SABENA acquired its first DC-6 in July 1947 just thirteen months after it had restarted transatlantic operations using new DC-4s. From March 1953 eleven DC-6Bs began to supplement the 5 DC-6s and replace DC-4s. The DC-6A/Bs were registered OO-SDF-G, OO-CTH-I, CTK-P and SDQ. This aircraft ,OO-SJH, had a varied history being leased to Air Congo for 6 months from October 1961 and then Caledonian Airways (as G-ASTS) from May 26, 1964 for a further 6 months. She was sold to Inair which became Transpommair in 1970 and Pomair in 1971 before she was leased to Delta Air Transport in June 1973. By November she was sold to Lloyd G Culbertson as N94491. Her final owner was Air Gabon who operated her from January 1975 until September 1977 when she was broken up.
SABENA kept wup with the piston engine equipment race buying DC-7Cs (as did Alitalia, Swissair and SAS) despite their stopgap nature. Seven aircraft arrived from 1956 registered OO-SFA-D,F, H, K). SABENA had expanded rapdily during the 1950s from 235 million revenue passenger kilometres (RPKs) to 1264 in 1960. This expansion would continue in the 1960s with the airline more than doubling its RPKs by 1970 thanks to the adoption of pure jets.
Belgium's colonial hold over the huge Congo territory was coming to an end in the late 1950s and the Belgian government commandeered the entire SABENA fleet to evacuate Belgian nationals following Congolese independence in 1960. The Congo was technically owned by the Belgian king and not the nation and it had been brutally run by King Leopold II. Racial segregation, native injustice and an almost complete lack of education stunted chances of a peaceful transition to independence and set the stage for a chaotic period in the nation's history. Despite the rough break with Belgium and the effective state of civil war which racked the huge nation SABENA was at least initially an important shareholder in the new Air Congo. Independence did however bring to an end SABENA's intra-african operations.
SABENA was the first mainland European carrier to fly jets across the Atlantic when its first 707s arrived on December 4, 1959. Unfortunately their second aircraft, SJB, became the first 707 to be written off in service when it crashed near Brussels in February 1961, killing the 71 occupants and 1 person on the ground. This crash has never been fully explained though the verdict of the investigation suggested failure of one of the flight control systems. The first five aircraft OO-SJA-E were delivered by June 1960 with additional examples added sporadically (SJF in 1962, SJG in 1963, SJH in 1965, SJJ and K in 1966.
The last three aircraft were 707-329Cs but before SABENA could add more 707s another was lost, this time the newest aircraft SJK when it hit trees and crashed on approach to Lagos in Nigeria. Fortunately it appears to have been either a positioning or cargo flight as though everybody died there were only seven people aboard. SABENA rounded out its 707 deliveries with a further four 707-329Cs (OO-SJL-O) which arrived between September 1968 and December 1969.
Only two 747s were initially purchased and the 707s continued to form the mainstay of the fleet into the 1970s. When DC-10s began to arrive from 1973 the 707 fleet was gradually leased out. OO-SJH served leases with Air India (in 1976), Trans Arabian from 1977-1979 and New Air Zaire (in 1979) before being leased to Zaire International Cargo in March 1980. She was written off in a landing accident at Douala in May of that year.
I'm Richard Stretton: a fan of classic airliners and airlines who enjoys exploring their history through my collection of die-cast airliners. If you enjoy the site please donate whatever you can to help keep it running: