The Airborne Forces Tactical Development Unit

Philip Smulian with the officers of the Transport Command Development Unit, 1946

512 Squadron, possibly taken in September 1944

A nominal roll of 512 Squadron personnel

A letter of thanks for Smulian's work at Marshall's Flying School

Squadron Leader Philip K. Smulian


Unit : "C" Flight, 512 Squadron, 46 Group


Squadron Leader Philip "Smuggler" Smulian, later a Major in the South African Reserve, flew aircraft in conjunction with the Airborne Forces, serving with 296, 298 and 512 Squadrons. The following is a newspaper article concerning his retirement from civil aviation. 


Phil Smulian Retires


Phil Smulian, the "Mr. Flying" of the Eastern Cape, has announced his retirement from full-time commercial aviation. Mr. Smulian founded Southern Aviation in 1947 and remained its managing director until June last year [1964], when he sold a share of his business to National Airways. He has been Port Elizabeth manager of the company since.


Phil Smulian is probably the most experienced flying instructor still active in the business in South Africa. For 17 years he has been the moving force behind aviation in the Eastern Cape and is regarded as the doyen of South Africa's flying instructors. He and his wife Joyce have also been closely associated with the Algoa Flying Club, which has its premises in the Southern Aviation hangar. Phil has served on the committee of the club for many years.


Mr. Smulian's flying career started in Britain in 1938, when he joined the Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve while a law student. In the expansion "flap" in Britain after Munich, he became an instructor and took a full-time job with Marshall's Flying School in Cambridge.


When the war started, he stayed on instruction for a while, being commissioned in 1941. In 1942 he was posted to a glider unit as an instructor and tug pilot on on Horsa and Hamilcar troop-carrying gliders. At this time he was flying Hawker Hectors, Whitleys and Halifaxes. He recalls that the Horsas carried 28 troops, a jeep and a 6-pounder gun and crew. The Hamilcar carried a 7 ton tank and crew.


He then joined 296 Airborne Assault Squadron, flying Whitleys. He took part in the invasion of Sicily, dropping paratroopers. At this time he was also flying the little-known Armstrong-Whitworth Albemarles, of which only 100 were built. This aircraft, largely built of wood, was designed as a standby bomber in case German air raids crippled the British metal industry. Another unusual feature of this bomber-that-never-really-was was the tri-cycle undercarriage, a revolutionary departure for British aircraft at that time.


The Sicily operation was carried out from Goubrien, near Sousse in North Africa. After being promoted Squadron Leader, Phil Smulian formed the Airborne Forces Tactical Division. In order to get back on operations he then transferred to 512 Squadron, flying troop-carrying and glider-towing Dakotas. He took part in the Normandy invasion and the famous Airborne operation at Arnhem. After a spell of operations he returned to the Tactical Unit until it was taken over by Transport Command. He was "de-mobbed" on May 31, 1946.


In 1940 he met and married his wife, Joyce, and when he left the RAF he decided to fly his wife and three children to South Africa by Rapide. His route was Southampton, Rennes, Bourdeaux, Marignene, Elmas, El Ouia, Castel Benito, Miserata, Benina, El Adem, Almaza, Luxor, Wadi Ilalfa, Khartoum, Malakal, Juba, Entebbe, Tabora, Kasama, Ndola, Lusaka, Livingstone, Bulawayo and Germiston. The trip took 11 days.


He founded Southern Aviation at Port Elizabeth by buying out and amalgamating two rival concerns at the Bay - Sharwood's Flying Services and Haller Aviation. Mr. Smulian resigned his RAF rank to take a South African Reserve commission when his company started training pupil pilots for the South Africa Air Force.


He has 9,000 accident-free hours, of which nearly 7,000 has been instructional flying. He has flown nearly 70 different types of aircraft, from ultra-lights to heavy multi-engined types, helicopters and gliders. He was awarded the A.F.C. for his services in Training Command.


In his youth, he says, he hero-worshipped two pre-war South African pilots, Pat Murdoch and Victor Smith, who both made spectacular flights across Africa. By a coincidence, he will now be working for Victor Smith, who has offered him a position in one of his Cape industries. Victor Smith is still an active pilot. He owns the stagger-wing biplane Beech Traveller formely flown by Jack Bowie (ZS-BBZ).


Phil Smulian will not be hanging up his goggles entirely. He plans to do part-time instruction with the Cape Aero Club. He will leave for Cape Town in February.


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