Airmail: The Deadliest Kenyan Aircraft Crash

The speed required for an aircraft to take-off varies with wind, air density, weight, and flap or slat positions. These are a few of the many factors that are taken into account before a pilot can get an aircraft off the ground.

The Jomo Kenyatta International Airport has an elevation of 5,327ft (1,624m) which means that the air is very thin and an aircraft needs as much area along the wingspan as possible for air to flow over it. A pilot can achieve this by extending the leading edge slats of the wings creating a larger wingspan causing lift at a high enough speed when taking off.

On 20 November 1974, a normal day in Nairobi, Lufthansa Flight 540 flight crew did their pre-flight checks and taxied for take-off. They were on the final leg of their Frankfurt-Nairobi-Johannesburg journey with 157 souls, luggage and freight, including some airmail, on board.

Shortly after take-off the pilots experienced random force vibrations. Unsure of the cause of the vibration, the captain continued to climb, and suspecting a wheel imbalance, he retracted the landing gear. The Boeing 747 was unable to maintain its altitude and the stall warning system light came on. The pilots did not have enough time to figure out the tragic error of Engineer R Hahn. In the pre-flight checklist the pneumatic system must be turned on as this allows the slats to deploy during take-off.  Flight 540 was doomed before its wheels left the ground because the pneumatic system switch was off, which resulted in the aircraft becoming airborne in a partially stalled condition.

The aircraft grazed trees. The left wing struck an elevated road and exploded. The fire spread to the fuselage, completely destroying the aircraft.  It was the deadliest air crash on Kenyan soil, with 59 lives lost. Miraculously some airmail covers did survive this horrific accident.

One such example is a cover from Denmark to Pretoria bearing a strike in violet of the English/Afrikaans cachet: “RECOVERED FROM AIR CRASH ON 20 NOVEMBER 1974 AT NAIROBI / HERWEN VAN LUGRAMP OP 20 NOVEMBER 1974 TE NAIROBI.”


This amazing airmail crash cover is available on

The investigation concluded that not only was it human error that caused this accident, but also the lack of adequate warning systems in place that could have alerted the pilots to the problem. After this first fatal accident, and their third hull loss for a similar error reported, Boeing added warning systems for unopened slat valves.

Airmail in Australia – The Smith Brothers

World War One was a long and tiresome war involving many campaigns, countries and lives. One such campaign took place on the Gallipoli peninsula. Turkey was required by international law to remain neutral but failed to block military shipping into the Dardenelles and allowed German ships to enter. Turkey had made their allegiance to Germany. At the time, two Australian brothers had no idea that they would be the first to carry airmail from England to Australia.

The Battle of Gallipoli was an important battle for Australia and New Zealand as those nations’ “Baptism of Fire” – the first war that they fought as independent countries and the first war where Australians fought as Australians. The Australian Imperial Force, which was initially one infantry division and one light horse brigade, was sent to assist in the Gallipoli Campaign. Later they were strengthened with a second division and a further three light horse brigades.  The 3rd Light Horse Regiment landed on 13 May 1915. Within this regiment was a young Captain Ross Macpherson Smith who also volunteered for the Australian Flying Corps. A hero, who by the end of the First World War had earned the Military Cross twice and the Distinguished Flying Cross three times with eleven confirmed aerial victories.

At the end of the war this accomplished pilot entered a civilian world where long distance air travel and the thought of airmail in Australia was in its infancy. Together with his brother, Keith Smith, and two other pilots, he took on the challenge to fly from England to Australia within a period of thirty days. The four pilots flew from Hounslow Heath Aerodrome, England to Darwin, Australia in a Vickers Vimy. Although the journey took twenty eight days the total flying time was only 135 hours. They were awarded £10,000 by the Australian government for completing the journey within thirty days.

A few months later on 26 February 1920 Keith Smith flew the first airmail in a Vickers Vimy from England to Australia. He wrote himself a letter and signed it. This was one of twenty-three covers out of 364 that were signed by the Pilot Keith Smith.

