Opportunities at the Johannesburg Light Plane Club Syferfontein

By Willie Bodenstein


JLPC, Baragwaneth, BaraG, Syferfontein … call it what you will… there is one indisputable fact: the Johannesburg Light Plane Club incorporated in 1930 but in operation since about 1924 is one of the oldest continually active flying clubs in the world! It is certainly the oldest in South Africa and the first known commercial flight happened from the old Baragwanath aerodrome in 1919.

Formed at the old Baragwanath site, where it thrived for years, the Club was forced to move further away from the growing city forty years ago in 1983 when it was relocated to Syferfontein adjacent to the military base Lenz. The move was traumatic, but with the old hangars taken down and moved and a new clubhouse built, and a new 1.1 km tarred runway, a new era began. The traditions of the old Baragwanath were transplanted to the new home where the "Snoopy v Red Baron" hijinks that accompanied the famous JLPC air shows continued. The new Bara carried on the enthusiasm and creativity of the burgeoning experimental aircraft scene - featuring pioneers such as Bob Hay, Noel Otten, Ian Popplewell, Mike McCauley, Roy Watson and really very many more over the years.

As it stands today the Clubhouse and the comfortable, fully furnished, cottages command remarkable views towards the Joburg skyline over rolling lawns. The evenings are particularly beautiful with the lights on the horizon and the starscape above, making it a pleasant place to spend the whole weekend (members are entitled to a free night's accommodation a month and visitors are welcome). The club environment is welcoming and supportive of all South African amateur aviators, with a view to keeping the cost of aviation as low as possible, so it can be accessible. There are no landing fees or service fees, fuel is available. The Club welcomes enthusiasts and their families, both young and old.

The restaurant at BaraG closed due to the Covid pandemic and is not yet regularly open, although members do arrange occasional braais and breakfasts when they can. The Club is currently talking to a few potential caterers to reinstate the regular coffees, burgers, breakfasts and the like. The clubhouse certainly is conducive to a great atmosphere and the pub has an epic history - soon to be supplemented with new tales.

For those accustomed to the long waits for take-off clearance and the bigger airfields and the need to be careful of restricted airspace, limited corridors, urban encroachment, limited forced landing areas, crowded frequencies and the like, Bara seems like a little bit of heaven. It is positioned in the North East corner of the Johannesburg General Flying Area and operates on the GFA's unique frequency (122.35) which, typically, is not crowded. The dedicated aerobatic box can be activated up to 9500 feet and it is a short flight to the edge of the TMA airspace and the South. BaraG aviators typically don't have to wait at all to get airborne and do not have to worry about noise complaints or places to force land should that become necessary.

Although the entrance road is a bit challenging at times being gravel and not always well maintained, it links to the Potchefstroom and N1 highways making road access quick and convenient from Johannesburg and the southern, western and even northern suburbs being about 30 minutes from almost anywhere. In fact, it struck me that it is ideally situated for a flying school, although there presently is not one resident (many of them like to use the runway, though!). Reserved for members are the two grass runways which are ideal for tail draggers, especially when the northerlies blow!

While Bara is known for its very low-priced traditional back to back T hangars, I was particularly impressed with the row of 15 x 15 hangars set back against the fence. These are ideal for those with several aircraft which they like to keep in one place. Designed with reinforced floors and three phase power for the manufacturing of the sadly now defunct Vliegmasjien project, these are very impressive and I understand that one is available for sale. This hangar would be ideal for an AMO or a flight school or anyone with 2 or more aircraft. It is keenly priced. Speaking of fences, the electrified security fence encloses the hangars and clubhouse as a deterrent to any criminals.

As I sat on the verandah watching the late afternoon brightness bounce off the forever airborne Impala and Harvard and flash over Frank's sparkling white Super Cub, it was easy to let the imagination waft me away to the golden era of flying. I sipped my coffee and allowed myself to wonder if there's actually a better spot for an aviator anywhere in the world.

BaraG is actively looking for a caterer to run the kitchen and clubhouse facilities and would be very interested in speaking to an AMO or Flight School looking to exploit the facilities available.

Baragwanath Airfield is in the fortunate position to be able to sell one of its main hangars. A newly constructed 15 x 15 m hanger. Has a 150mm reinforced floor. Three phase power. Lights and water. This hanger would be ideal for an AMO, possibly a flight school or anyone with 2 or more aircrafts. We are hoping to get R500 000.

Baragwanath Airfield has excellent clubhouse facilities with a boardroom. It has three adjoining, fully furnished cottages. This would be ideal for a flight school and possibly training foreign students with their full accommodation at Baragwanath Airfield.

In the clubhouse we have a fully functional kitchen as well as a bar. We are looking for someone to take this over as a project and offer much needed catering/ Bar facilities to this lovely airfield.

For more information contact:
frank@abj.org.za or 082 414 4183

JLPC, one of the oldest continually active flying clubs in the world!

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