Dangerous aircargo in Basutoland Protectorate How things were flown long ago ! By Theo Truter 1/9/2013
Dangerous air-cargo in Basutoland Protectorate [ It was later renamed Lesotho] As the bachelor-pilot on the staff of air-carrier ,Basutair based on the original Maseru Airport , I was “chosen “ to fly the first-ever loads of Dynamite to Mokhotlong. During 1958 the Roads Department of the then Basutoland Protectorate was busy with the construction of the Sani Pass. Due to the extremely difficult terrain, it was necessary to blast a way up valleys from Mokhotlong towards the Sani Flats and the Chief Engineer, Bob Philip,s requested that loads of Dynamite be flown to Mokhotlong. Remember that back then there were no roads or even Jeep tracks . There were tracks that only “Basuto ponies “could safely traverse, but would take over a week to complete , if they had food [ in winter there was no grazing anywhere ]. Thus air-cargo was the only other method. The Sani Pass construction team also worked from the Himeville side up onto the Sani Flats towards Mokhotlong. The aircraft of Basutair’s fleet were 2 x 1958 model Piper Tripacer’s, VQ-ZBH & VQ-ZBI and one 1956 model Piper Tripacer VQ-ZBE. So guess which one I was to fly ? The oldest one of course ! On the leg to Mokhotlong we loaded 500 lbs [ 227kg] payload plus 2.6 hours fuel. The 500 pounds [227 kg ] of Dynamite, packed in 10 x 50 lb cartons, arrived at 08h00 on 17 June 1958 and was stored against the hangar wall in the sun for 45 minutes to warm it up, as we were advised that the explosive was then more stable. What a thought , as up at 10 000 feet the winter outside air temperature was usually below zero anyway ! Then I was also wary of using too much cabin heat , in case of a localised over-temp next to a adjacent box. Then it was loaded into VQ-ZBE and I took off apprehensively for Mokhotlong. I can assure you that never was an engine more carefully monitored and managed than on that flight ! Along the way , I scrutinised every possible forced landing site [ not many around ] that I could see & literally flew from site to site. Also I made 100% sure that my landing at Mokhotlong was the smoothest possible. Some weeks later , I flew another 500 lbs[227 kg ] of Dynamite to Mokhotlong. in VQ-ZBE. On 4 December 1959 , the largest and final load was flown to Mokhotlong in a Dornier DO-27 , VQ-ZBK. Being relatively new still then , those DO-27’s could then carry a payload of 1200 lbs [ 545 kg ] with 1/2 fuel, but to Mokhotlong we used to carry 1100 lbs [ 500 kg ] as 2.5 hours fuel was also required. On this last flight, I was loaded with 20 boxes of Dynamite, which weighed 1000 lbs [ 454 kg ] , thus allowing for a easier climb to a higher summer density altitude. The minimum visual altitude used was 10,500 feet. The detonators and firing wicks, were always flown on a later, separate flight. We all joked later about the bang I would’ve made if it all blew up ! A sick thought !
By Theo Truter
Photo from 1958