Across the Southern Ocean


On a wet, dark night in 1948 at 00h00, a Qantas Lancastrian took off from Sydney's Kingsford Smith Airport. Her natural metal finish was decorated with Qantas signage along the fuselage and 'nose art' reminiscent of the type that adorned her World War II ancestors. Painted below the cockpit glazing, were the Australian and South African flags framing the legend 'First direct flight Australia to South Africa across Southern Indian Ocean, Sydney, Perth, Cocos Islands, Mauritius, Johannesburg'.

Under the command of Captain L R Ambrose, Qantas chief pilot, the fourteen passengers expected to cover the 8594 miles in an estimated forty hours of flying. The full complement on board were involved with surveying the route and included Captain W.H.Crowther, operations manager in charge, a team of aviation and department of transport officials, meteorological experts, Shell Oil representatives and Qantas personnel.

Adverse weather conditions and the threat of cyclonic activity delayed the flight in Perth until the early morning of 17 November. Aeradio stations which had been placed around the Indian Ocean ring, were used as direction finding beacons as the flight cruised across the ocean at 200 miles an hour. The Radio Officer, W R Clarke, picked up the beacon on the Cocos Islands, which would otherwise have been very difficult to locate. Touching down at 15h00 local time, they had covered 1833 miles in 8 hours and 39 minutes.

Take off on November 18 was at 21h17, on the 2670 miles leg to Mauritius. Severe weather turned this portion of the trip into an arduous adventure. Overcast conditions and rain made it impossible for the Navigation Officer, J L B Cowan, to obtain the necessary accurate star fixes. He and Clarke worked together through the night, navigating from the stars and taking radio bearings transmitted from Batavia, Ceylon and Mauritius.By applying their wits and using technical aids they managed to guide the Lancastrian to a smooth touch down at Plaisance Airport at 07h31. The flight, at an average speed of 210 miles per hour, had taken 12 hours and 44 minutes. Early the next morning at 7h39, the Qantas plane departed on the final leg of the trip. Fortunately a tail wind increased their speed to 215 miles per hour, with the result that the 1 920 miles were completed in 9 hours and 42 minutes. When she landed at Palmietfontein on 20 November at 15h15, the Lancastrian had been in the air a total of 41 hours and 52 minutes at an average speed of 210 miles per hour. The objectives of the survey had been met. It was possible establish viable air links between South Africa and Australia.


In 1951 the owner of Cocos Islands, John Clunnies-Ross, sold a portion of his land to the Australian Government. Immediately the Royal Australian Air Force moved in to establish an air base. They ripped up the existing steel matting runway and replaced it with a hard surface, constructed from the coral found on the island. A year later Qantas Constellations winged their way to South Africa on a bi-weekly scheduled service.

On the other side of the world and towards the end of 1951 the 3250/3400 hp Curtiss-Wright TC18 Turbo-Compound power unit had become available. This development in aeronautical engineering and its impact on the aviation world, was detailed in the 100th edition of this magazine. Of specific interest to South African aviation was the development of the DC-7 by Douglas Aircraft Corporation. The 'new' aircraft was a slightly lengthened DC-6B, with extended range and was fitted with the TC18, four-blade propellers and titanium nacelles. This became the first commercial carrier capable of operating non-stop transcontinental flights. The DC-7 series went on to become the most popular of the large propeller driven airliners. A longer ranged model, the DC-7B was developed and entered service in 1955. Of a total production run of 112 airframes, four were purchased by South African Airways to replace Lockheed Constellations on their long haul routes. An original order for three DC-7Bs was placed in August 1954, with delivery in 1956. These were given the names of Van Riebeeck's caravelles's 'Drommedaris', 'Reiger' and 'Goede Hoop'. A fourth aircraft delivered later, was christened Chapman, commemorating the vessel that had landed the first 1820 settlers in Algoa Bay. With the entry into service of the DC-7B, SAA achieved the honour of being the first non American operators of this aircraft, and were able to reduced the flying time between Johannesburg and London to a little over 20 hours.

Ocean Schedule

The first SAA DC-7B that flew across the southern ocean, left Johannesburg on 6 November 1957 on a goodwill mission to open the way for reciprocal scheduled flights. Aboard the 'Dommedaris' were the Minister of Transport Ben Schoeman, Railway Commissioner J.J Haywood, South African Railways General Manager D.H.C.du Plessis and the SAA manager Col J.D.T.Louw. The flight covered the 6460 miles in 21 hours and 40 minutes. On the return trip a partnership agreement for a pooled service was agreed on by Australian and South African officials while in transit between Mauritius and Johannesburg.

ZS-DKE - Reiger in Perth 1967

On November 25 1957 at 9h00, ZS-DKE took off on the first flight of the fortnightly Johannesburg to Perth schedule took off from South Africa. Routing was via Mauritius, 1921 nautical miles, Cocos Islands 2683 miles and on to Perth, 1 832 miles, with an elapsed time of 25 hours. The 21 hours of flight time was completed mainly during the night to allow for the more accurate astro navigation techniques to be employed. Initially the service did not prove to be profitable, but communications and trade were of far more importance. Increasing public demand from both countries saw the introduction on May 7 1965, of a weekly flight by each carrier. The 'Goede Hoop' flew the last DC-7B service to Australia on 28 March 1967. She and her sisters had flown 3 622 000 miles and had carried 23 160 passengers. Thereafter the service was flown by the Boeing 707 and a stopover on Cocos Islands was no longer required.


Mondey, D. Aviavion, The complete book of Aircraft and Flight (Octopus Books, London, 1980)

Public Relations Division SAA, 50 Years of Flight, (Da Gama Publishers, Johannesburg)

Lighton, C. Sisters of the South, (Howard Timmins, Cape Town, 1958)


Qantas Airlines

DC7B - HiFlyer Avcom -