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Video: Last Flight of Empress of Suva

By John Miller 
Originally published by Aviation History magazine. Published Online: May 18, 2011 
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Perhaps celebrated more for its last flight than for its first, the ex–Canadian Pacific Airlines Douglas DC-6B Empress of Suva completed one of its most challenging landings on December 4, 2010, to alight for the last time at a modest dirt airstrip cut across two small agricultural holdings north of Pretoria, South Africa. Acquired in an effort to turn CPA from a bush operator into an ocean-crossing airline, the DC-6, delivered in 1957, served its purpose for a modest four years before the jet age arrived. In 1961 the still almost new airliner was sold to Sweden's Transair, and for many years lost the aristocratic Empress name applied to all Canadian Pacific's aircraft.

The airplane passed through a number of owners, including a Norwegian airline, Braathens, and then Greenland Air, with which it served remote Cold War radar installations within the Arctic Circle. Following a route taken by many weary old airliners, the DC-6 eventually wound up in Africa flying UN relief missions in Mozambique. Its last commercial operator retired Empress from the Democratic Republic of Congo to South Africa, and then generously donated it to the South African Airways Museum Society. Unloved, it fell to dereliction at its temporary home at Swartkop air force base. Seemingly a target for the scrapman, the DC-6 was spotted by vintage military vehicle collectors and business partners Witold Walus and Willie Muntingh.

Walus, Muntingh and hired engineer Mike Mayers brought the DC-6 back to life over a two-year period, and in December 2010 obtained a ferry permit to make one last flight to their business premises, where Empress of Suva is now safely parked, proudly serving as a gate guardian.

(Video by dbeerp)

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