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Airline HISTORY from June 1946

Extracts from article published in Air Zimbabwe  in flight magazine "Skyhost" 1996

Air Zimbabwe can trace its long history back directly to the formation, on 1 June 1946, of Central African Airways (CAA), which came into being as the joint airline of Southern Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe), Northern Rhodesia (now Zambia) and Nyasaland (now Malawi), with 50 percent, 35 per- cent and 15 percent respectively of its share capital being held by the governments of those three countries.


At its formation, CAA acquired some of the assets and personnel of Southern Rhodesia Air Services (SRAS), a combined airline and communications squadron that had been formed at the beginning of World War II from the dissolution of Rhodesia and Nyasaland Airways (RANA).RANAmoths.jpg (29999 bytes)
RANA had itself been formed in October 1933 by the merger of two small privately owned companies which, in the late 1920s, had provided Central Africa with its first "regular" air services. (Those inverted commas are necessary: given the undeveloped state of the territory, its airfields, its navigational aids and the aircraft themselves, that marvellously elastic term 'technical delay' could, in those pioneering days, be read as meaning almost anything from a puncture to a lion having eaten the pilot!)

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Central African Airways started operations with a mixture of ex SRAS aircraft, but soon took delivery of five De Havilland Doves dove2.jpg (7794 bytes) and three Vickers Vikings. vicking.jpg (8414 bytes) Ultimately, the airline acquired a total of seven Doves and 12 Vikings. Services were steadily expanded to cover a route network extending as far north as Nairobi and as far south as Johannesburg, as far east as Blantyre and as far west as Maun in Bechuanaland (now Botswana).De Havilland Rapides and other types acquired from SRAS were steadily phased out as Doves and Vikings were brought into service. In August 1948 CAA inaugurated the first air freight service in Africa, using two Bristol 170 Freighters bristol170.jpg (8079 bytes) leased from Britain's Ministry of Civil Aviation; they were used on 'Copper Trader' services between Johannesburg and Ndola, via Bulawayo and Lusaka, and between Salisbury (now Harare) and Lusaka. The former service was extended in September 1948 to Dar es Salaam and Lindi In Tanganyika (now Tanzania), via Mbeya and Kasama in Northern Rhodesia. During its first six months of operation, 246 711 ton-miles were achieved with a load factor of 48 percent; however, technical problems seem to have soured CAA's management on these two aircraft, and the lease was terminated in December 1949. Technical troubles, mainly associated with the engines, had also plagued the Doves, particularly on services to remote bush stations in Northern Rhodesia's Barotse-land region. The airline operated, 'social' routes to a string of small isolated communities in this region; these services were never financially viable, but were the communities' sole regular link with the outside world. Their air-fields were about as basic as air-fields can get - with the exception of Mongu's three million bricks, their runways were unpaved Africa as God had made It and Man had smoothed it, with a terminal building that in Sesheke's case consisted of a rondavel about four metres in diameter with a thatched roof, and a second smaller rondavel that was probably the loo! This. however, was luxurious in comparison with Senanga's terminal building, which a photograph taken as late as the early 1960s shows to have been a small tent borrowed from the District Commissioner! Nyasaland's remote airfields were not any better. This type of airfield, and the absence of engineering staff, called for aircraft made of sterner stuff than the Doves, with their light construction and complicated systems.....


To replace them, CAA introduced (in 1951) the De Havilland (Canada) Beaver aircraft. beaver.jpg (24171 bytes) A single-engined, square, chunky-looking aeroplane designed for short airfields, it was as simple and rugged as a pick-up truck (and unfortunately not a great deal faster!) Initially, CAA used them in Southern Rhodesia, on feeder services connecting Gwelo (now Gweru), Gatooma (now Kadoma) Que Que (now Kwekwe) and Fort Victoria (now Masvingo), with regional services through Bulawayo and Salisbury, plus a service between Salisbury and Umtali (now Mutare).These services became less popular, and were eventually withdrawn in November 1958, as Southern Rhodesia's bone-shaking strip and gravel roads were widened and tarred, and faster and more economical motor cars appeared. The Beavers were put on to services In Barotseland in Northern Rhodesia, qm dh beaver.jpg (20222 bytes) returning to Lusaka for light maintenance at the weekend. They also operated a similar service in Nyasaland. Fatigue cracking in the wings caused the Viking fleet to be temporarily grounded at the end of1951, and two Douglas DC3 Dakotas were chartered to tide the airline over until Viking services could be resumed, in February 1952. This was to be CAA's first encounter with Dakotas, an aircraft type that would later play an important role in the airline's operations.


