Engen has a proud history in the aviation industry stretching back to the First World War. As the design and development of aircraft improved, Vacuum Oil (as Engen was then known) developed and introduced special aviation fuels. With flying becoming increasingly common, our aviation fuel sales steadily increased from an initial 10 000 gallons (37 854 litres) during World War I to 30 000 gallons (113 562 litres) by 1921, with the South African government our leading customer.
By 1930, commercial routes were being established by private airlines. Union Airways, the fore runner to South African Airways (SAA), was a regular customer of Vacuum Oil's aviation fuel. It was in the 1930's that Vacuum Oil established a network of airfield service posts throughout Africa.
These included sites in Bulawayo (Southern Rhodesia/Zimbabwe), Cheleka (Nyasaland/ Malawi), Mpika and Livingstone (Northern Rhodesia/ Zambia), and Gobabis and Keetmanshoop (South West Africa/ Namibia). In South Africa, Stamford Hill in Durban, Victoria West, Kimberley, Port Elizabeth, Barberton, Halfway House (now Centurion), Pretoria, Kroonstad, Bloemfontein, Bethlehem all saw Vacuum Oil aviation service posts erected.
By the 1950's, as a safe and affordable means of mass transport, flying had become big business. In 1955, when still known as Vacuum Oil, we took over the lease to supply fuel to aircraft at Jan Smuts Airport (now OR Tambo International) and also installed a hydrant system on site. On the back of this, similar contracts were signed at DF Malan (now Cape Town International), JB Herzog (now Bloemfontein Airport) and the Reunion Airport in Durban. A year later Vacuum Oil was awarded the contract to supply the total lubricating oil requirements of South African Airways on all local, regional and inter-continental flights, and in 1957 was awarded the contract to supply the South African Air Force with Jet Fuel, an exceptionally proud achievement for our refinery at the time considering the quality specified for jet engines.
When SAA's first Boeing 707 inter-continental jet airliner arrived in Johannesburg in 1960, our company engineers commissioned refuelling tankers with 6000-gallon capacity. This meant it took just 12 minutes to refuel the new Boeing from two of these tankers. Soon after, a United States Air Force Boeing KC 135 flying tanker was refuelled at Jan Smuts Airport. It was the largest consignment of fuel ever uplifted by one aircraft at the time. Another record was set at JB Herzog Airport in Bloemfontein, when Mobil Aviation Services refuelled 916 aircraft participating in the celebrations marking the 50th Jubilee of the Union of South Africa.
By 1965, having changed our name to Mobil, we were delivering over one million gallons of aviation products to the aviation industry. In the same year, the Atlas Corporation signed a five-year contract with Mobil to supply it with jet fuel, with the first order amounting to 32.7 million litres. In 1971 when the first Boeing 747 landed at Jan Smuts, we were on hand to refuel the revolutionary 'Jumbo' jet. In the years since then, under the Mobil brand until the early 1990’s and since then as Engen, we have continued to service the Southern African aviation industry with distinction.