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South African Air Force History - The Nineties

A New Decade (1990 - 1995)

1990: A Commemorative Year

The SAAF celebrated its 70th year of existence in grand style in 1990. Among the events to mark the 70th anniversary, were several concert evenings, air shows and parades in various centres countrywide. The 70th anniversary of the SAAF’s oldest unit, 1 Air Depot (established on 1 February 1920 as the Aircraft and Artillery Depot), was also celebrated in 1990.

In the 1990 the 50th year service of the Harvard training Aircraft was also commemorated. Despite its upgrading in terms of avionics, navigation and communication equipment, time was running out for the Harvard, however. As early as December 1990 the Chief of the Air Force indicated that it would be replaced before the turn of the century.


1990 was, however, not only a festive year for the SAAF. The year was also marked by the start of a comprehensive process of rationalisation and restructuring. Already in January 1990 the Chief of the Air Force announced that the Air Force had entered into a new year and environment that would make new demands and create new opportunities.

The first short term steps in the rationalisation of the SAAF entailed the withdrawal of several obsolete aircraft types from service, such as the Canberra B(1)12, the Super Felon and Westland Wasp helicopters, the Kudu light aircraft and the P-166s Albatross coastal patrol aircraft.

Other short term measures included the closure of Air Force Base Port Elizabeth and the disbanding of five squadrons, viz 12 Sqn (Canberra), 16 Sqn (Alouette III), 24 Sqn (Buccaneer), 25 Sqn (Dakota) and 27 Sqn (p-166S Albatross).

S_29.jpg (3801 bytes) The Canberra B (1)12 bomber and reconnaissance aircraft was withdrawn from service in the early nineties (Photo: SAAF: Dave Becker Collection).
S_27.jpg (4718 bytes) The Puma transport helicopter is extensively used in the transport of light vehicles, troops, close air transport, the evacuation of injured personnel and search and rescue operations.
S_28.jpg (4451 bytes) The Kudu light transport aircraft was withdrawn from service as part of the rationalisation programme.
S_30.jpg (4912 bytes) A Super Felon medium transport helicopter engaged in a vertical replenishment exercise with a SA Navy strike craft neat Durban. The Super Felon was withdrawn in the early nineties.
S_31.jpg (4026 bytes) The Transall C-160Z medium transport aircraft (Photo: SAAF: Dave Becker Collection.
S_32.jpg (3710 bytes) The old stalwart of the SAAF, the Douglas Dakota.
S_33.jpg (4496 bytes) The Mercurius, once the principal VIP aircraft of the SAAF (Photo: Salut)

Personnel and equipment were to be transferred to other bases. Two Commando squadrons - 107 Sqn at AFB Bloemspruit and 114 Sqn at AFB Swartkop - were also disbanded. The rationalisation programme also made provision for the scaling down of activities in the Southern and Western Air Commands. Southern Air Command was scaled down to a Command Post.

Additional steps in the rationalisation programme soon followed. Further squadrons had to be disbanded, namely 3 Sqn (Mirage F1-CZ), 4 Sqn (Impala Mk II), 5 Sqn (Cheetah E), 10 Sqn (Remotely piloted vehicles), 30 Sqn (Pumas), 31 Sqn (Alouette III and Puma helicopters), and 42 Sqn (Bosbok). The well known "Cheetahs" (2 Sqn were deactivated and their Mirage III BZ and Mirage III CZ aircraft withdrawn. The squadron was reactivated with Cheetah aircraft at AFB Louis Trichardt in 1993, however.

A number of units were also closed, including Air Force Bases Potchefstroom and Pietersburg, AFS Snake Valley, 81 and 84 Light Aircraft Schools, 89 Combat Flying School, SAAF Road Transport Depot, 402 Aerodrome Maintenance Unit, and the Klippan Control and Reporting Post. Following the transfer of Walvis Bay to Namibia, the Rooikop Air Base was finally evacuated in February 1994.

The rationalisation also necessitated the relocation of the squadrons and units. The Central Flying School at Dunnottar was moved to AFB Langebaanweg and Renamed Central Flying School Langebaanweg in 1993. The 83 Jet Flying School (Langebaanweg) and 85 Combat Flying School (AFB Pietersburg) were merged under the latter’s name and relocated at AFB Hoedspruit. The Silver Falcons aerobatics team were also moved to AFB Hoedspruit, remaining under the control of 85 Combat Flying School.

The early nineties also witnessed the final withdrawal from service of the AM-3CM Bosbok light aircraft and the old stalwart, the DC-4 Skymaster.

Aircraft of the Nineties

In 1992 it was announced that the Swiss Pilatus Astra PC-7 Mk II trainer aircraft would replace the Harvard as the SAAF’s new trainer aircraft. The first 60 Pilatus Astras (as they were christened by the SAAF) were delivered to the SAAF in October 1994. It was expected that 32 aircraft will be in service at CFS Langebaanweg by the end of 1995

S_34.jpg (5741 bytes) The old and the new flying together. The aircraft in the foreground in the Pilatus PC-7 MkII Astra trainer, due to replace the Harvard in the background (Photo: Sgt Pieter Droskie).

In 1993 the Chief of the Air Force indicated that four highly sophisticated CSH-2 Rooivalk combat support helicopters would be bought.

S_35.jpg (4273 bytes) The old and the new flying together. The aircraft in the foreground in the Pilatus PC-7 MkII Astra trainer, due to replace the Harvard in the background (Photo: Sgt Pieter Droskie).

Caption: The CSH-2 Rooivalk attack helicopter, another South African product (Photo: Dave Becker)\

Meanwhile the SAAF was going ahead with the upgrading of certain aircraft types, including the Cheetah C, the DC-47TP Dakota (and a maritime version), the Oryx helicopter (which has replaced the Puma) as well as an upgrade programme for the Cessna 185, Impala and C-130B Hercules. The Oryx helicopter project was completed in 1994. The development of an engine upgrade package in the form of the SMR-95 engine for the Mirage F1-AZ Mirage fighter as well as the Cheetah D was announced in 1994. The Cessna 208 Caravan was also by this time in service with 41 Sqn, as were a batch of Boeing 707 tanker and electronic warfare aircraft with 60 Sqn.

S_36.jpg (4480 bytes)

The Oryx helicopter, the Puma’s replacement (Photo Dave Becker)

S_37.jpg (7002 bytes)

C-130B Hercules medium transport aircraft (Photos: SAAF: Dave Becker)

S_38.jpg (7167 bytes)

The South African upgraded version of the Dakota, known at the C-47TP (Photo: Sgt Pieter Droskie)

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Page last modified: 16-10-2012 19:11:55 ZULU