Wednesday, 18 September 2013

A Tribute to Captain Colman Myers

A TRIBUTE TO CAPTAIN COLMAN MYERS —  FOUNDER OF RHODESIA UNITED AIR CARRIERS AND DEDICATED TO AVIATION IN RHODESIA.
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Compiled by George R MAWSON, September 2013.

Colman Myers and DH Dragon Rapide of Victoria Falls Airways.

Colman Myers, born in Salisbury Southern Rhodesia in 1913, was the son of a pioneer photographer whose old pictures  — some dating back to 1897 — are stored in the National Archives. He was educated in the Belgian Congo and then at Milton School, Bulawayo, but after leaving school young Colman had difficulty deciding whether to be an electrician or a professional wrestler. As an amateur wrestler from the age of 16 he was unbeaten between 1929 and 1937, often giving away as much as 20 kgs to an opponent. When he decided to take a crack at the tougher South African opposition illness robbed him of his one chance at an amateur title, so he turned professional. "Over weekends I used to pick up 30 South African pounds — a lot of money in those days —  wrestling in Lourenco Marques, Mocambique and all over the Transvaal. I did quite well, but my weight was against me; it was the heavier boys who made the real money."

Newly married, Mr Myers returned to Bulawayo where he took on work as an electrician. However it was not long before World War II intervened and he joined up and left for Britain with the first draft of Royal Air Force recruits. At the age of 26 he was considered too old to fly and was given the job of physical training instructor with 44 (Rhodesia) Squadron. But later, when the age limit was raised, a friendly officer coached him through the maths he needed to qualify for pilot training and he spent the next few years, between 1942 and 1945, as an instructor in the Rhodesia Air Training Group. When the war ended he was back in Britain, awaiting posting to the Far East.    

But this never came and he returned to Bulawayo where he was given his electricians job back and promoted to foreman. However, the old job quickly palled, as he had been bitten by the "flying bug". This marked the beginning of a new era in his life. Buying a war surplus Tiger Moth in 1946 (VP-YJN: previously RATG, DX699) he advertised joy rides at £1 a head, which in one weekend earned him more than the £160 that the aircraft had cost him. He soon discovered that he could make more money giving flying lessons, before and after work, than he did as an electrician and he quickly saved enough to buy a new Piper Cub (VP-YFK). The time had come to quit the electrical business and start his own charter company. "I never really enjoyed the job, I was much happier getting paid for something I really enjoyed doing. We were pretty small to begin with — a secretary, engineer, office, one aircraft and myself as the pilot."

During 1948 he was approached by a Bulawayo Attorney Mr Abe Abrahamson, later a Southern Rhodesia Cabinet Minister, and told of the decision to start an Israeli Air Force. There was an urgent need for skilled flying instructors, and would he be willing to go? Mr Myers readily accepted the offer and travelled to the training base, a small flying field near Rome, as Israel itself did not have any training facilities of its own. The scheme had been going for just two months and things were still pretty disorganised and some sort of order was required. The Israelis had recruited a dozen or so Americans, a mixture of ex Army, Air Force, and Navy instructors, all with different training methods. It became obvious to Mr Myers that the ambitious scheme would get nowhere unless things were standardised. And he was equally convinced that the RAF training methods he had used during the Second World War, to turn out scores of pilots at flying schools in Rhodesia, were more practical and superior to the American system.  

He convinced the Israelis that the British methods were the best and within two months he had standardised the training syllabus and was then promoted to chief instructor. "We were turning out about 80 pilots at a time using an odd assortment of training aircraft, mainly Italian." By 1978 many of the men he had trained held key positions in the Israeli Air Force and directed the air strikes of that year in the Arab-Israeli war. By sheer coincidence the Minister of Defence, Ezer Weizman, was one of them. His spell as a full time instructor in Israel lasted for six months, during which "I was homesick for Rhodesia and anxious to see how my business was shaping."  

But, over the next four years, acting as an advisor, he made several trips back to Israel. "The early air force was a pretty crude affair," he recalls. "They were actually tossing bombs out of Piper Cubs and the chap who did the throwing was called the Bomb Chucker." Besides helping with training, Mr Myers regularly ferried new aircraft to Israel which the air force badly needed to build up its strength. This job had attendant dangers! On one occasion, whilst ferrying in a new plane from South Africa, he had to falsify his flight plan and give his destination as Cairo so that he could land en route and refuel at Wadi Halfa in the Sudan. Landing at Eilat, instead of Cairo, the aircraft was promtly surrounded by gun toting Israeli troops who wanted to know what he was doing there. "I can't speak Hebrew and things were pretty hairy until I was able to produce my letter of authorization from the Israeli government." 

