“Pikkie” Rautenbach

Johannes Hendrik “Pikkie” Rautenbach

“Pikkie” Rautenbach was a legend in SA Aviation circles. A WW2 pilot, saw active service in Korea flying Mustangs and F86 Sabre Jets, and the first “official” National Aerobatic Champion of South Africa.

The story of “Pikkie” Rautenbach
By Noel Otten

Phillip Hesselson

Phillip Hesselson

Noel Otten, February 2009

I met Phillip Hesselson in 1970. To me, (at the time 24 years old), he was already an “old” man of 60. He was not an imposing figure by any stretch of the imagination. At 5 ft 5 inches he was shorter than most men. He wore “coke bottle” glasses all his life. A quietly spoken man, reserved, dignified, the epitome of the “perfect” gentleman and a “gentle” man in every sense of the word! Nothing about his appearance or his manner gave one any indication that this man, in his youth, was a man of action! A daring adventurer. Over the years, as I got to know him, I discovered that he was truly an unsung hero of South African aviation history.

To one and all he was “Mr. Hesselson” the Chairman of JLPC!

This is but one story in a life filled with adventure! I hope I can do justice to the memory of a very special man.

The following article was written by Chris Barron of The Star newspaper in 2003 when Phillip Hesselson passed away:

Phillip Hesselson, who has died at the age of 93, was a Johannesburg attorney who flew to London in a two-seater, open cockpit, single-engine Junkers Junior aeroplane in 1937. He had no radio and his only (navigational) instrument was a compass.

Hesselson took off from Baragwanath Airfield near Johannesburg in August of that year and arrived in Croydon,
London, 29 days later after being in the air for 100 hours. On his trip up Africa, around the eastern side of the Mediterranean, and across Eastern Europe, he had to land every 300 miles to refuel.

His exploit was in response to a competition for the longest flight ending in London. Hesselson won easily; his closest rival having flown all the way from Liverpool. He received a trophy from the legendary British aviatrix, Amy Johnson.

From Baragwanath, Hesselson, with his friend, Len Fisher, set off for Uganda where he flew into what he described as “the mother and father” of all storms. For 30 minutes he battled through the storm at full throttle at 70 mph, barely managing to keep his plane, Silver Bird, from hitting the tree-tops.

He flew over dense jungle, bush, swamp and desert, with no sign of human habitation for hundreds of miles.

They flew over the Taurus Mountains in southern Turkey which rise 8000 feet above sea level in freezing
temperatures. A man, not given to exaggeration, Hesselson described those 50 minutes it took to cross the mountain range as a “nightmare”.

Uncomfortably close below them were the wickedly jagged peaks separated by yawning ravines.

They crossed the Black Sea and flew for hundreds of miles following the railway line used by the “Orient Express”. By the time they reached Budapest three weeks into their trip, the pair looked so bedraggled in their khaki shorts that the reception clerk at the posh hotel they wanted to book into, sniffily suggested that they try a cheap “pension” at the other end of town.

From Budapest they flew 130 miles up the Danube to Vienna where Hitler had just finished the annual political rally – colossal “Nazi” banners still flapping in the breeze. Being Jewish, Hesselson and Fisher flew on.

After a 40 minute refuelling stop in Frankfurt, they took off hastily for Croydon. Hesselson had no proper charts for this leg and once in the air, realised that the antiquated map he’d found in a back-street shop in Budapest was hopelessly inadequate.

He had permission for only one landing in Germany and given the frightening political climate, decided to press on to Britain, more than 300 miles away, and hope for the best.

One hour off the French coast, there was still no sign of England and Hesselson knew they didn’t have enough fuel to turn back. He realised, with a sense of mounting panic, that they were completely lost, and that if they ran out of fuel, they would drown.

He decided that the only solution was to climb as high as possible. If they still couldn’t see any land, and ran out of fuel, then he would dive the aircraft straight down into the sea. “If we had to die, I decided it was going to be a quick death” he wrote later.

They’d reached 7000 ft, when what looked like a bank of fog, 2 miles away, turned out to be land. Hesselson did a forced landing on the first field he saw. He had one and a half gallons of fuel left, enough for another 15 minutes of flying.

On his way back to South Africa he was hit in the chest by the propeller while starting the engine in Palestine. He crawled into the cockpit and continued down the east coast of Africa in excruciating pain. When he reached home, he discovered he’d been flying with fractured ribs.

When World War 2 started 2 years later, Hesselson wanted to be a fighter pilot, but failed his eye test and became a navigator instructor instead.

Hesselson was born in Standerton on June 13 1910, the son of a wagon-maker from Lithuania. He studied law at Wits University and was still practicing as an attorney until 3 weeks before his death. His wife, Pauline, whom he married in 1951, died in 1975.

