Flight, October 1933
SOUTH AFRICAN ENTERPRISE
THERE is in South Africa a young designer about whom the aeronautical world will probably hear more in the future. His name is Mr. C. J. Erasmus, and he lives at "Charlton," Somerset East. He was educated at Gill
College in Somerset East, and on leaving school decided to break away from the family tradition of farming and devote his attentions to engineering, so he apprenticed himself to a local garage. His ambition to learn more of internal combustion engines led him to leave the garage and, in the year 1927, cross the ocean to America, where he took an extensive course in motor engineering and construction, passing his examinations with credit. After completing his engineering studies he began to realise the great possibilities of aviation, especially in his native land, South Africa, and so decided to devote himself to the study of aeroplane design. He became a student at the Michigan State University, and after graduating joined the Packard Co. (Aviation Branch). From there he went to Chicago, where he was connected with "Stromberg Devices," and later with the Aviation Service Transport, where he Secured his Ground Engineering and Pilot's Certificates, also much practical flying experience.
Mr. Erasmus then decided to design and manufacture aeroplanes on his own and set up a small factory at Chicago, where he designed and built four "Erasmus" single-seater monoplanes powered by a three-cylinder radial engine of 35 h.p., also designed by himself. Having got so far he decided that he had outstayed his welcome, for the authorities required him to leave the country. Before leaving the States, however, he took part in a large aerial display using his own machine; unfortunately, he was involved in a collision with another machine, and crashed from a height of about 300 ft., receiving serious head injuries.
In 1931 he returned to South Africa taking with him quite a lot of machinery, and also arranged for a supply of constructional material. He decided to set up a factory at Somerset East and applied to the Municipality for a long lease of the local aerodrome, about two miles from the town, but for some reason or another his application was not granted. Not to be beaten by this little setback he repaired to his father's farm on the top of the Bush Berg range, 4,500 ft. above sea level. As there was not a supply of electricity at the farm, he set up his machinery in the village, and set to in an old shearing shed, to construct a monoplane as best he could. This he achieved with the sole assistance of his younger brother. To satisfy Mr. J. C. Erasmus, whose small machines are described on this page, the requirements of the Civil Aviation Board he had to work under licence from an American firm of standing, and certain features in the American design had to be incorporated, so the machine was not built strictly to his own design.
One day, a great one for Mr. Erasmus, the newly constructed machine was wheeled out into the open for a flying test. On the mountain top there is no level ground, so the young designer was compelled to make the best of the grassy slopes of the hillsides; by skill, however, and perhaps a little good luck, which is after all only the fair deserts of the brave, he successfully carried out a first flying test, soaring away over the crest of the mountain and circling over the town at a height of over 3,500 ft. above it.
The machine is a single-seater high-wing monoplane; the wings, 26 ft. spread, are of wooden frame construction, covered with fabric; the fuselage is constructed of high-tension aeroplane steel tubes, oxygen-acetylene welded; the engine, four-cylinder horizontally opposed, develops 40 h.p., and gives the machine a speed of 100 m.p.h.; the petrol consumption is 2 gal. an hr., the rate of climb 800 ft. per min., the take-off 60 yd., the landing speed 30 m.p.h., and the total weight, fully loaded and including pilot, 700 lb.
Mr. Erasmus then applied for a Certificate of Airworthiness, which could only be granted by the authorities at Pretoria, nearly 700 miles away. Meanwhile, Mr. Erasmus sold the machine to a rancher subject to it being granted a C. of A.; there was, however, some little delay in getting it inspected. After a time Maj. Miller, D.S.O., Chairman of South African Airways, came to Somerset East and inspected the plane. After a thorough examination he took it up on a trial flight, and was so impressed that he flew it to Port Elizabeth, 100 miles distant, and from there to Cape Town, where it created great interest; afterwards he flew it back to Port Elizabeth, stating emphatically that it was an ideal machine for the conditions in South Africa. When the machine was, once again, at Port Elizabeth the authorities, not understanding that the wheels had been set at an angle by design, thought that the tubular axle was bent; they therefore removed it and had it straightened by the local blacksmith, who failed to restore the original temper. Pilot W. Pidsley then flew the machine to its home at Somerset East, but, on landing, the weakened axle gave way. (Hardly surprising. We have seen blacksmiths at work. They may know something about footwear for horses, but when it comes to an aeroplane undercarriage - well, you can hardly blame the blacksmith. Brute force and – er - a certain amount of ignorance are not essential attributes for aircraft workmanship. - ED.)
Mr. Erasmus has since constructed a second light monoplane, slightly larger than the first, and has tested it out. He is very satisfied with its performance, but is disheartened by the lack of Government interest, and the many snags set by rules and regulations, which appear to make successful construction in South Africa almost a crime. Mr. Erasmus states definitely that, given sympathetic support from the Union Government, he is willing to erect the first South African aeroplane factory. He neither asks for, nor requires, financial support from them.
(Mr. Erasmus may take comfort from the fact that most of the leading aeroplane constructors in Great Britain have also felt like he does at some time or other. They have, however, persevered and are reaping their reward. Rome was not built in a day. The greater the difficulty, the greater the glory. - ED.)