Returning to Rhodesia, Mr Myers continued to expand his business, absorbing Zambesi Airways. And the acquisition of Victoria Falls Airways Pvt. Ltd. from Ted Spencer, marked the beginning of the Victoria Falls branch. The business became known as Air Carriers and by then its fleet consisted of the original Tiger Moth, a de Havilland Rapide, an Auster (which was selling charters for 10 pence a mile) and a Fairchild F.24 Argus war surplus aircraft. During the following year the operation gathered momentum and other smaller charter companies were acquired, including Commercial Air Services, Flights Pvt Ltd, Hunting Clan African Airways Pvt Ltd and Fish Air Pvt Ltd. At this stage the company changed its name to Rhodesia United Air Carriers. One major set back occurred in 1955 when a freak storm destroyed the Victoria Falls hangar, together with two D H Rapides and damaged several other aircraft. But the blow was temporary and the company quickly recovered, under Mr Myers' guidance, and by 1978 RUAC it was operating 13 aircraft — most of them twin engined machines, based in Salisbury, Bulawayo and Victoria Falls.

VP-YOK Cessna 195 Businessliner of Commercial Air Services.

VP-YOM  Apache PA-23 over Bulawayo in 1957.

VP-YFU, Fairchild F.24R Argus III of Air Carriers and Victoria Falls Airways at Marlborough in 1952/3 (with Liz Elliot)

Victoria Falls Airways



Old RUAC Advertisement
Old snap shot of Victoria Falls taken from a Rapide.

RUAC Fleet

Text for above reads:-

AIRCRAFT OF THE RUAC FLEET
Beechcraft Queen Air. The latest and finest in executive air transport seating four passengers in luxurious comfort and with utility seats for three more. There are cabin tables, a refreshment bar and toilet. The cabin is completely for airborne conferences or other business of a confidential  nature And it can carry seven passengers at over 200 m.p.h. non-stop from Salisbury to any point
in Southern Africa.

Hawker Siddeley Dove. This aircraft is well known and very popular throughout the world as an executive and feeder line transport aircraft. In the spacious cabin of the RUAC, version nine passengers can be seated in individual. J.P. seats very comfortably, quietly and privately. A large door permits easy and dignified entrance and exit and two big compartments provide adequate baggage/ cargo capacity.

Beechcraft Baron. A five passenger aircraft which combines superlative comfort with high cruising speed and long range capability Of interest to the medical services is a specially designed door to enable rapid and direct loading of stretcher patients. With passenger seats removed this door also permits loading of bulky cargo items. The Baron is the latest and most versatile light twin
engine aircraft available.

Birds Eye

Flight of Angels

Text for above reads:-
FLIGHT OF THE ANGELS
(Duration 15 minutes)
Winging low over The Folls and gorges, one thrills at the grandeur of this magnificent sight that can only be truly absorbed from the air. No traveller can claim to have viewed this natural wonder of the world in its entirety without seeing it from the air.

This aptly named flight in a twin-engined Piper Aztec is designed for the keen photographer and adventurous traveller, giving a bird's eye view of Africa's greatest geographical feature - VICTORIA FALLS.

SPRAYVIEW AIR SAFARI
(Duration 30 minutes)
Departures from Sprayview are in the early morning or late afternoon, the ideal time to view Africa's paradise of wildlife. Your journey takes you along the Chamabonda Vlei, across thickly forrested areas to Chunda Loop on the mighty Zambesi, then down the South Bank to The Falls. You circle the mist of Mosi-Oa-Tunya and capture the brilliance of one of nature's miracles.

This flight is designed to give the visitor with limited time in Victoria Falls the opportunity to see as much of the mighty spectacle and surroundings as possible.

