Brussels-Kamina aboard an SV-4B



Each SV-4B that served with the Belgian Air Force has a history of its own. The most unlikely one was the journey of a SV-4B that flew from Brussels to Kamina (Belgian Congo) in 23 days. Major "Manu" Geerts accomplished this feat in 1950. This famous WWII pilot was to deliver an SV-4B to Kamina and did so in 66 hrs 20 min after a flight covering a distance of 10.578 km.


Maj Geerts and SV-4B V2 in Kairo

 

Early 1950 the Belgian Air Force saw itself faced with delivering an SV-4B to Base Kamina, where it would be put to use for various purposes, the main one being the replacement of an Oxford with engine trouble. The replacement aircraft was to be SV-4B "V2", a trainer which had been delivered to the EVS (Elementary Flying School) and that suffered a category 4 crash in 1949, but had been repaired since.

Three pilots of repute were being considered for this flight, i.e. "Mony" Van Lierde, "Manu" Geerts and "Cheval" Lallemant. The latter did not accept the proposal. The remaining two tossed a coin over it and Geerts came out as the winner, much to the dismay of Van Lierde, who denounced his colleague as future Nile crocodile fodder.

From that moment on "Many" Geerts was to acquire all the help he could get to bring his mission to a satisfactory end. He was not to leave anything to chance. He requested No. 15 Wing to set out his course and at Evere called upon Jo Gueuffen, an old friend of his who also was an instructor. He asked him to alter the plane making it suitable for long-distance flights.

Gueuffen started off by installing a P-12 compass taken from a Dakota. Mounted onto three aluminium legs attached to the fuselage right above the dashboard, it offered a direct view towards the horizon. Tuning could be done up to an accuracy of half a degree. Apart from that Gueuffen also installed a gyrocompass connected to a venturi.

Stampe mounted additional fuel tanks, one on the forward cockpit seat and another on the top wing. They also installed a generator and a wireless set. In the course of the voyage some of these devices would turn out to be troublesome. Nevertheless flight autonomy was increased by 7 hours.

The national markings were removed from the fuselage and wings. Only a miniaturised tricolour flag remained on the tail fin and the military coding V12 in small lettering underneath the elevator rudder. A civil registration was attributed to the plane, i.e. OT-ZAA that was applied to the fuselage and wings. This voyage would be recorded into two flight logs, one of which was the military and the other the civil one.

"Manu" had the good old D system installed. Four thermos flasks were put at his feet next to the control columns. A rubber hose was attached to them and a special coupling device was to allow the pilot to supply himself with hot drinks during flight. In order to allow some leg rest during the flight small chains were attached to the rudder pedals, calling for some "automatic steering" of sorts.

SV-4B V2 in Khartoum and next to RAF Anson


The great departure

Date of departure was set for February 27, 1950. The meteorological forecast was sombre. The weather was atrocious and it was freezing cold? But the dice had been thrown. "Manu" Geerts was to leave. Direction: Lyon.

After two hours in the air the pilot decided to quench his thirst, putting to use his ingenious system for the first time. One of the flasks contained tea with cream and sugar. The taste was horrible. Having been whisked about for hours the milk had turned sour. From then on the flaks were filled only with tea.

The next leg of his trip was to Nice. Snow abounded and crossing the Alps was done under heavy turbulence. For the first time in his life "Manu" Geerts was at the edge of mortal fear. He arrived at Nice having escaped his adventure unscathed.

The next day his destination was Rome. Visibility was zero and it was raining cats and dogs. In order to be able to find his bearings the SV was forced to fly as low as possible. A railway was spotted and followed, in the knowledge that all roads lead to Rome. Geerts managed to put his plane down at the Chianpino airfield. After touchdown he was given a good dressing-down by the tower for having come in from the left, the side of the mountains, and for not having made use of his radio. Afterwards at take off, he would yet use the radio, however with his engine off lest all sounds be deafened by the roar of the engine.

At Chianpino it was discovered that the tank in the front seat had a leak. His clothing bag, equally containing all his personal belongings, had been stuffed in front of the tank and was completely soaked in fuel necessitating prior cleaning and drying. The time lost doing this allowed for a visit to Rome and obtaining the Pope's blessing in the process. He met Jean Créteur who regularly flew Sobelair's Belgium-Congo connection on DC-3. Créteur supplied him with some valuable navigational tips and spotting points in the desert. Later on "Manu" Geerts confirmed that these tips saved his life.

After three days of bad weather the Italian meteorological service put the light on green, provided he flew via Corsica, Sardinia and Tunis, instead of via Messina and Sicily. The crossing over via Cagliari would take more time, but the SV was to have a 50-km/h backwind.

