Tropic Airways Tom Meredith, Harry Creed and Jock Hamilton founded Tropic Airways. A Dakota ZS-DFB was purchased from Africair for 10,000 Pounds, 1000 down, the rest spread over nine month.
Tom tells us that Johannesburg to England took 4 days, 3 night stops at either Tabora or Entebbe, Wadi Halfa and Malta.
When a Central African Airways Viking crashed as a result of a wing breaking off in flight Tropic’s Dakota was chartered to operate some of their domestic services.
Fred Gratz, a former S.A.A.F. technician joined Tropic as their Chief engineer and was to prove a wonderful asset. He could keep an aircraft in the air when lesser engineers would have failed.
Towards the end of a very successful year of operation they decided to purchase from the South African Airforce, for ?10,000, the Avro York ZS-DGN which had been the personal aircraft of Jan Smuts. The York powered by Rolls Royce Merlin engines was a converted bomber, was roomy and proved popular with passengers.
Captain Harry Creed (left) and First Officer Kurt Kaye (right)
Tropic Airways Avro York ZS-DGN
In 1952 the Dakota under the command of Dennis Tribelhorn was successfully ditched in the Mediterranean Sea due to engine failure.
The ditching was successful without any casualties, and much credit went to Peter Urquhart, for the professional manner in which he alerted the air-sea rescue services. John Cook the flight engineer also deserves mention when he dived in the sea and towed one of the life rafts drifting apart from the aircraft, which was still floating.
An American amphibian aircraft, which landed near the rafts, took most of the passengers on board, while the crew and remaining passengers stayed on the rafts, which were tethered to the flying boat. A British Destroyer arrived later and all the survivors were transferred and taken on board.
Ted Broome tells the story that on a flight from the UK via Paris to Niece they cut the corner passing south of a navigation aid they should have checked over. Ted got a QTE bearing from Geneva, (back bearing) which indicated they were heading for high ground in the Swiss Alps and immediately instructed Captain Harry Hill to turn 180 degrees thereby saving what could have been a fatal accident.
Costa Athos tells the story that the Avro York’s engines did at times give problems. On one occasion Ronnie Fell the flight engineer hastily without warning feathered one of the engines. Poor Costa was caught unawares unable to reach the rudder pedals with his seat being right back.
In 1952 Jock Hamilton left S.A. for London to take up his position as resident director in London. From this vantage point he put the idea that there were distinct possibilities for a British company. Harry Creed did not wish to participate but had no objections for Tom and Jock going ahead.
The new company was called “Meredith Air Transport”, subsequently dropped in favour of “African Air Safaris”. This later was to cause distrust with Creed who obtained a provisional judicial management order that was made final as Toms appeal somehow went astray.
Harry took over the running of Tropic and it was not long before they were forced to close. This caused problems for Africa Air Safaris which was taken over and became “Dan Air”.
The historic York was sold to a Lebanese who operated it in the Middle East. Tom was to rebound back and start Trek Airways which lasted many years as one of Aviation’s success stories.
Captain Tom Meredith
Tom Meredith joined the R.A.F. in 1940 and flying with Transport Command, was mentioned in Dispatches. After being demobbed he joined Sky Travel flying a Bistol Wayfarer. In 1948 he settled in South Africa joining Pan African Air Charter and later Universal Travel before forming Tropic and later Trek Airways. A true Aviation idealist and pioneer, for which South African Aviation owes him a debt of gratitude.
Captain Tom Meredith and his wife Inge on the steps of Vickers Viking ZS-DKH
ZS-DFB Tropic Airways at Rand Airport
Photograph: Ken Fuller