The introduction by BOAC in May 1952 of Comet services between London and Livingstone cut hard into the profitability of CAA's service between Salisbury and Nairobi, and It was decided to test the feasibility of a Salisbury-to-London service using Vikings; a route proving flight was made in June 1952. In March 1953, all but two of the Vikings were again grounded following a fatal crash in Tanganyika which had resulted from structural failure in a wing. Fortunately, the first of what would eventually become eight Dakotas was delivered just afterwards, caa dak.jpg (43054 bytes) and with chartered aircraft, the airline was able to maintain services.caadakgnd.jpg (7462 bytes) After the politicians 'and bureaucrats had finally got bilateral negotiations sorted out, CAA Inaugurated a weekly 'Zambezi' service with Vikings between Salisbury and London in April 1953, at a lower fare than BOAC's Comet service. Compared with today's 10 and a half hours, the four-day flight, with numerous refuelling stops and nightstops at hotels, seems ponderously slow, until one compares it with its main rival, the Union Castle mailship service which took at least 14 days between Britain and Cape Town, after which one still had to get from Cape Town to Salisbury! The flights took off each morning at an early hour, with sleepy passengers grumbling irritably at being woken so early; at some places, because of temperature and altitude, the flight had to leave early, or not at all! In-flight catering was fairly basic by today's standards the aircraft's galley lacked facilities for heating anything other than beverages, so each passenger would be presented with a square 'biscuit' tin with a snugly fitting lid, containing sandwiches, biscuits and fresh fruit. (Years later, when improvements in aircraft galleys and changes in public taste made them redundant, hundreds of these pale blue tins, with CARs distinctive 'gullwing' logo on the lid, were recruited for new duties as parts bins in the Technical Stores; a few survive to this day though very few of today's staff know what they originally did their living,l) The 'Zambezi' service was increased to twice-weekly in 1954. April 1954 saw the introduce of a weekly Viking service from Salisbury to Durban, which started the popularity of the Natal coast's beaches with Rhodesian holidaymakers. In 1956 and 1957 most of Vikings were disposed of,their places being taken by the more popular and less troublesome Dakotas, which operated services too busy for Beavers and too lean for the new Viscounts.

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An important milestone had been reached in August 1954 when CAA ordered five Vickers Viscount type 748 aircraft. The cost, including spares and spare engines, was just under 2 million, Pounds which sounds ridiculously cheap by today's standards, but in fact represented a huge outlay for a small airline in those days. The first aircraft, VP-YNA, arrived at Salisbury at 25 April 1956 newyna.jpg (36779 bytes) and was in service by early June, including operating a weekly tourist-class service to London, via Northern Rhodesia, Uganda, the Sudan, Libya, Malta and Italy.. The last of the five aircraft, VP-YNE, was delivered in July 1956: tragically, it was destroyed, with the loss of most of its passengers and crew, when it hit high ground while on approach to Benghazi on 9 August 1958. Accident Report  Email webmaster for complete report. (3mb)