SV-4B V2 in Kairo - Manono - Marble Arche

The crossing

Taking off from Cagliari on March 3, 1950, Geerts climbed to 1.000 m and pointed his nose in the direction of Tunis. One hour passed, then another hour. Not a living soul was to be seen. No birds, no ships, merely the vast expanse of a blue sea. To while away the time he tested the reaction time of the compass, which turned out to be working properly. For lack of sufficient space, he had, prior to leaving, decided on taking a dinghy in lieu of a parachute. He now felt good with that decision. Suddenly he noticed a white object at the horizon. Coming up closer he then could distinguish a lighthouse. According to the map he was less than one kilometre away from his planned point of entry. Gueuffen's remarkable compass had done a tremendous job.

Next came the crossing over of Northern Africa; each lap bringing its own anecdotes and difficulties. At Tunis the wind was at gale force making it virtually impossible for Geerts to keep his plane in hand. At Marble Arch he landed his plane in the midst of a storm…50 meters from the side of the runway. At Cairo customs and police officials subjected him to a painstaking search. At Luxor, his last lap before flying into the Sudan he was asked whether he carried any weapons with him. "Manu" gave a positive answer in showing his knife and Very pistol. Over the desert he managed to get himself lost in a sandstorm that had come up to an altitude of close to 2.000 metres. At its stopover Geerts not only battled his ever-present fatigue, but also had to have the plane controlled, had to replenish, cover up the engine, go through the customs-, police and security routines, check with the weather forecasters ands find himself suitable transport and a place to bed down. At Khartoum his fuel replenishment tube turned out to be broken and a RAF crew fixed it, checking the whole engine in the process.

In order to reach Malakia-Juba Geerts was to follow the track of a thin electricity line suspended between 3-meter poles. En route he noticed a black warrior aiming his spear at his plane intending to down it there and then. New difficulties were encountered on the stretch from Juba to Irumu as a mountain range having its top hidden in the clouds had to be crossed. Upon arrival he bedded down in the only one available hotel. His room turned out to be crawling with a variety of vermin. Before descending to the restaurant he emptied a full can of insect spray. After a meal of Flemish stew he found his room to be free of insects.

SV-4B V2 in Kamina naast Belgische Oxford

The arrival

As Geerts reached the lake country he had the privileged of beholding incredibly large herds of elephants. He passed via Usumbura where a nephew of his was the local doctor. Crossing Lake Tanganyika he had to fly around quite some large and dark rain showers. Upon arrival at Albertville the SV had to be put in a hangar in order to protect it against the heavy rainfall. In Manono Geerts visited the tin mines and on March 23, 1950 he took off for his last leg to Kamina, 23 days after having left Brussels. Finally the SV could be handed over to the base commander "Coco" Collignon.

Geerts was to wait another three days for a Dakota to come and pick him up for his return to Belgium. Upon arrival of the plane (the K2) apart from the broken down Oxford engine, a load of bananas and pili-pili was equally put on board.
In the course of his return trip Geerts was to live thru yet another frantic experience as the Dakota flown by Colonel "Mike" Donnet and Captain Terlinden ended up bang in the middle of a storm. Fortunately plane and passengers came out of it unscathed. Putting his feet back on Belgian soil at Melsbroek, Major "Manu" Geerts gave in to a huge sigh of relieve. His first words were "Si c'était à refaire, plus jamais" (If it were to be done again, I wouldn't dream of doing it.).

Many years later the SV-4B has been written off at Kamina. Returning the plane to Belgium was not a consideration.

Geerts - Donnet - Collignon and Geerts leaving "his" SV-4B V2 in Kamina

 

 

Database, history, gallery of the 65 airplanes that were used by the Belgian Air Force, and the still flying planes.
Acro Team "Les Manchots" , the SV planes they used, and the aces. Article of Dominique Hanson.
Crash report of the accident with SV-4b V43 in Twente (Netherland) in 1986 - Crash report of the accident with SV-4B V53 at the Old Rhinebeck Aerodrome New York (USA) in 2001 - SV-4B crashes in Belgium database of all Belgian SV-4B crashes
SV-4B with Blackburn Cirrus engine article of L. Wittemans.
Other types of SV airplanes and the LINK trainer , the other types of SV airplanes build bij Stampe Vertongen and an article about the LINK trainer, the first generation of flight simulators.
SV-4B OO-ATD and Divoy and Donnet, flight to freedom of Leon Divoy and Michel Donnet and SV-4B OO-ATD - SV-4B OO-ACB van Verbraeck en Reuter and their flight from France to Portugal in 1940
SV-4B V2 trip to Kamina (Congo) , in 1950 military pilot Manu Geerts had to deliver SV-4B V2 in Congo, Kamina. A trip of 10.578km, and 66 hrs flying time, article of R. Decobeck.
SV-4B in WWII in Africa , at the beginning of WWII 24 planes of the earlier SV-4B version airplanes, were transferred to Congo, at that time a Belgian Colony. This version had no closed canopy. An article of L. Wittemans.
Belgian Air Cadets , they used for several years the last military SV-4B airplanes.
SV links and other related links.

Reactions of SV-4B pilots, mistery photos and contact address

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