Christo Erasmus – A PERSONAL HISTORY

In 1949 an Ercoupe, the 415-E model, with the serial number 4975 was born. I’m not exactly sure how she got into South Africa, but she started her life as ZS-BSJ as early as 1950. As with all Ercoupes of the time, she had no rudder pedals and was fitted with the Continental C-85 (85 hp) engine.

EARLY RECORDS SHOW some incidents between 1950 and 1965 that included hard landings, forced landings and propeller damage. Unfortunately, the logbooks that I have in my possession only start in 1966. She spent most of her days in the Port Elizabeth (Uitenhage) area at that time and later moved to Progress. She did travel up and down the coastline a lot, with trips ranging from PE to Saldana Bay and up to Pietermaritzburg, Margate and Virginia.

Somewhere between May 1978 and July 1981 she stopped flying, at least according to the logbooks but somehow ended up in Cape Town, where she was dismantled and moved by railway to Dundee. Here she was reassembled and placed back into service on 1 July 1981.

On 3 March 1984 she became part of the Erasmus family for the first time when my dad, Lex Erasmus, obtained a special flight permit from the then Department of Civil Aviation (DCA) to ferry her from Lanseria to Bapsfontein. He vividly recalls that ATC reminded him that the aircraft needed that special certificate before take-off to which he promptly provided the required detail.

Between March 1984 and December 1985, the aircraft was completely rebuilt. The fabric covered wings had a complete recovering. All metal areas were stripped and repainted. All control surfaces were rebalanced. The major changes were:

  • The engine; this was replaced by a Lycoming O-235-C1 (115 hp),
  • The fitment of the aftermarket rudder pedal kit,
  • A new propeller
  • A new interior.

This is when she was re-registered as ZS-VCE. The V was designated back then for Veteran or LS1 as some may now know it.

‘an incident on a golf course’

After successful test flights and some alterations, I eventually got my turn to go up with my dad in her. I was a little over 9 years old at this point and did many circuits with the ‘old man’ while he explained all the steps, checks and basics behind the circuit pattern.

To my surprise he soon let me fly most of the circuits without him handling any of the controls. Late on a Sunday afternoon he did the takeoff as usual and handed control over to me just after lift off. I flew the complete circuit, including the approach, flare, and touch down! My very first landing!

The Swart brothers from Bapsfontein who owned her at the time flew many missions between Bapsfontein, Delmas, Wonderboom and other places. They owned her to about 1991.

In May of 1995, she was once again made airworthy by Multi Air, and was back in Bapsfontein after my dads’ cousin purchased her. He completed his conversion at Bapsfontein and then flew her down to Somerset East where he was located. She once again flew up and down the Eastern Cape, until about 1998.

My dads’ cousin was involved in a farm accident and lost his flight medical. The Ercoupe, still stationed at Somerset East, languished in a hangar and was vandalised one evening when there was a break-in into the hangar. All her windows were smashed.

Enter Pat Hanley of SA Mooney. On 29 September 2001 a temporary flight permit was issued after repairs were carried out and she was flown to Port Alfred. Dave Smith and Pat Hanley took good care of her while she was there and kept the ‘old lady’ in immaculate shape. Some additions and changes after an incident on a golf course in Alicedale in 2007 were made but all of these were for the better. It included a completely rebuilt centre section as the old one was showing some corrosion as well as a complete recovering of the wings and a complete repaint.

In 2018, my dad, a friend and I made our way down to Port Alfred to inspect ZS-VCE that I saw being advertised by Mooney. I was smitten! Sure, she was no longer yellow and green as I remembered, but yellow and black. Well-polished and taken good care of! I just had to have her back! Thinking of all sorts of ways to raise the required funds and NOT infuriate the wife, I made an offer…….it got declined. I was devastated, but it was still good to see her again.

At that time my dad and I were rebuilding a KFA Explorer on which I then got my tailwheel endorsement. I’ve spent many happy hours in that Explorer and was gladly minding my own business when I got the call, late in 2021, from Patrick asking if I’m still interested in the Ercoupe.

I immediately placed my beloved Explorer on the market and made sure that the Ercoupe is secured until the sale of said Explorer. On 2 January 2022 I delivered the Explorer to its new owner.

Christo Erasmus and his Dad with ZS-VCE and their Speed Rally prizes.