Viscount services to London finally ceased in September 1960. As CAA could not then afford long-range aircraft to enable it to compete favourably with larger airlines on overseas routes, management concluded an agreement to 'sell' its traffic rights on the Salisbury-London route to BOAC for 1 0 years, for a very favourable sum. This agreement enabled CAA to concentrate on its regional and domestic services, which it soon brought to a highly efficient standard. Improvements to the airport at Bulawayo enabled Viscounts to land there from January 1959.
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'Skycoast' services, which combined a flight from Salisbury to Durban and a Union Castle steamship cruise to Cape Town and return, were introduced in January 1959. and became very popular. At about the same time, 'Skybus' flights were introduced between Salisbury and Blantyre, and later extended to Lilongwe and 'Fort Jameson (now Chipata), and Lusaka and Ndola. boarding dak.jpg (25923 bytes) These cut price, no-frills flights proved extremely popular with African passengers; experienced travellers took their own cushion, as the canvas seats provided were about , comfortable as an old-fashioned church pew designed to prevent the faithful from falling asleep during the sermonl 'Flame Lily' packaged holidays were introduced in May 1960, and soon became very popular with tourists from South Africa, and later from East Africa and Mozambique. Technical problems arose again in January 1961 when faults were found in the wing spars of VP-YNA, and two aircraft were temporarily grounded, causing some disruption of services. VP-YNA was flown to Britain, and permanent repairs were performed by Marshalls of Cambridge. Dakota and Argonaut aircraft chartered from the Royal Rhodesian Air Force enabled CAA to maintain services.

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The need for faster and larger aircraft caused CAA to place an order with British Aircraft Corporation for two BAC 1 - 1 1 aircraft in September 1962. The order was worth 3 million Pounds including spares and spare engines; the aircraft were scheduled for delivery in June1965. In October 1962. the airline leased a Douglas DC6 from Alitalia for long-range charter work; the aircraft was also used as a supplement on regional services when necessary. CAA's Engineering Division was earning considerable extra revenue at that time by doing contract maintenance, particularly on Viscounts of Aden Airways and on C-46 aircraft on lease to the United Nations for operations in the Belgian Congo (now Zaire). Additional routes opened in 1961 and 1962 included a weekly flight between Kitwe and Ndola in Northern Rhodesia using Dakotas, and a weekly Viscount flight from Salisbury to Lourenco Marques (now Maputo), plus a weekly Dakota service from Fort Victoria to Lourenco Marques. Three flights a week commenced between Bulawayo and the newly opened Wankie (now Hwange) National Park, using Dakota aircraft. Economically, CAA was doing well, but storm clouds were gathering on the political horizon.3daks.jpg (47092 bytes)

THE FEDERATION BREAKS UP 19633excaadaks.jpg (49113 bytes)

The Central African Federation founded in 1953 was due to be dissolved at the end of 1963, and 1964 would see Northern Rhodesia attain its independence as Zambia, and Nyasaland as Malawi..The governments of both new countries wished to have their own national airline,. but it was quickly realised that this dream would not easily be fulfilled. CAA's engineering base, stores and most of the infrastructure and personnel needed to support the airline were based at Salisbury: only minor rectification work on an aircraft could be attempted away from Salisbury at that time. An agreement was reached in December 1963 that provided at least a temporary solution to the problem. CAA would remain in existence but be responsible to a higher authority consisting of transport ministers from the three governments. Separate subsidiaries of CAA were formed, to operate in each country. These were Air Malawi Ltd, Zambia Airways Ltd and Air Rhodesia (Pvt) Ltd. The engineering base and headquarters remained part of CAA; engineering personnel were employed and paid by CAA and seconded, as required, to stations in Malawi and Zambia. All assets in each country at the time of the Federation's dissolution became part of that country's airline. CAA operated the Viscounts on behalf of each airline, and an ingenious arrangement of detachable nameplates on each side of the rear fuselage enabled the same aircraft to be used on services without seriously offending anybody's national pride. The Dakota fleet was divided between the three countries and the Beaver fleet was divided between Zambia and Malawi, Rhodesia having no requirement for this aircraft type. Initially, nearly all maintenance was done at Salisbury. Dakota and Beaver aircraft were repainted in the new airlines' liveries and carried their new logos, 
(a winged leopard in a circle for Air Malawi,
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a Fish Eagle in a horizontal shield for Zambia Airways,
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and a Zimbabwe Bird in an inverted triangle for Air Rhodesia).
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Cumbersome as the administrative arrangements may have appeared, they actually worked surprisingly well, and the new airlines proved to be profitable and efficient. The Rhodesian Government's Unilateral Declaration of Independence on 11 November 1965, however, soon upset that and added venom to what had previously been a smooth-running cooperation. Sanctions imposed by Britain and independent African states, closed down almost all international flights operating through Rhodesia, with the exception of Portugal's TAP and SAA. CAA was barred from operating to most neighbouring states, so the DC6 leases was terminated in December 1965.An embargo on the supply of aircraft parts resulted in numerous ruses together with the extra cost of fuel resulting from an unsuccessful oil embargo considerably increased the airline's expenses. The two BAC1-11aircraft were still undelivered at the time of UDI, delivery having been delayed by modifications to improve the engines' performance under hot- and-high conditions. The aircraft were eventually taken over by Zambia Airways.


