Lowveld’s last Dromader flies into the sunset
Last Wednesday, 8 July 2020, saw the end of this era as the unmistakable cough from its Polish-built ASz-62IR-M18 engine, followed by the smell of avgas, filled the air around Nelspruit Airfield. By referring to an inanimate object as “she”, often means that it takes an experienced man to handle her correctly. If you love her and care for her, she will take good care of you. For 21 years, the firm and experienced hands of aircraft maintenance engineer, Dewald van der Merwe (73), took care of a flight of 11 Dromader (M18 and M18A), which ultimately took good care of the Lowveld, protecting it against fires. As much as Van der Merwe took care of them, no one could quite handle a Dromader like Danny Holtzhausen, who in 2008 had a stroke leaving him unable to fly. Last Wednesday saw the end of this era as the unmistakable cough from its Polish-built ASz-62IR-M18 engine, followed by the smell of avgas, filled the air around Nelspruit Airfield. This was the Lowveld’s last original Dromader, even though some turbine versions remain. Piloted by Riaan Prinsloo, Bomber 17 (ZS-OTR) took off at around 14h00 and safely touched down in Middelburg after about an hour to be welcomed by its new owner, AgAir.
It was her first flight in over six years after being withdrawn from fire fighting at FFA and replaced by the AT-802 bomber. The first M18 Dromaders landed in SA when Agricura bought two in 1981. Orsmond Aviation, which was established by Ret Orsmond in 1973, took over Agricura and inherited these machines (ZS-LEG and ZS-LEH) in 1990. They were mainly used for crop spraying.
Three years later it was obtained by the FFA (Forest Fire Association) in Mbombela to be used for fire fighting and two M18A Dromader was imported (ZS-NLR and ZS-NHY). In 2001 three more M18As (ZS-OTR, ZS-OXP and ZS-OXC) were brought into the country. An M18B was imported, which was rebuilt as ZS-OPJ.
One of the aforementioned, ZS-LEG, was written off when it ran out of fuel near Kaapsehoop in the same year. The pilot was unharmed.
While looking for the wreckage, an archaeological discovery was made; a mostly intact megalithic stone calendar called Adam’s Calendar. It is suggested being the oldest man-made structure in the world. Sometimes referred to as “African Stonehenge”, it predates both Stonehenge and the Great Pyramid of Giza by tens of thousands of years.
ZS-LEH was withdrawn from service in 2010 and later stripped for spares.
In the same year ZS-NLR crashed near Betty’s Bay. The pilot escaped unscathed. The same cannot be said for an accident which claimed the life of a pilot fighting a fire near Piet Retief in the same year. The plane burnt out.
ZS-OXP, which was acquired in 2001, was sold and put on display in 2018. This left only ZS-OPJ and ZS-OTR (Bomber 17) intact. Both were sold to AgAir in Middelburg to be used for crop spraying.
Source: The Lowvelder