ZAMBESI SKY SAFARI
(Duration 75 minutes)
Take-off in a twin engined Piper Aztec aircraft is timed to catch wild life on the move. You circle low over herds, roaming the wide savannah and bushland. One of the most densly populated areas of wildlife in Africa, you are assured of excellent game viewing. Pilots are specially chosen for their ability to spot wildlife in their natural environment, and when they do, swoop low over them enabling passengers an excellent view that will be cherished for a life time.

On your return this superb flight is climaxed with a breathtaking look at The Falls.

Transport
United Air Charters provides a courtesy transport service to and from Sprayview aerodrome for all their passengers in Victoria Falls.

A minimum of four passengers is required on all flights. This can be arranged when making your reservation.

CONTACT US ON VICTORIA FALLS 220 OR THROUGH ANY UNITED TOURING COMPANY OFFICE. 
DH 89A Rapide VP-YOL over the "The Grand old Lady" of the Falls.

Despite heading a burgeoning business, Mr Myers refused to stay desk bound, preferring the cockpit and a singularly fortunate flying record; there were only two mishaps in 37 years. 
Soon after World War II an Auster Autocrat he was flying had lost its propeller over Wankie National park. Cutting the engine, Mr Myers managed to glide down and land in a clearing near a herd of elephants. He then had a 16 kilometre hike to the nearest game camp for help. Later the aircraft was dismantled and hauled to Dett and reassembled with a new propeller. Mr Myers used the main road as a runway and flew back to Bulawayo. 

"We never did find the old one," he said.

Nearly 30 years were to pass before the next mishap. Indulging in low level aerobatics near Bulawayo in his own small aircraft, a Tipsy Nipper, he was suddenly in trouble when the engine cut out. "I didn't have the height to start her again and ended upside down in a mealie  (Maize) field." He was in contact with Bulawayo control tower throughout and gave an ongoing account of what was happening, until some help arrived and he was able to get out of the cockpit. "I was most fortunate that the aircraft did not catch fire as I was trapped inside.'' 

Over the years Mr Myers piloted many mercy missions, from Italian workmen injured on the Kariba Dam project, to emergency appendicitis cases.   
He also flew Rhodesia's first cloud seeding operation, "Nobody knew quite what to expect. The Cessna Centurion we picked for the mission had no de-icing equipment and we were called on to fly at around 22 thousand feet in temperatures of -15° to -10° centigrade, but all went well. "The only hitch, in fact, was on the ground with a barrage of complaints about too much rain and hail. What made us laugh was that the complaints came in before we had even started seeding!"   

Mr Myers had little sympathy for old timers who complained that modern developments in aviation, particularly in instrumentation, had taken a lot of the fun out of flying. "In the old days flying could be really dicey, flying in and out of hills in thick guti (mist) just to get from Bulawayo to Fort Victoria was no fun at all.  Now you fly over it all, and if necessary land on instruments at the other end; it's much easier and far safer." 

Twice rewarded for his services to aviation in Rhodesia, Mr Myers received the Pat Judson Trophy and the Royal Aeronautical Society (Rhodesia Division) Award in 1968 for his outstanding contributions to aviation. In 1976 he was appointed a member of the Legion of Merit in recognition of his 36 years of service. At the age of 65 he was still flying and reckoned he had a few more years in the cockpit ahead of him. "I am convinced my early years of wrestling are paying dividends today, I am still pretty fit." 

Apache PA-23.


Aztec

Final Approach, Sprayview.

Pilot Charles Bewes.

Close up of Pilot Bewes

Text for above reads:-
Our aircraft will never leave without you

On charter, the aircraft and its pilot are exclusively at your service. Just say where and when you wish to go, in a modern twin-engine aircraft, then leave the rest to RUAC. For over 25 years our experienced pilots have been flying businessmen, tourists and others in VIP comfort direct to points far and wide across Central and Southern Africa. Rhodesia's most experienced charter operators also offer a speedy air ambulance service. For details see your travel agent. Air Rhodesia or RUAC.

RUAC
RHODESIA UNITED AIR CARRIERS
From Salisbury, Bulawayo and Victoria Falls
SALISBURY
P.O. Salisbury Airport. Tolophone 50505 - Telex:No. RH4I32
BULAWAYO
P.O. Bulawayo Airport. Telephoro: 82283
VICTORIA FALLS
P.O. Victoria Falls. Telephone. 220
After Hours: 214.