The bad relations existing between the governments of Rhodesia and its two partners caused the tripartite airline to become increasingly unworkable after November 1965and in 1967 a divorce was agreed upon. Air Rhodesia Corporation came into being on 1 September 1967. The Viscount fleet was divided between Air Rhodesia and Air Malawi; Zambia Airways was to take the undelivered BAC 1-11s, which had been leased to another airline pending a settlement of the dispute. Although Zambia would have nothing more to do with Rhodesia, relations between Rhodesia and Malawi were maintained at a 'cool' setting and Air Rhodesia flights between Salisbury and Blantyre continued, and in fact increased, as did flights to South Africa. In spite of everything, the infant Air Rhodesia managed to make a profit on its first year of operation. Air Rhodesia's aircraft were now repainted in a livery consisting of a white top-side, with dark blue and light blue 'cheatlines' on the fuselage sides; sloping dark blue and light blue stripes also appeared on the vertical fin,
The controversial 'twiggi bird', a highly stylised representation of the Zimbabwe Bird, was superimposed on the two stripes on the fin. Criticised in some circles as being scarcely recognisable as a Zimbabwe Bird, and even being likened to an Arab dhow under sail, it lasted until '1984 when the present Zimbabwe Bird logo in a red star replaced it.  See The Viscounts colour schemes             

THE JET AGE 1973-1978

In spite of the problems it now faced. Air Rhodesia increased its profit in 1969-1970, introduced services to Kariba, and upgraded the Dakota services to Wankie to Viscount services. Additional revenue was earned by loaning surplus aircrew to other airlines. However, by 1972 Air Rhodesia's market share on routes to South Africa was being seriously eroded by the competition of SAA's larger and faster Boeing 727s, and it was obvious that jet aircraft were needed for international services. In a move conducted with classic cloak-and-dagger secrecy, the airline obtained its first jets. On the evening of 14 April 1973, which fell during the Easter holidays, three Boeing 720-025 aircraft which had originally belonged to the now-defunct Eastern Airlines in Miami, 3720.jpg (216045 bytes) suddenly appeared on the radar screens of Salisbury's control tower, landed in quick succession, and immediately taxied away from the public gaze to positions among the buildings on Air Rhodesia's base. airrhod_1.jpg (33185 bytes) Only a tiny handful of people were in on the secret of this audacious piece of sanctions busting, and they kept their secret well. However, the unconventional manner in which the Boeing 720s 707flying.jpg (182216 bytes) had been obtained meant that little of the usual preparatory work and planning that an airline does before taking delivery of a new aircraft type could be done until after delivery. Years of work, provisioning and training had to be compressed into a few months, and Rhodesia's first commercial flight with a 720, a charter from Salisbury to Bulawayo and Durban, occurred on 6 June 1973, Regular services only started on November 1973. Unfortunately for the airline, the Yom Kippur war in the Middle East came just at the wrong time: a week after starting scheduled Bocing 720 services fuel prices increased by 35 percent pushing the annual bill up by Rh$820 000! The 720's turbojet engines were much thirstier than later turbofans, and the fuel price increase (the first of several in the next few years) severely curtailed their profitability in Air Rhodesia service. However, they provided good, reliable service until the airline acquired Boeing 707 aircraft in the 1980s. Dakota services ended in October 1973, cheetahs.jpg (191729 bytes) although it would be several years before the last Dakota (VP-YNH) was sold. The fuel price increases of the 1970s resulted in a worldwide recession in air traffic, which severely affected Air Rhodesia. The Liberation War was now escalating sharply, and staff shortages resulting from military call-ups were adding to the airline's difficulties. The revolution in Portugal in 1974 and the subsequent grant of independence to Mozambique in 1975 caused the cessation of Air Rhodesia services to Blantyre and Beira when Mozambique banned Rhodesian aircraft from overflying its territory in March 1976. From that time until late 1979, the airline's only external services were to Johannesburg and Durban.


