A Natural Wonder
The Zambezi River
The Victoria Falls
Ecology of the Victoria Falls
Formation of the Victoria Falls
People of the Victoria Falls
Enter the Ndebele
Discovery of the Victoria Falls
In Livingstone's Footsteps
Development of the Rhodesias
Development of the Railway
Development of Tourism
Development of Victoria Falls Town
Recent History
Further Information
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Footsteps Through Time - A History of Travel and Tourism to the Victoria Falls

To The Victoria Falls

Development of the Victoria Falls

Air Safaris

The Rhodesian Aviation Company was established in 1929, it seams with the main aim of tapping the growing tourism potential of the Falls, with their first aircraft, an Avro Avian, operating commercial flights at the Victoria Falls from June 1929.

"The company was formally registered on 17th April, 1929, but owing to a serious delay in the delivery of the 'Bluebird', the commencement of flying operations had perforce to be postponed. Early in June, since there was still no sign of the promised 'Bluebird', and a considerable amount of potential business was being lost, a second-hand Avro Avian aircraft was purchased from the Johannesburg Light Plane Club; this machine arrived in Bulawayo on 13th June, and was immediately flown up to Livingstone, where it was put to work operating 'flips' over the Victoria Falls." (McAdams, 1969)

Bluebird Gypsy I 1930
Bluebird Gypsy I, 1930

The long-awaited 'Bluebird' finally arrived in Bulawayo in February 1930, where its performance at altitude was found to be disappointing.

Rhodesia and Nyasaland Airways

In 1933 Rhodesia and Nyasaland Airways Limited (RANA), was formed with a capital of £25,000 provided jointly by Imperial Airways and the Beit Railway Trust.

With an initial fleet of four de Havilland Puss Moths (a 3-seater cabin monoplane), and one de Havilland Fox Moth (a biplane carrying four passengers in a cabin), RANAs first main commercial air route joined Blantyre, Salisbury, Bulawayo, Victoria Falls, Lusaka, Broken Hill and Ndola. (Central African Airways, 1961)

Spencer Airways

In the mid 1930s Edward (Ted) Spencer, of Spencer's Garage, Victoria Falls, operated a de Havilland Puss Moth aircraft providing short flights over Victoria Falls, from an airstrip hacked, literally, out of the bush, and which would grow to become the Victoria Falls Aerodrome.

Spencer also ran a passenger and mail service to remoter parts of Barotseland in Northern Rhodesia using a de Havilland 83 Fox Moth biplane (Whitehead, 2014).

Whitehead records that fellow pilot Jack McAdam is on record as discounting a local story that Spencer had flown his Puss Moth under the Victoria Falls Bridge, although there is a photograph of him flying incredibly low over the Devil's Cataract.

de Havilland Puss Moth over the Falls, 1930s
de Havilland Puss Moth over the Falls, 1930s

During the Second World War, judged too old for volunteer service, Spencer occasionally piloted a DH89A Dragon Rapide on the weekly run to Mongu.

Towards the end of the War Spencer's Airways, Victoria Falls, were using one Avro Anson, one de Havilland Fox Moth, one Tiger Moth and one Fairchild UC.61A to provide short pleasure flights over the Falls.

Whitehead also records that Spencer had hoped to establish a flying boat service to Barotseland after the war, but he died tragically in a crash in London in 1947. An advert in Flight Magazine, 16th January 1947 records Spencer offering free passage from London for 16 married service men looking to emigrate to Rhodesia (their wives were to follow after). Spencer was piloting the Dakota plane which stalled and crashed soon after take off from London on the 25th January with 18 passengers, eleven of who also died.

de Havilland Rapide over the Falls, 1935
de Havilland Rapide over the Falls, 1935

The first incident recorded at the Victoria Falls aerodrome was a fatal accident which occurred in 1932 during a round-the-world trip undertaken as a publicity stunt for MGN Films.

World Flight Disaster “The world flight of Mr. Arthur Loew came to an unfortunate end at Victoria Falls on November 18. It appears that the pilot, Capt. James Dickson, landed at the Victoria Falls aerodrome, mistaking it for the Livingstone aerodrome, nine miles distant. While trying to take off again the wheels of the Lockheed ‘Orion’ monoplane sunk into the soft sand of the aerodrome, causing the machine to turn over and crash into a tree. Mr. Dickson was killed and his two passengers, Mr. Loew and his secretary, injured.” (Flight Magazine Nov 1932)

Livingstone Airport Opens

The opening ceremony for the new £1 million airport at Livingstone was performed by Lord Pakenham, Northern Rhodesia Minister of Civil Aviation, on 12th August 1950.

“The buildings are in most attractive and colourful modern style and the main reception hall and restaurant are tastefully decorated. A screen comprising one complete wall of the dining room deserves special mention, for it is made up of separate glass panels of double thickness, between which are pressed and sealed examples of all the grasses of Rhodesia. These are no mere tufts but artistically laid out specimens—all of great beauty.” (Flight Magazine, Sept 1950)

It was reported that the spray from the Victoria Falls could be seen from the control tower.

