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Tales of the Groblersdal Flying Club
- text by Piet Nel

Tiger Moth                        (Photo:  Temora Museum)

Groblersdal Flying Club has a rich variety of tales which need to be taken out of its dusty files and brought to the surface for the enjoyment of everyone that loves flying, and flying machines. This space will thus be used to recapture some of the very early tales out of the history of this old flying club for the pure enjoyment of its local pilots and readers.

When I started taking out old files I couldn't really find what I was looking for, but I came across some flight sheets dated back to November 1988 which told its own stories.

Some of the names on these flight sheets where P. Kruger, C.A. Jeffries, J. Lountzis, P.L. Mills, Dr. Piet Snyders, Gerd Borchers and also names like Piet Nel, Major H.A.P. Potgieter, Mr G. Puren, Flip van Rensburg - too many to mention and most of them now deceased.

In my research on the history of the Groblersdal Flying Club, I met up with a very special man and veteran pilot, Gerd Borchers. What a wonderful time I had with this gentleman who took me back on long forgotten stories down memory lane. I want to start off with a certain man who, according to Gerd, was a very interesting and rare character, Neels Pretorius, with will-power like that of a Mustang P51. Neels Pretorius was a pilot in the SAAF and one of the last pilots to fly Spitfires.

Spitfire                              (Photo: Temora Museum)

Vampire                            (Photo: Temora Museum)

He was entered into the first batch of pilots in the SAAF to be converted to Vampires, the first Jet planes ever to fly for the SAAF. He told the story of how he watched as on their first solo flight the pupil who took off in front of him crashed, killing himself in a fire ball of black smoke and flames.

Neels volunteered for the Korean War to fly Sabre jets and Mustangs. This war ended in 1953 on the eve of Neels' departure for Korea. After the war, Neels resigned from the SAAF and became an accountant in the Groblersdal district and held this post for many years and did the books for the local community.

Apparently he was just as good an accountant as he ever was a pilot. But his love for flying aeroplanes was what really made him tick and one day Neels and one of his mates bought all the Tiger Moths from the SAAF which were put up for auction. They divided the Tigers between them and Neels's share of the Tigers were moved to Groblersdal, the balance going to a property near the Hartebeespoort Dam.

In the early 1960's one of the first things Neels did at Groblersdal was to call a few guys together and told them that they must build an airfield and start a Flying Club. So they did just that. Neels became the first chairman with H.U.B. Potgieter as instructor of the Groblersdal Flying Club. H.U.B. Potgieter was an extraordinary man in his own right, reaching the rank of General in the SADF. Hub as he was known to his friends was horrified at the news of Kobus de Villiers death in a flying accident in his Cessna 210 near Dennilton one night returning after watching a rugby match at Loftes. Kobus was Hubs first pupil to qualify and now the Groblersdal flying club carries his name.

The next moment, out of the blue, Neels announced to the new flying club a forthcoming air show he had advertised in all the newspapers! Everybody, including the municipality was up in arms because there was not even a trace of an airfield. They involved Jan Pretorius who had a farm on the south-western side of the present airfield. After getting the green light from the municipality, Jan's tractors amongst other farmers started with bush clearing where the airfield stands today.

When the first aeroplanes arrived for the air show, the tractors were still busy bush clearing and shaping the airstrip and Neels ... he was doing his thing over the new "aerodrome" with his Tiger Moth to the spectators delight. Apparently the air show was a huge success.


Sabres                                         (Photo: Canadair)

Gerd told me that Neels' Tiger Moths were stacked in pieces away in the old hanger between the club house and the nursery from where he sold bits and pieces to enthusiasts. The last of these Tiger parts were sold and removed from the Groblersdal air field in early 2000. At a much later stage Dr Piet Snyders was chosen as the new Chairman and according to Gerd, it was during his chairmanship that 22 pilots received their wings that year. Training cost was in the region of R100 per hour. The Club was booming and later on bought a Cessna 172. It was towards the late 80's that Gerd Borchers started his flying career. At the time his license cost him R4500.


Gerd also started a Crop Spraying Business. He hired Piet Kruger as pilot to do the crop spraying for him. Piet Kruger was also giving training during this time in a very old dilapidated Cessna 150, registration IIK and later bought himself a Pitts Special for aerobatics.

There were many others involved but at a later date in the clubs development, all of whom will be able to tell their own stories of the clubs more recent history.

Clubs like this prosper not because of facilities, money or aeroplanes, but because of characters. We have had more than our fair share of these great people in positions of leadership over the years.