Disaster struck on 3 September 1978 when Viscount VP-WAS crashed near Kariba, after being struck by a heat-seeking missile fired by nationalist guerillas; there were only eight survivors. On 12 February 1979, Viscount VP-YND was also destroyed in the same area by a heat-seeking missile; this time, there were no survivors. With desperate haste, the search was on for ways of protecting the remaining aircraft from this new danger. All shiny metal surfaces on the Viscounts, including propeller blades and spinners, were painted in a special matt, yellowish-green paint,
loudsvic70%.jpg (271519 bytes) that resembled nothing so much as an un-Alginated swimming pool. Special guards were designed and fitted to each engine nacelle to prevent the missile's infra-red sensing eye from locking on to the hot jet pipe. viscount in strella paint job.jpg (93289 bytes) These clumsy looking devices considerably reduced the aircraft's speed and payload, increased its fuel consumption, and made it resemble a gypsy's caravan with the clutter hanging underneath - but in conjunction with special operational procedures when climbing and descending, they achieved the desired safety effect: no more aircraft were lost to missile attacks. However, tourist traffic had been seriously affected by the war, and further huge fuel price increases and security costs were having serious effects on the airline's financial status. A short-lived political change resulted in the airline becoming Air Zimbabwe Rhodesia in 1979, which title it retained until it became Air Zimbabwe in February 1980. azlogo.jpg (3764 bytes) In anticipation of purchasing larger aircraft after a political settlement, the Corporation ordered construction of a large new hangar in 1979. This hangar was built on what had previously been the Airways Club playing fields; the Club by that time was already in serious decline. Initially, funds would only run to building five bays of the hangar; after the north wall had been built, additional finance became available and the north wall was pulled down and two additional bays were added.

LEGAL AGAIN! 1979 1982

After the Lancaster House agreement in 1979, thoughts turned to reopening routes to destinations long closed to the airline by sanctions, and opening routes to new destinations. Viscount services to Blantyre and Lusaka resumed in January 1980. Using a Boeing 707- 344B aircraft leased from SAA, Air Zimbabwe began services on 2 April 1980 to London Gatwick. In September 1980, an agreement was signed to purchase three Boeing 707-330B aircraft from Lufthansa; the first aircraft arrived at Salisbury on 19 February 1981. Subsequently, the order was increased to five aircraft.
707cpit.jpg (42214 bytes) Flights to Frankfurt were started in May 1981, and a weekly joint service with Qantas to Perth and Sydney was started in November 1982, using Qantas aircraft. In July 1982, services to Athens were inaugurated.


By 1981, the 700 series Viscounts were nearing the end of their 30-year fuselage life, and were also too small for some services. Two Viscount 810 series aircraft,
azvic2.jpg (12272 bytes) able to carry 65 passengers each, were purchased from Dan Air in the UK in 1981. Although good aircraft in most respects, they were not 'sister ships' by any manner of means - one having been built for Iranian National Airlines and the other for Ghana Airways - and they required a considerable amount of modification in Air Zimbabwe's workshops to standardise them to each other and to the rest of the Viscount fleet, so that pilots could at least find the various switches and knobs without having to think which aircraft they were flying! The necessary modifications considerably delayed their introduction into regular service; however, once up and running, they gave good service until their retirement in 1989 

kp1.jpg (481861 bytes) .................cockpitrob.jpg (26329 bytes) Some 800..........dessquirt.jpg (20587 bytes)operational snaps.kpcockpit.jpg (22139 bytes)