Filat AG currently has available an Australian aerophilately showpiece:



This 1933 handpainted envelope was flown on the Kingsford Smith England-Australia Record Flight and is addressed to artist “Ernest A Crome Esq, 32 Cavendish Street, Stanmore, NSW, Australia”. Only 6 such handpainted covers were included in the small mail of 20 covers carried.

Visit Filat AG for further Australasian airmail.


Greetings from Melbourne!

We were in Melbourne for the FIAP International Stamp Exhibition and now we can’t wait to get home to share our amazing new material with you. Keep an eye on Filat AG’s new items page for latest uploads!

Our section of the British Commonwealth Superbooth!

De La Rue – The Family Business

Innovation for the future – a perfect motto for a company that keeps expanding the horizon of imagination.  From inventing the envelope folding machine in 1846 to winning the Queen’s Award for Enterprise in 2013 for creating the banknote security thread with a clear window in the banknote, including the papermaking process, De La Rue has been a name synonymous with innovation over many, many years.

Thomas was the ambitious and innovative founder of the De La Rue family partnership which started as a printer, stationer and fancy goods manufacturer. He was behind many of the initial ideas of the company, one of them being the production of playing cards and their printing technique of electro typing on enamelled paper. De La Rue became a family business when Thomas’ brother, Paul, joined and assisted with the sale of playing cards to the Russian market. Later Thomas’ sons, Warren and William, also joined the family business.

Warren de la Rue followed in his father’s footsteps with regards to invention and innovation. He invented the first envelope folding machine, which was exhibited at the Great Exhibition of 1851 held in Crystal Palace, London. This machine could produce 2,700 envelopes in one hour.

In 1853, the company was contracted to print adhesive fiscal stamps for the British Board of Inland Revenue. Not only were these the first stamps to be surface printed, they were also the first perforated stamps to be issued. Two years later, De La Rue began printing the four penny Carmine postage stamp using this surface printing method.




The family partnership eventually converted into a private company and later into a public ownership company with the departure of the De La Rues.

De La Rue was responsible for the convenience of the world’s first through-the-wall money machine in 1967. Today they are world-renowned for the paper production, the security threads and windows of many currencies.

For a full list of De La Rue items available on Filat AG’s online store, please click here.

Australia – The Southern Land

The American Revolutionary War is a pivotal part of history. Without the fight for American independence from Great Britain there may not have been a need for new land discoveries. The British may not have had a problem with over-crowding in their prisons. Therefore the British would not have had to look for alternatives for their prisoners. However, The American Revolution did take place and this did lead to a problem of over-crowding in British prisons, for which a suitable solution had to be found. This solution became Australia.

In 1770, Captain James Cook chartered and claimed the solution to Britain’s problem. The east coast of a southern land, far away from Great Britain, isolated from the rest of the world was perfect for a penal colony. Cook named this newly mapped coast New South Wales. So began the first European settlement in Australia, with the arrival of the First Fleet of eleven convict ships in Botany Bay on January 20th 1788.

Many of the prisoners abolished to these penal colonies were sentenced for petty theft and some were sentenced because of political reasons. One such criminal, Isaac Nichols, accused of theft, was transported on the Third Fleet, Admiral Barrington, to New South Wales. After his seven-year sentence was complete, he chose to stay on in the colony. Isaac Nichols became a highly successful businessman, increasing his landholdings and ship trade.

The frenzied scramble for mail on the arriving ships at the dock created a need for a more organised method of sorting mail on its arrival. Thus, on the 25th April 1809 Nichols was entrusted with the job of receiving and organising mail arriving by ship. He would pick up the mail, take it to his house in lower George Street and post a list with all the mail recipients outside his house.

The first organized postal services on the southern land had begun.

For all items from New South Wales and other Australian States visit

One such amazing item is a newspaper wrapper sent from the Cape and redirected to THREE States in Australia!

Cape cover redirected to Three Australia States

Cape newspaper wrapper redirected to Three Australian States

Cape QV 1d newspaper wrapper initially addressed to Hobart, Tasmania; from thence to Melbourne; from thence to South Australia; from thence to New Zealand. For full description visit Filat AG’s online store.