Flights
RU1, RU2 and RU3
are from Victoria Falls
(Sprayviow Aerodrome)

Acknowledgement — Photographs of Sable. Karlba and Gemsbok by Mitch Spencer, Sopers .Victoria Falls.
Printed by City Printers.

FARES ARE SUBJECT TO CHANGE WITHOUT NOTICE.

The Queen Air advertisement

Pilot Stan Murray with Dan Eardley boarding.

Text for above reads:-
ISN'T IT TIME YOU FLEW QUEEN AIR?

"["HERE are many reasons why the men who appreciate the good things in life always fly Queen Air They like its comfort and speed The way it cruises effortlessly at over 200 m p h. taking them to far distant places quickly and easily in executive style
They enjoy the luxury of the Queen Air s spacious cabin — its wall-to-wall carpeting, four contoured reclining chairs, foldaway desk tables, refreshment cabinets and comfortable cloakroom And the way they can convert the cabin into a private secluded conference room or office in the sky simply by closing a compartment door An office where they can work without interruption while flying smoothly around the country visiting branch offices, isolated farms and mining or engineering projects in remote areas The Queen Air is exclusively theirs while they travel and the only time-table is the one they choose to fit their own crowded schedules.

ITALICS (There is also utility space for three more passengers if you want to take /unior members of your staff or your secretary with you ) END ITALICS

Most of all men at the top like the Queen Air's record of reliability and safety A record zealously guarded by RUAC's experienced pilots and highly qualified ground crew.

Isn't it time you too flew Queen Air?

THE Queen Air with its unparalleled comfort and luxury is undoubtedly the pride of the RUAC fleet But it is only one of the charter aircraft maintained by RUAC at Salisbury. Bulawayo and Victoria Falls. If you need to send staff out on a quick sales campaign want to land technicians at a remote construction site; deliver machinery or raw materials to a stalled production line or need an aerial ambulance to fly an injured employee to hospital-
Telephone RUAC—there's a Baron, Apache or Aztec waiting to do the job for you. They are all comfortable, reliable aircraft piloted by men who have flown the African continent in good weather and bad Men who know they can rely on their aircraft because the RUAC fleet is maintained by highly qualified engineers in RUAC's own workshops.

Why waste time?
RUAC is only a telephone call away

RHODESIA UNITED AIR CARRIERS
Tel. Salisbury 50505 
P O. Box AP 50, Salisbury Airport.
Telex: RH 4132. Cables: RUAC.
or
Tel Bulawayo 82283 (After hours 89280).
P 0 Box QP 81, Queens Park, Bulawayo
Cables RUAC
or
Tel Victoria Falls 220 (After hours 214}
P.O Victoria Falls
Cables. RUAC
or
Telephone your nearest Travel Agent

Queen Interior

Text for above reads:-
RUAC added a Queen Air to its fleet to solve problems - the problems  or people like you - the man at the top who wants to go places quickly, easily and in executive comfort. The Queen Air is a time tested proven aircraft specifically tailored to meet the needs of busy executives who expect - and get - the best.

JUST close the compartment door (above) and the Queen An cabin converts into an airborne conference room or office, Foldaway desk tables (right) provide ample work space while the well fitted refreshment cabinet(centre right) carries hot and cold dunks and meals. And at your journeys end the aircraft door (far right) allows maximum ease of exit.

VP-YWT

Text for above reads:-
Cool and quiet flight at 225 m.p.h.
Even while cruising at 225 m.p.h. the Baron's special insulation and the three bladed propellors driven by World Renowned Continental Engines help to en sure a restful journey. And though you may travel under the African sun, there is no temperature problem. For the Baron is fitted with individual passenget ventilators. You can adjust them as you wish.
Luxurious RUAC Beechcraft Baron

Pilot Bill "Jonah" Jones.

Air Safaris and Pleasure Flights Advertisements

Text for above reads:-
UNITED AIR CHARTERS (PVT) LTD
United Air Charters also operate from our capital city and from Bulawayo. We have more than 30 years experience in the Tourist and Air Charter business and we lead the field — fee choice is yours. You have every right to expect experience and efficiency from the people you chose to fly with.

Business, pleasure, air-ambulance or hot shot cargo, we offer personal service to most destinations in Africa.

We have a versatile fleet of twin erujined aircraft includung  a sleek executive jet at your disposal.

