Flying and the use of various types of aircraft in the Maun
region can be traced back to the 1920’s.
The earliest known flights over the Okavango region took place
in July 1925, and were part of a survey of the rivers of the
Okavango region, using aircraft based in
Two aircraft were used and both were the D.H. 9 type, numbers
142 and 144 of the then Union Defense Force of South Africa,
piloted by a Capt. C.W. Meredith and Lieut. L. Tasker. They
routed to Livingstone from Johannesburg via Bulawayo.
This survey, that was also the first aerial survey of the
region, was to investigate the water systems of the Okavango and
Chobe Rivers, with a view to using the waters for a project to
re-route the rivers to form a large lake in the Southern
Kalahari. The lake, it was suggested, would cause an increase in
the annual rainfall in the Southern Kalahari and Northern Cape
and thus assist in the development of agriculture. The Okavango
has been under threat for a long time.
It is also noted that a similar aircraft, a D.H. 9 named -
Voortrekker, of the Union Defense Force, was the first aircraft
ever to land in Bechuanaland – at Palapye in March 1920. Palyape
was the first airfield in Bechuanaland, opened in 1919. Aviation
was then in its infancy and aircraft were very unsophisticated.
1920 was only seventeen years after the first powered flight.
The use of aircraft moved slowly and was, in the early stages,
confined to aviation pioneers who used their private aircraft to
explore the region. Records are confined
to the notes and diaries of those who were involved.
The first aircraft to land in Maun would seem to be a D.H. Puss
Moth, piloted by Pat Judson from Bulawayo. His passenger,
prophetically, was an insurance agent and this took place in
1930. By this time, Maun had been the regional center for
Ngamiland for fifteen years.
The Puss Moth was at that time based in Bulawayo and used for
some of the first aircharter flights. The Maun Airfield was an
open area near the old Riley’s Hotel, an area now occupied by
the new Council Buildings. Flights during the 1930’s used this
airstrip and could re-fuel at Riley’s Garage. All aviation fuel
was brought by truck from Palapye and took three days to make
the journey. Angus McDonald, now living in Johannesburg,
remembers the drive well. He celebrated his twenty-first
birthday on one of the fuel runs in 1939, somewhere near Mopipi.
He worked at the time for the N.T.C. and drove for Riley’s
Flying in the Maun region moved ahead slowly during the first
years after the 1930 landing, but the use of aircraft became
more accepted by the Administration. The then Resident
Commissioner, Sir Charles Ray, was enthusiastic about the use of
aircraft and was instrumental in encouraging the idea of air
transport as a way of opening up the territory. He may have been
partially influenced by his wife Nina, who was a founding member
of the Royal Aeronautical Club in England. As Ray also visited
Maun for the first time in 1930, by road from Kasane, ant
enthusiasm for flying around the territory was probably much
During 1934 Ray had discussions with the Aircraft Operating
Company of South Africa and Captain Douglas, who was the
Johannesburg representative for the De Havilland Aircraft
Company and also the leading light behind the Johannesburg Light
Plane Club at Baragwaneth Airport, where the De Havilland
Aircraft Factory was based. This was with a view to using A.O.C.
De Havilland aircraft for both survey and mail flights in
The result was the first air service in Bechuanaland and the
first such flight to Maun. This took place in a D.H. Leopard
Moth, which flew from Johannesburg to Mafeking and the on to
Serowe, Rakops and Maun. The plane carried mail and had space
for two passengers. The pilot was Captain Francis, and the
flight was on Saturday, May 18, 1934.
One of the veterinary officers at that time, a Doctor John
Hobday, was also using his own Leopard Moth. He flew in and
around Maun to check on outbreaks of foot and mouth disease
amongst the cattle. He flew throughout the region during the
Later during July Ray arranged for a larger aircraft through
A.O.C. and as a result
the first twin engine aircraft, the D.H.
Dragon Rapide, flew into Maun on Tuesday, August 28, 1934. This
was to inaugurate a new regular service between Johannesburg,
Mafeking, Serowe and Maun, returning bt the same route. The
aircraft was also used in maun for checking on foot and mouth
outbreaks. Ray and his party used the aircraft for what was
probably the first scenic or game flight over the Okavango Delta
and Lake Ngami. During this period there were flights in the
Leopard Moth, probably the one belonging to Hobday, between Maun
and Ghanzi and Maun and Palapye.
In 1935 Ray began discussions with R.A.N.A the air service
backed by Imperial Airways and already serving the Rhodesia’s
and Nyasaland, with a view to linking their existing services to
those in Bechuanaland. R.A.N.A. Dragon Rapide’s also began to
visit Maun on charter flights, as did the aircraft of Spencer’s
Air Services from Victoria Falls.
Ted Spencer used the D.H. Fox Moth which could carry a pilot and
four passengers. On one occasion, he was flying from Vic Falls
to Maun with his African assistant when he saw a magnificent
lion in the open area. He landed and shot the lion. He loaded it
into the passenger compartment and continued to Maun, unloading
the lion at Riley’s Garage. Angus McDonald and friends from Maun
made a scenic flight around the Delta with Ted in the Fox Moth
In 1936 Ray had discussions with the new South African Airways,
previously Union Airways, about a service from Johannesburg via
Mafaking, to Maun and Ghanzi, terminating in Windhoek. This
obviously took some time to arrange because of the need for the
right type of aircraft. S.A.A were in the process of ordering
the new Junkers 86 light twin engine passenger airliner which
could cover these routes and carry up to 10 passengers.
Deliveries to S.A.A. started in 1937, the year in which Ray
retired, but his work bore fruit and this service did eventually
start. Regular flights took place from 1938.
An inconvenient incident put a stop to all these flights, and
much more. In September 1939, the world went to war, and the
Junkers? Well they were commandeered by the South African Air
Force and converted into bombers – in fact they were designed as
bombers in the first place. They were moved to Kenya where they
took part in the bombing of Addis Ababa in the campaign against
the Italian forces in Ethiopia.