Dreams, Schemes & Flying Machines tracks the evolution of aviation in East Africa starting with the first lighter-than-air gas balloon ascent in Parklands, Nairobi, Kenya in September 1909, a ‘flight’ of 150 feet and a mere five minutes in duration. Then, as the military realised the potential of flying machines as a combat tool during WWI, aeroplanes were battle-tested in East Africa for the first time against the German cruiser SMS Königsberg in the Rufiji River delta in German East Africa, known today as Tanzania.
Next, between the wars, early settlers took to the skies from grass airstrips littered with termite hills on a wing and a prayer, adorned with white scarf and goggles, seated precariously in an open-cockpit, in heavier-than-air aircraft held together with wood, glue, nails and fabric.
In the 1930s, Wilson Airways, pioneered by Florrie Wilson, emerged with the dawn of commercial aviation in East Africa followed by Imperial Airways, the ‘Chosen Instrument’ whose aircraft would bring both valuable trade and industry to East Africa with the introduction of trans-continental air travel. Later, these arduous journeys, often lasting a week or more, would be immeasurably enhanced by the romance, excitement and nostalgia of flying boat services down the spine of Africa.
With the advent of the Second World War, East African aircrews would distinguish themselves in air battles many, except for their medals of gallantry, never to return from their distant theatres of war.
After WWII, fledgling charter companies began to ply their trade across the region transporting whomever, wherever and whenever they wanted to go, whilst an innovative ‘political’ experiment saw the establishment of a regional scheduled carrier, East African Airways.