Africa’s First Aeroplane built in the Free State

In the Free State town of Branford,one can visit the house of the man who built the first aircraft in Africa. He was M.J.L Weston,who was born in a ox-wagon,spent much of his youth in the United Stated of America (USA), and returned towards the end of the Anglo-Boer War to fight on the side of the Boers.

No two sources agree on Westons pioneering exploits in aviation,but the main thread of the story seems to run as follows.He designed and flew a glider in the USA in 1892,when hewas 19 years old.

Back in South Africa,he designed and built his first aeroplane on the farm called Kalkdam in Bultfontein district,from 1907 to 1909.The machine turned out to be under powered he took it to France,where,in the workshops of the Farman Brothers ,he installed a 50-hp Gnome rotary engine.

Weston was a founding member of the Aeronautical Society of South Africa. He also established the John Weston Aviation Company to raise funds for the establishment of a flying school with a permanent aerodrome. 

He flew the machine for the first time in Kimberly Northern Cape on 18 June 1911.During this and subsequent flights he remained in the air for as long as eight and a half minutes.

It was during this period that he lived in Brandfort. The last version of Weston’s aeroplane engine,the oldest in the country and the only one of its kind,can be seen in the National Museum in Bloemfontein.During the First World War Weston served as a pilot in the Royal Naval Air force.At one stage he was posted to the Greek Navy,with the honorary rank of rear-admiral.

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