than Stage One which will be ready for Christmas 1982. This will provide a small lounge, kitchen, stores and toilet facilities. The final plans provide for a flight office and lounge, a general lounge, mens and ladies bars, a much larger kitchen and dining room, offices and stores. Contractor Koos Meyer is close to his job as his father is the club’s “landlord”. Much money has already been spent at Syferfontein but it will take a lot more money to duplicate or improve on Baragwanath’s facilities. The petrol pumps are being moved and by Christmas, fuel will be available. Drilling for water is still in progress and positive results are hoped for soon.

The 1 100m (3 600 feet) runway has been tarred, taxiways graded and two blocks of T-hangars erected with the rest to follow shortly. 80 hangars will be available with two ways of renting: a down payment of R800 to cover moving costs and a guaranteed rental for five years of R35 per month or: a straight monthly rental of R65 with no guarantees against escalation.

With no clubhouse, Brian Roach – organiser of the opening festivities – had to make temporary arrangements. Sinclair Perry came to the rescue with a superb lamb-on-a-spit with salads organised by Mrs. Steensma. Mike McAuley did a marvellous job with hotdogs and Tom Botha ensured that no one went thirsty. They all did a great job in less than perfect conditions.

Syferfontein is now well and truly open but it is still nameless. The Committee is open to bids (the highest yet received is R5000) for the naming of the filed so… anyone desirous of joining the ranks of Jan Smuts, Charles de Gaulle and J.F. Kennedy has only to put up his money in order to go down in posterity!