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Series: The Ethiopian Aeroplane 'Tsehai'
Tsehai: Aeroplane or Princess?
My previous article in these pages, on Ethiopia’s pre-war aeroplane Tsehai, currently kept in Italy’s aviation museum in violation of Article 37 of the Italian Peace Treaty of 1947 with the United Nations, has led to several repercussions, which we need not enter into at this moment.
Mr. Ole G. Nordbo
One repercussion, we can go into, however, is that my friend Ato Makonnen, formerly of Ethiopian Airlines, has presented me with a copy of an article on the aeroplane, by Mr. Ole G. Nordbo.
The machine, you will recall, was named after Emperor Haile Sellassie’s daughter Princess Tsehai, who later became internationally famous, in 1935, when she broadcast from Addis Ababa about the Italian Fascist invasion of her country.
She was also later well known in England, where she served in London, as a fully qualified nurse, during enemy bombing of the capital; and addressed many meetings about her country’s position, as well as on her aspirations for it.
But to return to the aeroplane:
The following is the text of the article I have been given by Ato Makonnen: it represents a chapter in Ethiopia’s pre-war aviation history, as well as a chapter in the history of Ethio-German and Ethio-Italian relations.
Written by Mr. Ole G, Nordbo, a noted expert on aviation history, it appeared in the prestigious British aviation journal “Air-Britain”, for March-April 1974, and reads as follows:
Ole G. Nordbo
After completely rebuilding a crashed Junkers W 33c in Ethiopia during 1932/3, Herr Ludwig Weber, a German engineer and the Emperor’s pilot, had thoughts of building an aircraft for the embryo [Ethiopian]Air Force.
The need was for an aircraft that could serve as a trainer and at the same time operate in the communications role. Furthermore, it needed to be capable of operating from airfields at about 2,500 m above sea level. A German monoplane known as the A. VII seemed to offer the basis for such an aircraft as it appeared to be fairly simple to produce and was easy to repair and maintain. The Emperor gave his blessing to the idea and Dip. Ing. Wilhelm von Nes agreed to re-design his A. VII for Ethiopian use.
The new model, known as Ethiopia 1, emerged as a two-seat, dual-controlled version which also had a more powerful engine, the 7-cylinder radial Walter Venus 1, which was rated at 115 hp at 1,800 rpm. To improve landing performance, von Nes incorporated flaps which extended from fuselage almost to the ailerons. The fuselage was very similar to the original three-seat A. VII although narrower as the result of the reduction of the side-by-side two-seat cockpit to one for a single occupant. The length was also reduced to 7.32 m.
The design work had been completed by the end of 1934 when work began on the production of parts for three aircraft. In 1935, the assembly of the first one was commenced, the welding of the steel-tube fuselage being carried out by Junkers mechanics while the wings were made under the supervision of a German joiner who had experience of building gliders. Fabric-covered, the aircraft was doped in silver and on both sides of the fuselage it carried the Amharic characters for “Sahai”, meaning “Sun”, which was the name of a princess. The propeller was a wooden one made by Schwartz in Germany.
The First Flight
The first flight took place in December 1935 (Herr Weber also mentioned February 1936) and proved to be most promising. The aircraft was airborne after some 150 m from a runway in hot, thin air, and was easy to handle both on the ground and in the air, with excellent stability about all axes. The controls were nicely harmonized with only small forces required for operation. By means of the flaps the approach could be very steep with a rolling distance on the ground of only 100 m without the use of brakes. It climbed from 2,500 m to 3,500 m in about seven minutes, with a ceiling around 6,000 m. Maximum speed was about 185 kmh, cruising around 150 kmh, and the landing speed was 50 kmh with flaps.
The Ethiopia 1 was not flown extensively, only 30 hours having been recorded when it was left behind in a eucalyptus forest at Jan Meda when Herr Weber departed with his staff in the Junkers on 3 May 1936, only a few days [in fact only two: note, R.P.] before the Italians arrived.
Herr Weber had no idea what happened to the Ethiopia 1 subsequently, but there was some speculation that the Italians had used it, and it was with some excitement that the report on the Italian collection [of aircraft] at Vigna di Valle [Museum] was read. (This report by B. Sclerandi of Ostia Lido/Rome appeared in the IARB Journal No 3/37). The aircraft today is in very good shape, repainted and with new fabric at the tail section only. The museum could not give any background information, however, referring to it only as the ‘Aircraft of the Negus’.
Air-Britain member Hans Fogelmann in Germany has supplied all the technical information for the above and has given details of the various A. VIIs, and with his kind permission, they are reproduced here:
A. VII prototype: A three-seater designed by von Nes in Freiburg/Br. in the early 1930s.
A, VII Ethiopia 1: The subject of these notes, designated A. VIIb although this designation was later applied to the third version.
A, VIIb: A three-seater with a Walter Minor in-line engine, built in 1936 in Austria by Meindi.
A, VIIc: A two-seat scaled-down version of the A. VIIb with a 50 hp Zundapp engine, built by a NSFK-puppe at Arade between 1939 and 1945″.
The above article, by Mr Ole Nordbo, gives a useful account of aeroplane “Ethiopia 1”. The existence of the machine testifies to an important step in Ethiopia’s pre-war attempts at modernisation.
The aeroplane is thus, in its way, comparable to Emperor Tewodros’s famous cannon, at Maqdala, site of the famous battle, and of the Ethiopian monarch’s dramatic suicide, in April 1868. That cannon, which can be seen to this day, illustrates another, earlier, step in the country’s struggle to overcome technological backwardness.
The aeroplane, constructed, as Mr Nordbo says, with the Emperor’s “blessing”, i.e. he doubtless paid for it, has of course no business to be in Italy. Though largely built by Germans, (and not by Italians) the ‘plane is part and parcel of Ethiopian history.
It is a machine in which Ethiopians of the present generation, and future generations can be proud.
The aeroplane’s continued presence in the Italian Aviation Museum is moreover disturbing in view of the fact that it constitutes a direct violation of an international legal document, the Peace Treaty signed between the Italian Government and the United Nations, in 1947.
There can be no doubt about it: the plane should be returned to Ethiopia without delay!
The Italian community in Ethiopia, and Ethiopia’s many friends in Italy, should be demanding the aeroplane’s immediate restitution as an elementary act of justice!