EAA in South Africa

By Anthony Spence

After reading the article “Aging Gracefully” in the April 2019 issue of Sport Aviation, I feel that I must let you all know the real story of how EAA got to South Africa. My father, Vincent Aloysious Spence, commonly known as Mike — that’s a whole other story as to how he became known as Mike — died in February just nine days after his 89th birthday.

Dad learned to fly in Rhodesia, now Zimbabwe, in the early 1950s in a DH.82A Tiger Moth. He got his flight training with the Royal Air Force as a civilian under a civilian pilot training scheme, which was still active as this was shortly after the war. As an aircraft mechanic apprentice, he and a friend bought an Auster J/2, similar to the Taylorcraft. This aircraft had been crashed between two trees and the wings were broken off. Dad and his friend Jerry bought the wreck and rebuilt it. Later, they also bought a Tiger Moth and flew the two aircraft all over the country for many years until my dad, who was married with three children by then, decided to move down to Johannesburg, South Africa. That was in 1962, just after I was born.

Shortly after moving to South Africa, my dad bought a Piper Vagabond and in 1964 he realized that there was a need for an amateur aircraft building section for the aviation community of South Africa, so he set out to get as many people as possible to start such a movement. The first person he contacted about this was his good friend “Ton” Maneschyn.

owned a Fairchild 24 at the time, and together they set out to lay down the
plans for getting an amateur-built movement going. He then managed to get some
more friends to join his little group of amateur builders and flyers. It was
around this time that Dad read in a magazine about this group of amateur
builders in America called the Experimental Aircraft Association started by
Paul Poberezny. That was exactly the guidance he was looking for. Dad wrote to
Paul, first to make contact and then to inquire about starting an EAA chapter
in South Africa. Paul, who I can only imagine must have been quite shocked to
get letters all the way from South Africa, answered my dad and explained the
standard requirement of 10 members of EAA to start a chapter.

my dad explained to me one day, you would not believe the uphill battle to get 10
members to join EAA, which in those days was $10 for a one-year membership. In
order to make up the 10 members, my dad had to put my two older sisters down as
members — I was too young. Through the snail mail of the time Paul eventually
awarded them their charter and EAA Chapter 322 was born in South Africa on February
26, 1969, the first truly overseas chapter of EAA. In addition to my dad, who
remained chapter president for eight years, the charter members were Ton, H.
Harvey, D. Tinsley, D. Spence, M. Spence, J. Saunder, B. Sullivan, F. van der
Berg, and T. Couws.

first, the meetings were held in my dad’s house, until my mom decided that she
had had enough cigarette burns in her carpet, as my dad put it. He then built a
big garage in the backyard where they held their meetings for years. I guess
like all chapters, attendance fluctuated from as few as five members to as many
as 30. Slowly the membership grew and so did the building movement in South
Africa. They held their first fly-in/air show at Rand Airport near
Johannesburg, where they had an EAA Biplane, a Druine Turbulent, a Wittman Tailwind,
a Benson Gyrocopter, one of Ton’s own designs that I don’t know the name of, a
Teenie Two in pieces, and of course, my dad’s Vagabond. The wives all sat
around with babies in arms and the cars were all parked around the aircraft in
a circle.

there, Chapter 322 grew and today is one of the biggest chapters with more than
150 members. My dad went on to start two more chapters in South Africa, Chapter
575 east of Johannesburg and Chapter 973 west of Johannesburg. There are also chapters
in Durban and Cape Town.

awarded my dad an honorary lifetime membership in EAA for his efforts in
bringing EAA to South Africa, Tom Poberezny visited South Africa in 1972 and
gave my dad his award and lifetime membership card.

Paul and my dad became great long-distance friends, corresponding and talking often on the phone and they finally met in 1977 when my dad and I managed to get over to attend our first EAA Oshkosh.

Dad went
on to own several aircraft, he bought another Tiger Moth and a DHC-1 Chipmunk, and
in 1988, through a strange turn of events, he bought back his old Auster J/2,
which he had sold when he left Zimbabwe in 1962. This same aircraft now lives
in Memphis, Tennessee, with me and my two sons Matt and Justin. Over the years
he also owned two more Auster aircraft, both J/5s, every model of Piper
Cherokee from the 140 to the Cherokee 6-300, a Nord Norécrin 1203, and a very
rare PZL-102B, of which there are only three left in the world. 

Dad loved
general aviation and even in his later years at the age of 60 when he retired
from the tool business, he rewrote and passed his aircraft maintenance engineer’s
license, similar to an A&P here in the U.S. He then opened an aircraft
maintenance shop looking after all kinds of general aviation aircraft but
concentrating more on the vintage tube and fabric aircraft. He continued flying
and running his business until he was 87 years young always helping EAA members
maintain and enjoy their aircraft.

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