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 SAAF Museum news: Rare donation

Power: 37 HP piston engine
Speed: 90mph
Weight: 700lbs
Takeoff: 375ft
Landing: 100ft
Consumption: 40miles/gallon
Ceiling: 16000 ft
The remains of what many consider to be the first true kit-built aircraft in South Africa was recently donated to the South African Air Force Museum at Swartkop.

Origins of the Heath Parasol

Edward Heath founded the Heath Aerial Vehicle Co in Chicago Illinois in 1910 to supply parts to early aircraft builders. In 1926 he established the Heath Aircraft Company and manufactured a number of one-offs and kit-built designs.
Powered by a converted Henderson B-4 motorcycle engine, the Parasol, introduced in 1932, proved very popular – being economical to build and operate. It could also be built from plans or purchased complete and in 1932 was awarded type certificate using a 37hp Continental A-40 flat four-cylinder engine.

Heath was killed in a crash of a test model in 1931 and in 1935 the near bankrupt company was sold to Howard Anthony who focused on selling accessories for small aircraft. Nearly a thousand kits were sold and several hundred were eventually completed and flown. A number of original examples survive in museums while others, including modern reproductions built from the original plans and variants, are maintained in flying condition.

The Erasmus NA-40

Christoffel Erasmus was born and educated in Somerset East and left for Chicago in the USA to study aeronautical engineering. After graduating he obtained his air transportation license and became an airline pilot. He is said to have become a partner of Edward Heath and was involved with the design of the Heath Parasol. After a flying accident in 1930 he returned to South Africa and along with his brother established the Erasmus aircraft company of South Africa at Somerset East. At least two modified Parasols known as the Erasmus NA-40 were built, but the Department of Civil Aviation refused to issue certificates of airworthiness and the idea of establishing South Africa’s first aircraft manufacturing facility was abandoned. He subsequently joined Airservices (Pty) Ltd as a ground engineer and flew as pilot with the Aircraft Operating Company.

The first of two aircraft was ZS-AEL, which was the first locally manufactured variant of the Heath Parasol. It was test flown by Major Allister Miller and registered on 30 June 1933, but later written off. The remains were donated to the proposed Department of Transport Museum, which intended to rebuild it. The DOT Museum however ceased to exist and the aircraft never rebuild, but relegated to years in storage at various locations. The Civil Aviation Authority (CAA), where the aircraft were kept at Lanseria eventually contacted the Air Force Museum at Swartkop to whom it has now been donated.

ZS-UDK was the second of the two NA-40’s known to have been built. It was stored during World War II and only completed in the late 1960’s by Erasmus’s sons Alex and Phillip. It was registered in the “LS-1” (experimental) category in January 1967 and was still on the civil register in 1990 and remained in storage on their farm at Petit. This aircraft eventually ended up with the SAA Mechanical Apprentice Training School, where it was restored and used as an instructional airframe.

Researched and written by WO2 Alan Taylor and Capt Leon Steyn, SA Air Force Museum. Telephone: 012 351 2282 or 2290

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