/ Trek Lugdiens
Trek Airways was founded on 23rd Sept 1953 with Tom Meredith and Fanie Botha as principle shareholders. They started operations on 3rd Oct with one Dakota ZS-DIY, bought with money lent by Botha, who only eight months later was to drop a bomb- shell by exercising his lien on the aircraft and selling it to Africair.
Fortunately Tom managed to save the day by obtaining a loan from Lombard Bank to purchase a Viking from Airwork ZS-DKH. This turned out to be a blessing in disguise and within a short period they ended up with three Vikings. New shareholders joined Tom and these were Cecil Snelgar, Fred Gratz, Jock Hamilton and Paddy Rorke.
C.J.H. Patmore replaced Fanie Botha as Chairman of the Board. Captain Snelgar became a full time Director and Commander. A month later Patmore resigned and Paddy Rorke became Chairman and Meredith continued as Chief Pilot and Operations Director.
Ted Broome tells the story that on one of their first Dakota overseas flights one generator was unserviceable and the second one failed over France where the Air traffic Controllers were on strike. They had just passed over Lyons and the only source of power they had was from what was stored in the battery.
Between Radio officer Ted Broome’s efforts and the accurate keeping by Tom of his navigation log they arrived over Skipholt airport dead on time.
After the forced sale of the Dakota and entry of the Vikings, which were now being used to a maximum, the staffing position had improved. Although the Vikings operated out of Jan Smuts Airport, Rand Airport was still used as a maintenance base from which aircraft were ferried over to Smuts before each European flight.
Tom in his book tells the story of being awarded a charter contract, which called for the transport of 120 folk dancers. They were to start their journey from four different countries in Europe, using four different aircraft, which would be required to arrive at Johannesburg simultaneously.
For this project they used their three Vikings, plus one chartered English operator. Crews were given a comprehensive pre-flight briefing and they achieved, what was, until then the largest group ever flown into the country at the same time.
On a flight from Ndola to Johannesburg one of the Vikings under Capt. Cornelius Balt lost about 27 sq. feet of fabric from the port wing. Unable to maintain altitude he made a forced landing into a disused airstrip near Messina in the then Northern Transvaal. He showed superb airmanship in making a safe landing on a strip dotted with anthills.
On another occasion Tom made a skilful landing in a strong cross wind at Nice with no rudder control. An inspection of the rudder control system revealed that one of the connecting rods between two sections of the actuating cables had become corroded and snapped.
In 1957 Trek Airways was to introduce Skymaster Aircraft and so the three Vikings became redundant and a subsidiary Company, registered as “Protea Airways” was formed, to which the three Vikings were transferred. Later one of the Vikings ZS-DKH ended up becoming a landmark from 1961 to 1987 on top of Vic’s Viking Garage near Uncle Charlie’s interchange near Johannesburg. The aircraft is now preserved by the South African Airways Museum society.
Later which is not in the time frame of this book on Rand Airport Operators, Trek Airways successfully expanded to Constellations and finally a Boeing 707 and Boeing 747SP. Due to political pressure the aircraft were later registered in Luxembourg under a new name called Luxavia.
Rentmeester Beleggings and Safmarine were to become shareholders and in Oct 1983 Tom resigned due to a power struggle, It was not long after that the Company went under.
Tom Meredith was a true Aviation Pioneer, for which South African Aviation owes him a debt of gratitude.