Chris Barron

Phillip Hesselson remained an active pilot until he was into his 80s. He had 2 passions in life, his Mooney and his Alfa Romeo.

In spite of the fact that he had to discipline me on one or two occasions, he never showed any animosity towards me. I served on the committee for many years under his chairmanship and today, I occupy that same seat. He was at the helm of the Johannesburg Light Plane Club when it made the move to the Syferfontein site. He gave the club direction during those difficult times. I hope I do justice to the chair that he once occupied.

Alan Hindle

Alan Hindle was an aviation artist through the 1950s to 1980s. Many considered him to have been an underrated talent. His passion was aircraft, especially biplanes of the 1920s and 1930s, and WW2 aircraft. However, he was often commissioned to paint many “modern” types as well. In his later years he even turned his brushes to painting maritime scenes.

Alan owned and flew a de Havilland DH.82A Tiger Moth, ZS-DNP, and for many years he was particularly good at painting “Tigers”.

A biography of Alan Hindle by Noel Otten

Below are examples of his works of art, some of which adorn the walls of the Johannesburg Light Plane Club clubhouse at Baragwanath Airfield.

Jackie Moggridge

1938. Jackie Moggridge (nee Dolores Theresa Sorour) learns to fly at Baragwanath. She was the first woman in South Africa to do a parachute jump. Jackie was to become one of the top lady pilots of the Air Transport Auxilllary (ATA). She was awarded RAF wings in 1953.

More info here: 

Stanley Halse

Stanley Seward Halse

By Lawrence Milner

Stan Halse was the Chairman and Flying Instructor at the Johannesburg Light Plane Club (JLPC) from 1929-1937. He was a founding member together with Rod Douglas, seen below running up the Percival Mew Gull ZS-AHO named “Baragwanath” in honour of his home aerodrome on September 15th, 1936 at Gravesend U.K. which was entered for the Schlesinger, Portsmouth to Rand Airport Race.

The colour scheme for this aircraft was Titanine pillar-box red overall with the lettering and the name in gold. Two of his pupils, Mr. ‘Rex’ Hull and Sir George Albu, put up the funds for the purchase of this aircraft from Percival’s factory at Gravesend.

This ‘Mew Gull’ was one of three entered for the race, the other entries were Major Allister Miller in ZS-AHM and Tom Campbell Black in G-AEKL.

Unfortunately Tom Campbell Black was killed at Speke Airport when a Hawker ‘Hart’ ran into him and sliced into his cockpit with its propeller.

Major Miller was forced to abandon the race at Belgrade owing to a faulty fuel feed.

Of the nine entrants to the race, only one succeeded in finishing – which was a Percival Vega Gull flown by Scott and Guthrie.

Stan Halse, who was well ahead of the race, attempted a landing in a field just outside Salisbury, Rhodesia in order to establish his position, not perceiving that it had been ploughed and the clods of earth jammed his wheels causing the plane to flip on its back and hurling Stan Halse through the cockpit and breaking his collar bone – he was hospitalized for two weeks.

Stan Halse’s Percival Mew Gull was powered by a Gipsy Six Series 2 – 205 HP engine with a two bladed 7ft diameter de Havilland variable pitch propeller.

Percival Mew Gull ZS-AHO (G-AEMO) named “Baragwanath”
Photograph: Noel Otten Collection

Pat Judson

Early in August, 1929, Pat Judson joined the Johannesburg Light ‘Plane Club at Baragwanath Aerodrome to undergo the flying and technical training necessary for the “B” commercial pilot’s licence which he would require for his new career and, on August 31st, the Bulawayo Chronicle reported that “a Rhodesian farmer, Mr. D S. Judson, is now learning to fly with the J.L.P.C. – he went solo on the 27th”.

The full article by J McAdam can be found here: 

Dick Bentley – Pioneering Spirit

This is the story of one who preferred to live in the open, rather than within the confines of a London office, a condition
that has beset the lives of millions of worthy but less fortunate people.

The story of Richard Reid “Dick” Bentley and his flight from England to South Africa in de Havilland DH60X Moth G-EBSO (c/n 419). Bentley and the Moth, fitted with a Cirrus Mark II engine, left London on September 1, 1927. Dick landed at Baragwanath Aerodrome on Monday, 26 September 1927. He arrived in Cape Town on September 28, 1927 having flown a distance of approximately 7,250 miles, achieving the then record longest solo flight.

Some British Pathe newsreel footage of the Christening of G-EBSO “Dorys” here (Website)

Some photographs of de Havilland DH60X Moth c/n 419 G-EBSO “Dorys” here  (PDF)

Cecil Robert “Tommy” Thompson

Tommy was a founder member of the Johannesburg Light Plane Club at Baragwanath. He was involved with the South African Aerial Transports Ltd., using Avro 504K aircraft. He was the first pilot to “loop the loop” in South Africa.