The year 2017 saw the celebration of Wonderboom National Airport’s (WNA) 80 years in operation.
The airport has a rich and diverse history dating back to the turbulent years of World War I (1914–1918), when the first small airstrip was established west of Silverton. After the war, civil aviation began to flourish and various local authorities began to establish air fields.
The airport began its humble beginnings on a portion of a farm known as Koedoespoort. The airfield naturally became known as the Silverton or Koedoespoort aerodrome. It was in those early days that the airfield became famous after Pierre van Ryneveld and Quentin Brand made their first landing on South African soil when they touched down with their two-seater biplane, Voortrekker, en route to Cape Town on their London to Cape Town flight. Today that spot is a heritage site and the name of Pierre van Ryneveld has become synonymous with the capital city.
In 1930 the Lyttelton Aerodrome was established. In 1935 the first company to be established at the airport was Placo (Pretoria Light Aircraft Company) owned by Piet and Jan van der Woude, and one year later the Pretoria Flying Club was founded. As the then City Council envisaged future expansion, and the Zwartkop Air Force Base needed more space, it was decided to acquire 342 hectares of land on the farm, Wonderboom, north of the city.
The new airport, opened in 1937, did not attract much development other than Placo and the Pretoria Flying Club for the first two years. Placo then started doing charter work while still training pupil pilots for the government. With the outbreak of World War II, the airport became part of the war machine, being used for military purposes only. Placo staff joined the air force, the vintage Bessoneau hangars were strengthened, and six new Bellman hangars, a control tower, water tower, fire station and other buildings were constructed. Trainee pilots and the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force members were stationed at the airport and, as a result of the Joint Air Training Scheme between the SADF and the British Air Mission, a number of other military services – such as navigation gunnery and an air reconnaissance school – were established at the airfield. Wonderboom became the home of the No 3 Air School flying Tiger Moth, Homet Moth and six other civilian aircraft types. Some of the original airport buildings remain to this day, although the air school was disbanded in September 1944.
By 1948 the City Council again had control of the airfield while Placo and PFC took over operations. Rapid expansion began and, besides being used for air traffic, the airport became a facility for flight training, charter work, aircraft maintenance, and aircraft and aircraft parts sales.
The mowed grass runways and taxiways gave way to a tarred runway in 1960 and the airfield became an airport.
Between 1960 and 1961 a terminal building, new hangars, workshops, a new runway, tarmac lights and other facilities accompanied the newly tarred runway. The idea behind this was for the airport to serve as an alternate airport capable of landing large aircraft in case the then Jan Smuts International Airport (now known as OR Tambo International Airport) was closed because of inclement weather. It was only in 1982 that the first Boeing 737 landed at, what was known as, Wonderboom.
Upgrades to the Airport
Further upgrades came in 1992 and 1993 to increase the runway length in order to handle larger and freight aircraft. After that a number of upgrades took place that ensured that the airport could compete with others its size. An application was made in 2012 to grant the airport international status.
Ownership of the airport changed over the years, eventually ending up with the City of Tshwane, which is now the license holder of the airport. The Municipality instituted a development plan that led to a substantial increase in aircraft movement and firmly established the airport as an alternate departure point to various destinations in South Africa. In October 2015 SA Airlink began a scheduled service between Wonderboom National Airport and Cape Town International Airport.
Milestones and growth of the airport
Over the years the airport has acted as host for a number of first-ever and unique events that have placed it firmly on the radar:
- The first transatlantic flight in a two-seater aircraft (1955) by two locals.
- The christening of the Delaney aircraft, named after the first baby to be born on board a scheduled flight.
- First SA Parachuting Championships (1964).
- South Africa’s first black parachute jumper, Flocks Manceba (1974).
- Tandem rig parachuting with Miss World, Anneline Kriel (1986).
- First three-man star parachute jump (1968).
- First black South African pilot trained.
- First aircraft diverted from OR Tambo International Airport – 707 Boeing.
- First five-star parachute jump record (1970).
- First-ever African-inspired fashion show, Fashion in Africa, in 2005.
- In August 2016 the Municipality introduced, in collaboration with Airlink, scheduled flights between Pretoria and Cape Town from Wonderboom National Airport to Cape Town International Airport.
- Capital-to-Capital Cycle Tour from Wonderboom National Airport to Cape Town International Airport in November 2016.
The Airport Brand
Wonderboom National Airport’s upgrade strategy is to enhance the airport’s overall status to reflect that of an international airport in both function and branding. In October 2016, and to mark the 80th anniversary of WNA, the Executive Mayor of Tshwane unveiled a new logo for the airport, featuring the Wonderboom tree, an aircraft and a runway, designed in green, white and purple. The logo incorporated the more than 1 200-year-old magnificent Wonderboom tree, situated in the Magaliesberg mountain range in Pretoria. The tree represents the airport, which makes it possible for people to connect with one another. The runway represents a link and shows the flight path of the aircraft. The colour purple is representative of the Jacaranda tree, synonymous with the area. Purple represents compassion and understanding. The colour green represents growth and prosperity.