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South African Air Force History - Military Operations

The Sixties and Seventies

New Arsenal

In the early sixties South Africa’s deteriorating security position caused the Government to take steps towards rearmanent. As part of a development programme, the SAAF’s arsenal was strengthened. The first Mirage IIICS fighter aircraft arrived in South Africa in April 1963 and was displayed to the public in July that year. Canberra light bombers, Buccaneer S Mk 50 strike aircraft, Lockheed C-130B Hercules and Transall C-160Z medium transport aircraft also joined the SAAF’s arsenal in the sixties. During the sixties new types of helicopters were also introduced, including the Alouette II and III light helicopters, the SA 330C Puma and SA 32IL Super Frelon medium transport helicopter as well as the Westland Wasp light anti-submarine helicopter.

The writing was on the wall, however arms embargoes became imminent and it was obvious that these were probably the last aircraft the Republic would be able to buy for some time. Replacements would have to be built locally. In 1965 a new aircraft industry in South Africa was born with the registration of the Atlas Aircraft Corporation and on 8 October 1966 the first Aermacchi MB-326, built under licence, and renamed the Impala, rolled off the assembly line.

S_22.jpg (3856 bytes) The Impala Mk 1 an advanced jet trainer which came into service in 1966. The Impala is the training aircraft for jet fighter pilots.

Military Operations

As a result of the escalation of the border war during the late sixties in Namibia, the SAAF was recalled to active service, mainly flying patrols and supply runs.

During Operation Savannah (1975 - 1976) the SAAF deployed helicopters, light aircraft and transport in different roles in support of a South African task force in Angola. Operating from frigates. Westland Wasp helicopters evacuated South African troops north of Luanda. Hercules and Transall transport aircraft flew many supply runs while jets flew photo reconnaissance missions. During the withdrawal phase a Puma operating from the SAS President Steyn airlifted troops out of Ambrizeto.

S_23.jpg (5145 bytes) The Westland Wasp light anti-submarine helicopter was acquired by the SAAF in the sixties. It was phased out in the eighties.
S_24.jpg (5295 bytes) The Alouette III was the SAAF’s first modern helicopter and is still used by some SAAF squadrons.
S_25.jpg (3668 bytes) A Mirage F1 CZ lands at Ondangwa in Namibia after a successful mission during the Border War (Photo SAAF Museum)
S_26.jpg (3532 bytes) The Buccaneer S Mk 50 Maritime aircraft was also recently withdrawn from service.

The Eighties

From War to Peace

From the late seventies onwards the SAAF participated in all subsequent military operations, and played a key role in major operations such as Reindeer (1978), Rekstok (1979), Safraan (1979), Sceptic (1980), Protea (1981), Daisy (1981), Mebos (1982), Phoenix (1983), Askari (1983 - 1984) and Egret (1985).

On the 20 May 1983 several people including three SAAF members, were killed in a bomb attack by members of the ANC’s armed wing in front of SAAF headquarters in Pretoria.

S_54.jpg (7931 bytes) The SAAF’s aerobatics team, the Silver Falcons in flight.

Following Operations Moduler and Hiper (1987 - 1988), negotiations finally moved toward a peace settlement, With the withdrawal of the SAAF from Namibia at the end of 1989, yet another phase in the operational history of the SAAF drew to a close.

Aircraft Development

During the eighties much attention was given to new aircraft development projects. The SAAF’s new supersonic fighter aircraft, the Cheetah, was unveiled at the Atlas Aircraft Corporation on 16 July 1986. The two versions - Cheetah D2 and Cheetah E - compare favourably with the Russian MiG-23s. In the previous year South Africa’s first locally manufactured attack helicopter, the prototype Alpha XHI, took its first flight. The experimental Alpha XHI was later followed by a second design, the Beta XTP-1, which was unveiled to the public on 30 April 1987. This was basically an armed version of the standard Puma helicopter.

The SAAF Fire Services

On 21 May 1985 a petrol shortage tank caught fire and exploded at the SASOL depot in Pretoria West. The SAAF Fire Services were called in to render assistance but unfortunately one of the Pathfinder tenders and its crew were destroyed in the blaze. Two members of the crew of a second tender were awarded the Honoris Crux for the bravery during the operation.

Headline News (1986 - 1989)

Other events that made the headlines in the eighties, were inter alis the re-establishment of the Harvard Aerobatics Team (1986), the opening of Air Force Base Louis Trichardt (1987), the extensive assistance and aid given by SAAF squadrons to communities in Southern Africa during widespread floods (1987), the celebration of Air Force Base Waterkloof’s 50th anniversary (1988) and the launching of the South African Air Force Veterans Administration Section (1989).

S_56.jpg (5062 bytes) The experimental Alpha XHI, predecessor of the CSH-2 Rooivalk.
S_57.jpg (4688 bytes) The South African Agricultural Union Building in Pretoria caught fire on 15 June 1994. Helicopters from 17 Sqn based at AFB Swartkop rushed to the scene, rescuing four people trapped on a ledge (Photo: S Sgt Leon Botha).

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Page last modified: 16-10-2012 19:11:56 ZULU