Contact our offices on—
Bulawayo — 26318 (24 Hz. Service)
Harare — 50505 (24 Hz. Service)
Victoria Falls - 220 (After Hrs. 574)

"Scenes so lovely must have been gazed upon by angels in their flight." David Livingstone


Rhodesia by Light Aircraft

Text for above reads:-
Above: Exciting game-viewing flights can be undertaken over the Victoria Falls
National Park.

Left: A few minutes after landing at Wankie airfield, the air traveller can be taken on a comprehensive game-viewing drive in micro-buses that provide an ideal mobile viewing- platform.

Left: The world's greatest waterfall, the 1½-mile-wide 350- foot-high Victoria Falls, the Immensity of which can only be truly appreciated from the air. Game-viewing, river cruises and sight-seeing are other daytime activities, while at night the thrills of the Casino (right) attract the visitors

Commemorative ashtray

Of his decision to step down as RUAC's managing director in 1978 Mr Myers said, "It's just that I've had enough of running a business." He remained a director of the company and was open to giving flying lessons and general flying. But in 1983 when taking off on a photographic flight with a photographer as passenger, the engine failed at about 50 to 60 feet. Behind their seats was 300lbs of photographic equipment. "I put  the nose down, but was concerned that all the photo equipment would shoot forward and crush us against the instrument panel. I eased the control column back and we hit the ground very hard." The passenger had leaned forward with his hands resting on the instrument panel and on impact both his wrists were broken. Mr Myers himself suffered a compression fracture of his spine and was in severe pain thereafter, remaining crippled and unable to walk. I last saw him at his home in August 1985. He was not well at all, complaining of constant pain night and day, and could only shuffle around with the help of a Zimmer frame. 

Captain Colman Myers passed away on 5 November 1985 at the age of 72. Thus ended the life of a truly great pilot and fine gentleman who was greatly appreciated by his pilots and staff. His experience, leadership and devotion to the company was largely responsible for making Rhodesia United Air Carriers into the largest charter operator in Central Africa. 

From the brochure "Rhodesian Light Aircraft"

RUAC over the Falls

Photo credits, with thanks, to everyone on the Facebook site "They Served Africa with Wings" who contribute generously to our growing photo archive of aviation in Africa. And to George Mawson himself — thanks for adding some great old RUAC adverts. David Newnham's definitive register of Rhodesian aircraft is forever helpful. 

A sequel to this article will show that Colman Myers' wonderful legacy to aviation lived on... in the form of United Air Carriers and United Air Services, Zimbabwe.

Thanks to Mitch for sharing this story with ORAFs, thanks also to all those that contributed information and photographs to Mitch.

Comments are always welcome, please mail them to Eddy Norris at orafs11@gmail.com 

(Please visit our previous posts and archives

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2 Comments:

At 29 September 2013 at 13:36 , Blogger Rhodesia Remembered said...

Chris Higginson Writes:-

A very big thank you to George Mawson for writing this detailed history of Coleman Myers.

It brought back many memories for me, about him and the other pilots of RUAC back in the late sixties.
Those guys knew Rhodesia and the surrounding countries so well.
Stan Murray who was the finest aerobatic pilot I have ever met, and who spoiled the passengers outrageously.
Ken Murrell who had all the experience of training so many pilots for the Second World War.
Steve Stevens, who we said knew every tree in the country from low level, having navigated for decades below the guti.
John Huggins who had away of dealing with Customs and Immigration officials of neighbouring countries that made me laugh.
Bill Jones who everyone could always rely on.
Colin Miller who went of to be Chief Pilot of Affretair.
But Cole Myers was the star of the show, although he didn't know it.

Cole always gave the impression of being really depressed, and never happy, even when things were going really well, because he knew that something was going to come along to upset it all.
But we saw through him!

Of course RUAC owed its efficiency to a great extent to the professionalism of Stella and Dan Eardley.

It was through RUAC that I met so many people that made Rhodesia "tick", and saw so many "out of the way places" that most people have never heard of. Fantastic company and to have one have someone to pay you to fly a Beech Baron.... what a pleasure!

 
At 26 November 2013 at 23:48 , Blogger Flyvertosset said...

The Aztec photo form Vic Falls is from my Rodesia Photo series. The little guy in white pants is my son wanting to fly NOW.

Kai Hansen, ex Bulawayo

 

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