UNITED24 - Make a charitable donation in support of Ukraine!


Squadron 15

Fifteen Squadron was formed on September 18, 1939, as a bomber and reconnaissance squadron at Wingfield, Cape Town, operating three JU 86's. In 1941 the squadron moved to North Africa, from where it conducted maritime operations in the Mediterranean.

15 Squadron was also deployed in Italy during 1944. After being disbanded in 1945, this squadron was officially reformed on 19 February 1968, but divided in two with A Flight based at Swartkop and B Flight at Bloemspruit. Both operated Super Frelon helicopters.

In 1981 the entire squadron was joined together and posted as one unit to AFB Durban, along with the then newly acquired Alouette III's. In 1990 the Super Frelons were withdrawn from service, and replaced by the Puma, and later Oryx helicopters in the mid-nineties. The Alouettes were in turn replaced by the BK 117 helicopters in 1995.

Today, this squadron operates the Oryx and BK117 helicopter types. The motto of this sea-based squadron states that the Eagle seeks the Heights. This is a perfect description for the steel eagles that await one on the flight line outside 15 Squadron's hangar at the Durban Air Force Base, adjacent to the Durban International Airport. At the hands of their competent pilots, these aircraft are always geared to go where only they can, to provide professional, cost effective military helicopter services to the KwaZulu Natal region and wherever else they're required to. These helicopter services have proven to be invaluable in times of need, especially when one takes the demography of this mountainous part of the South African sub-continent into account. This province has more than its share of inaccessible areas that can only be reach either by helicopter, or by foot. More often then not, the latter has led to the first, thereby securing the existence of 15 Squadron.

In order to maintain this air capability, these aircraft have to be kept in excellent flying condition. This is where the vital input of the ground crew and service personnel of the Squadron's hangar comes into picture. Ranging from instrument and engine technicians to aircraft refuellers, the personnel of 15 Squadron put in long hours of labour. Equally important in ensuring the effective operation of this squadron are the administrative and support personnel of Air Force Base Durban.

Let us then take a closer look at these steel eagles that share the airways and runways with the domestic aircraft of Durban International Airport. The BK 117 is a light twin engined multi-purpose helicopter which is primarily used in command and control, light transport and rescue roles. This helicopter is most compatible during combined operations with the Oryx helicopter, seeing that they have a similar cruising speed. The BK 117 is an extremely versatile aircraft that has proven its worth over and over during its service span at the Squadron.

The Oryx helicopter is a medium lift helicopter that is normally employed in trooping, sea and land rescues, external load lifting and specialist night operation roles. 15 Squadron has distinguished itself in the field of civilian aid rendering and has in the past repeatedly placed the South African Air Force on the front covers in this regard. These operations include the assistance rendered during Cyclone Demonia in 1984, the Oceanos sea rescues in 1991, the snow rescues in Lesotho in 1996, as well as the Mozambique floods rescues in 1997. This unit also became notorious during the Angolan Bush War as a competent casevac force.

By the time a helicopter reaches the scene of a disaster, various actions have already taken place in order for it to do so. There are different types of call out procedures that are followed by 15 Squadron. We are going to follow the various steps in a basic example of both a mountain rescue and a sea rescue call out procedure.

Mountaineering is a favoured sport in South Africa. Natal boasts some of the best locations for this type of sport, ranging from challenging mountain ranges to breathtaking gorges. What started off as a challenge has however in the past nearly ended in disaster for many a mountain climber. When people go mountain climbing at a resort, they have to sign a register, noting time of departure and estimated time of return. This register is then checked every evening. Should a person be missing after his estimated time of arrival has expired, the Mountain Rescue Institute is contacted.

This Institute in turn then contacts Durban Forward Air Command Post, informing them about specifics regarding the location. The Forward Air Command Post then decides whether a BK 117 or an Oryx should be tasked, depending on the situation. 15 Squadron is then contacted, the appropriate aircraft tasked and the operation is then set in motion.

Rescue training is another important function of 15 Squadron. Members of the Medical Rescue Services regularly visit the squadron for lectures and demonstrations on rescue procedures. In the case of a sea rescue, the ship sends out a distress call to the Port Captain. He then contacts Durban Forward Air Command Post, and the same procedures are followed. During working hours it normally takes the squadron approximately thirty minutes to get the aircraft airborne.

Join the GlobalSecurity.org mailing list