Livigstone Airport control tower and buildings, 1950
Livingstone Airport control tower and buildings, 1950

Commercial Airliners

On May 2nd 1952 the 'Yoke Peter,' a dde Havilland Comet Mark 1 (G-ALYP), took off from London Heathrow to Johannesburg - the world's first commercial jet passenger flight, proudly operated by British Overseas Airways Corporation (BOAC).

The flight stopped for refuelling at Rome, Beruit, Khartoum, Entebbe and Livingstone before arriving in Johannesburg, covering a distance of 6,700 miles in 18 hours 40 minutes flying time (and total journey time of 23 hours 20 minutes).

Livingstone airport opened in 1950.

Comet at Livingstone Airport, 1952.

External Link: Pathe News Repoert - On board the Comet.

Rhodesian Air Force

Vampire FB9s
Four Vampire FB9s (Rhodesian Air Force) over Victoria Falls (mid 1950s)

Victoria Falls Aerodrome

By the mid 1950s, the grandly named Victoria Falls Airways company was operating 'bush flights' over the Zambezi and Victoria Falls, operating from the Victoria Falls Aerodrome, later to become known as the Sparyview Airfield. With a hard surface runway of 800 yards they operated two de Havilland Dragon Rapides, each seating eight passengers, and four Piper Tri-Pacers, with space for one pilot and three passengers, and had flown a total of nearly 10,000 passenger flights.

The airstrip operated local tourist flights through the into 1960s. The site is now given over to housing development from the expanding town.

Zambian Air Force

"Air Force for Zambia - Recent agreement on independence for Northern Rhodesia, to be known as the Republic of Zambia... which is being formed with RAF assistance. The infant Northern Rhodesia Air Force is at present based at Livingstone, near the Victoria Falls, and is largely staffed by 15 RAF officers and 30 airmen, while Zambian personnel are recruited and trained.

Formed from the Northern Rhodesian Air Wing of the RRAF, which force reverted to Southern Rhodesia on the breakup of the Central African Federation, its equipment comprises four Dakotas and two Pembrokes, employed in supporting the army and police on internal security." (Flight Magazine 1964)

Three Dakotas and a Pembroke 1964
Three Dakotas and a Pembroke (Zambian Air Force) over Victoria Falls 1964

Three Dakotas and a Pembroke of the embryonic Northern Rhodesia Air Force (to be the Zambia Air Force with independence in October) fly a neat formation over the Victoria Falls, only seven miles from their base at Livingstone, for a carnival flypast in Livingstone (May 1964).

Victoria Falls Airport

The Victoria Falls Airport was open in 1967 and bringing the beginnings of modern tourism to the town. Until then the Victoria Falls area had been reliant on Livingstone Airport, but the coming of independence to Zambia meant the trips required customs and immigration formalities. The new airport was built at a some distance, 20km, from the Falls and the growing town - boosting the local taxi trade.

The runway is 2286 metres long and 30 metres wide and can accommodate B737/ A319 aircraft or equivalent. Preliminary works are already underway to upgrade the terminal building and construct a 4-kilometre runway in order to accommodate wide-body aircraft.

Zambian Air over Victoria Falls
AF-602 HS 748 (Zambian Air Force) over Victoria Falls

Next page: Planes, Trains and Automobiles

Recommended Reading

Central African Airways (1961) The Story of CAA 1946-1961. From: 'Our Rhodesia Heritage' website: http://rhodesianheritage.blogspot.co.uk/2013/11/the-story-of-caa-1946-1961.html

McAdam (1965) Early Birds in Central Africa, Rhodesiana. From: http://www.rhodesia.nl/Aviation/early.htm

McAdam (1969) Birth of an Airline, Rhodesiana. From: http://www.rhodesia.nl/Aviation/rana.htm

Unknown (Undated) A brief history of the Rhodesian Air Force. From: http://rhodesianforces.org/RhodesianAirForceHistory.htm

Scannell T (1960) Aviation in Central Africa. Horizon Magazine, II, 18-22. From: 'Our Rhodesia Heritage' website: http://rhodesianheritage.blogspot.co.uk/2013/07/aviation-in-central-africa.html

Whitehead, D (2014) Inspired by the Zambezi, Memories of Barotseland and a Royal River – the mighty Liamai

Sun, Steel and Spray - A History of the Victoria Falls Bridge

Corridors Through Time - A History of the Victoria Falls Hotel

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'To The Victoria Falls' aims to bring you the wonder of the Victoria Falls through a look at its natural and human history.

This website has been developed using information researched from a wide variety of sources, including books, magazines and websites etc too numerous to mention or credit individually, although many key references are identified on our References page. Many of the images contained in this website have been sourced from old photographic postcards and publications and no infringement of copyright is intended. We warmly welcome any donations of photographs or information to this website.

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