On Sunday I visited the South African Airways Museum on the grounds of Rand Airport in Germiston. I’d say I’m an amateur aviation geek. Could I tell you what the serial, basic and variable numbers of a plane are? No. Expert aviation geeks can, frankly I don’t know what half of that means, most people probably don’t. Can I tell the difference between a Boeing 747 and an Airbus A340? Yes! Believe me, I never even took notice of the models before last year when out of nowhere the aviation bug bit me which has lead to many afternoons sitting in a field next to the airport watching countless departures and arrivals of domestic and international airlines.
I decided to check out the SAA Museum mainly because two of SAAs Boeing 747s came to rest here, Lebombo and Maluti named after mountain ranges in South Africa. 747s are my favourite plane by far, I think they are amazing machines! I was so happy when I realised that you could actually board Lebombo and explore the aircraft! Right at the front of the plane is first class and it reaches right to the nose. I remember thinking how strange it looked compared to first class nowadays. It could’ve almost passed for a living room in someone’s house. The cockpit is upstairs, along with what I presumed was the elite first class area and a small bunk for the off duty pilots. The cockpit itself was amazing, it’s closed off unless there is an official to open it and supervise you in case you try to steal the plane (just kidding, kind of. It is considered a live plane apparently). The amount of buttons, gauges, levers and switches was incredible! It makes you wonder how the pilots remember which switch is what! Back on the lower deck was the business class area and the economy area which spread to the back of the plane. I explored the very claustrophobic looking bunks for the off duty flight attendants. It didn’t really occur to me that planes had these. South African Airways flew 747s back in the apartheid days. They needed long haul planes because most of the African countries didn’t want South African planes in their airspace due to the fact that they disagreed with apartheid, this was called “the overflight ban”. SAA had to fly right round the coastline of Africa to reach their destinations. The flights being a good few hours longer than they are now required two flight crews as they are only allowed to work a maximum of 12 hour shifts. Most of the flights to Europe were at least 13 hours or more. Before the Boeing 747SP was introduced SAA had to refuel in the countries that didn’t fall under the overflight ban. The South African government eventually paid for an airport to be built on Sal Island in Cape Verde to provide a permanent refuelling stop for those flights. When the 747SP was introduced in the late 70s nonstop flights were finally possible! Maluti was a 747SP and is considerably shorter in size compared to Lebombo, a 747-244B. The SP stood for “Special Performance” and the weight saved by the shortened fuselage permitted longer range and increased speed.
The SAA Museum has a few other planes. The Douglas C-118A Liftmaster (DC-6A) is also open for viewing. Its visibly an old plane and there is only about six rows of seats left in it. I did read that they used this plane for a film shoot as the registration on the plane is a fake one, so perhaps the interior was modified for this shoot too. It was also used in the series Generation Kill but this is apparently not where the fake registration originated from. American Ninja: The Confrontation 2 also has a scene that was filmed at Rand Airport but there is no solid evidence indicating which movie the registration was changed for.
I’d love to tell you what the rest of the planes were but there were unfortunately no information boards divulging anything about them which was rather disappointing. The museum does list the aircraft models on their website but there isn’t reference photos so even that doesn’t really help.I’d prefer if there were stands giving some information about the planes, their models, wingspan, first flight etc. I have researched all the information about the 747s and Douglas C-118A Liftmaster. None of this was available in the aircraft park. There is a display hall opposite the park where as quoted from the SAA Museum website “Historic items such as photographs, aircraft models, crew uniforms, aircraft instruments, timetables and small artefacts of SAA and general civil aviation memorabilia are on display”. You can also purchase your tickets within the display hall from a friendly older gentlemen dressed in a pilots uniform. Ticket prices are as follows:
The SAA Museum is open to the public from Wednesday-Sunday 9am-3pm. Mondays and Tuesdays are by appointment only.
There is a restaurant behind the display hall called FlyBoys which has a fantastic atmosphere and just down the road, inside the gates of Rand Airport is the Harvard Cafe which looks right onto the runways and is perfect for plane spotting!
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Till next time friends,
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