In September 1982, following a visit to the airline's base by the then Minister of Transport, Mr Farai Masango, it was decided that the aircraft fleet would be repainted in the national colours, and that cabin announcements would in future be made in Shona and Ndebele as well as English. A new livery was designed for each aircraft type, 

Mix of old and new2707rhzw.jpg (162759 bytes)

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Johannesburg -South Africa, May 1980
Rare shot

Air Rhodesia colours with Air Zimbabwe name change by Josť Vilhena 
Found at www.airliners.net 

utilising green, gold, red and black stripes in a stepped pattern on the fuselage sides and extending halfway up the vertical fin. Air Zim.jpg (15892 bytes) A new, more recognisable Zimbabwe Bird was used, superimposed on a red star A historic moment was reached on 31 May 1985 when VP-YNA, the airline's very first Viscount, aircraft. made its last commercial flight. The grand old lady's last-ever flight was to Gweru. where she was installed in a place of honour in the Aviation Museum.

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While awaiting delivery of its own three Boeing 737-200 aircraft, Air Zimbabwe in November 1985 leased for one year a Boeing 737 (Z-NAL) from GPA Leasing of Ireland. The aircraft was previously owned by Maersk Air of Denmark. It enabled Air Zimbabwe
azlogo2.jpg (13526 bytes) to provide regional services that were really competitive with other airlines now operating in the region, and hastened the demise of the, airline's remaining Viscounts, which were being progressively withdrawn as they became due for major maintenance work. After undergoing a 'C'check in Air Zimbabwe's hangars, Z-NAL was returned to the lessor in 1986. On 19 December 1986, Z-WPA the first of Air Zimbabwe's Boeing 737-200 series aircraft rived at Harare Airport In June and July of the following year, Its sister ships Z-WPB a Z-WPC were delivered.

Although the Boeing 737's were a highly satisfactory aircraft for nearly all Air Zimbabwe's domestic and regional destinations, Kariba, with its short runway, remained a problem and continued to require Viscount services. By 1987, however, the 810 series Viscounts were getting 'long In the tooth, and expensive maintenance work was looming if they were to be kept flying. Requests to the Government for extensions to Kariba's runway were refused on grounds of expense
and technical problems.However, A suitable aircraft for Kariba appeared in January 1988 in the form of a British Aerospace 146-200 Series, Z-WPD. The aircraft was originally ordered by the Zimbabwe Government's Ministry of Defence as a VIP aircraft for the President's use, but by the time it was delivered, Air Zirnbabwe's need for a short-run,way aircraft was so pressing that Z-WPD was leased to the airline under an arrangement that provided for Air Zimbabwe to maintain it and fly it as required, and the President to have the use of it when needed


The airline's first Boeing 767, Z- WPE, was delivered In November 1989 and its sister, Z-WPF, in October 1990.
A 10 year lease was signed early in 1995 for two Fokker 50 aircraft from the maker, Fokker Aircraft BV of the Netherlands. Unfortunately, the 'hot and high performance of these aircraft has not met the airline's expectations.. One of Air Zimbabwe's two remaining Boeing 707 aircraft became due for a 'D' check and major structural modifications in 1995 and a decision was made to carry out this work at Air Zimbabwe' shops, which would enable the aircraft to operate to Europe until March 2002, when noise regulations would finally exclude it from, that area. Although a huge task and far more complex than anything the airline had ever tackled before, this exercise was cormpleted satisfactorily in September 1995. The other Boeing 707 is now effectively grounded, as there seems to be no likely justification for incurring the same expense, plus the cost of 'hushkitting, on a second 707.

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Anyone from Air Zim want to add the last few years?

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Fly by Air show Charles Prince Airport does not get much lower than this!

For more Air Zim pic search www.airliners.net