On 21 January 2022 she was finally mine! I did my conversion at Port Alfred on the 21st and on the 22nd my dad and I set off from Port Alfred to Aviators Paradise on what proved to be an even more epic journey than anticipated.

We decided to go from Port Alfred to Queenstown, then from Queenstown to Tempe and then from there to Aviators Paradise. A nice trip of about 6.5 hours of flying.

All went well until about three quarters of the way to Queenstown when I felt a slight thud. All the temps and pressures were good and there was nothing seemingly wrong. After an uneventful landing I taxied up to the fuel bay and upon disembarking the plane I noticed that I was trailing an oil streak. The belly of the Ercoupe was covered in oil. Realising that we were now stuck in Queenstown as there were no hire cars available, I ended up hiring the flight school’s C172 and leaving my ‘Coupe’ behind. I can’t thank Mark Sahd from the Queenstown Flying Club enough for his generosity and assistance!

Patrick fetched her from Queenstown the next day, flew her back to Port Alfred and discovered that the oil-air separator had a blockage that had effectively vacuumed all the oil out of the engine. With that fixed, he flew her back to Queenstown and we flew the C172 back to Queenstown via Kroonstad the next week.

‘an absolute dream to fly’

Back in the ‘Coupe’, the plan was to go to Aliwal North just to check on the fuel and oil and then carry on to Kroonstad and then home. We made Aliwal North at about 11.30 in the morning. Luckily, I was able to contact Gary Dampier, a very helpful and friendly local before our arrival for assistance with fuel. Turns out that the temperature of 32 degrees made take off almost impossible with the Coupe, so we were once again stuck. After having a nice lunch with our new friends, we waited until 5pm and headed for Tempe instead of Kroonstad, where we overnighted once again.

The next morning should take us from Tempe to Aviators, but NO, the weather and winds forced us to divert to Parys. We barely made it into Parys before a torrential downpour. Stuck again. We waited and waited, in the early afternoon there seemed to be a good enough gap. After taking off we made it to the ridge close to Krugersdorp but there was no way through. Not being one for scud-running, I turned around and headed back to Parys. Later in the afternoon the weather broke up into scattered showers. The west still seemed closed, but reports from the east and home seemed to be okay.

We made it to the hills just before Baragwanath and could not see anything after that, so I diverted to Vereeniging. A friend of ours offered hangarage there and we gladly accepted and were driven home.

A week later, with an overhauled P-Prop and a glorious clear sky, we flew her to Springs. Yes – still not home, as we’ve decided that the carburettor needs work as she was consuming a LOT more fuel than calculated, according to the expected numbers. The search for carburettor parts is probably a novel on its own; suffice to say that we eventually managed to find the parts.

The flight from Springs to Aviators Paradise was conducted by my dad, Seeing that aeroplane finally arrive at Aviators Paradise was a little emotional, to be honest. It had taken almost four weeks to get her from Port Alfred to here.

‘I just had to have her back’

She’s turned out to be an eye catcher at every airport that I fly to, especially with the youngsters. I’ve flown more hours in her in the past 9 months than she did in the past 9 years and this obviously revealed some minor issues with the engine, rigging etc that have all received attention.

On our trip up from Port Alfred we really struggled to get past 85 mph indicated. We expected around 100 mph. Some rigging changes, trim settings and carburettor adjustments soon had us cruising at a comfortable 100 mph indicated.

Climb performance is not comparable to a home sick angel, but at least the extra couple of horses here at altitude helps a little. I get an average of about 400 fpm with two up and full tanks. Density altitude is something to carefully consider, as discovered in Aliwal North.

My dad and I have competed in two of the SAPFA Speed Rallys this year with her and she performed way better than expected, sometime even reaching an indicated airspeed of 125 mph! I didn’t like this much as Vne is 140 mph and 125 mph is already within the yellow arc. Our aim is to return to the competition next year to show everyone ‘how it’s done’.

She’s not complicated. She doesn’t have flaps, or a complicated fuel system: she has a very effective mechanical fuel level indicator on top of the cowl in the header tank.

She’s an absolute dream to fly, very forgiving, very stable and most of all; full of history. Every flight in her provides an absolute feeling of fulfilment.

My daughter gave her the nickname of Bumblebee.

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