Victor Smith was born in 1913, the same year as Alex Henshaw. He was educated at Kingswood College in Grahamstown, and was living in George in the Southern Cape at the time of his attempt in 1932 - at the age of nineteen - on the Cape Town to England record.
Son of a footware manufacturer, Victor Smith became fascinated with flying at about the time of Lindbergh's historic solo crossing of the Atlantic in 1927. In 1930 he learned to fly in a Cirrus Moth at the Port Elizabeth Light Plane Club. On the day he went solo for the first time, he had the honour of being accompanied as a passenger by Major Allister Miller, often regarded as the father of aviation in South Africa.
Another famous passenger who flew with Victor Smith during his early years was George Bernard Shaw, who took his first flight in 1931 at George in an open cockpit Gipsy Moth piloted by Smith.
Left: Victor Smith with George Bernard Shaw, 1931.
Above: The Gipsy
Moth II in which Victor Smith
flew from Cape Town to England in 1932.
Smith also developed an early taste for aerobatics, developing skills which stood him in very good stead throughout a flying career that spanned 46 years. During this time, he accumulated 7000 hours of flying, and made 21 forced landings due to engine failure. It is a tribute to his exceptional skills as a pilot that he never damaged an aircraft in the process.
Victor Smith is however perhaps best known for his attempts on the Cape Records, which he made in 1932 and 1933.
Cape to Britain Record Attempt - 1932
In 1932, flying his own modified Gipsy II Moth ZS-ADB, Victor Smith made an attempt on the existing Cape To Britain air speed record. 600 miles north of Mossamedes (now called Namibe) he ran into a tropical storm. For an hour and a quarter he was subjected to extreme turbulence and buffeting. This unfortunately damaged his fuel system, causing it to leak. As a result he was forced to make an emergency landing in the Sahara, where he had the extraordinary experience of being befriended by a tribe of Touaregs. Although his aircraft was undamaged and he was able to proceed after refuelling, the record was now beyond reach.
The flight was not without further incident however, as his engine failed as he crossed the English coastline, resulting in a second forced landing in a hop field.
Britain to Cape Record Attempt - 1933
The following year Victor Smith attempted to break the England to Cape Town record, flying a Comper Swift. This endeavour also failed, but only through the exceptional bad luck of a 45 mile per hour headwind for over a thousand miles. He once again ran out of fuel, as was forced to land in unknown country by the light of parachute flare. This feat of extraordinary airmanship was honoured 65 years later in 1998, when a monument was unveiled at the site where he landed.
Victor Smith with the parachute
which made possible his landing near
Vanrhynsdorp in 1933.
He was one of the participants in the Schlesinger Race from Portsmouth to Johannesburg, which was held in 1936. Although delayed when his aircraft, a Miles Sparrowhawk experienced a serious oil leak, he nevertheless completed the race, which was won by Scott and Guthrie.
Victor Smith is now living in active retirement in the Wilderness near his home town of George. A full and riveting account of his record attempts and many of his other activities as a pioneer pilot through the 1930s and on into World War II may be found in his book, Open Cockpit Over Africa.
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