2014 Wings Parade will see public debut of Silver Falcons team 77


When SA Air Force (SAAF) Chief Lieutenant General Zakes Msimang affixes brevets to the chests of 20 young airmen at AFB Langebaanweg next Thursday he will also usher in the force’s next aerobatic display team.

Msimang is expected to be the main functionary at the wings parade which marks the end of a long, hard slog for those involved and paves the way to their futures as airmen. This year the SAAF Chief will pin full brevets onto the chests of 10 pilots, four navigators, five flight engineers and a loadmaster.

After that he will be able to see Silver Falcons team 77 in action for the first time under the leadership of Major Werner (Cruncher) Vermaak.

Vermaak takes over leadership of the elite team from Major Beau (Dusky) Skarda, who it is understood has resigned from the SAAF.

The Silver Falcons have their origin in The Bumbling Bees, an aerobatic team formed in 1953 to represent and promote the SAAF by flying formation aerobatics in the De Havilland Vampires. The Bees were disbanded in 1958 and reinstated in 1966 flying the Aermacchi MB-326 Impala Mk !, then the SAAF’s newly acquired jet trainer.

November 22, 1967, saw the team renamed the Silver Falcons and two days later they performed their first public display at the opening of what was the Atlas Aircraft Corporation. The team flew four all silver Aermacchi MB-326s under the leadership of Commandant Chris Prins.

In the ensuing years the Silver Falcons built their reputation as cockpit ambassadors travelling across the country to display the skill and professionalism of the nation’s military pilots.

In 1985 the Falcons aircraft were repainted in orange, white and blue livery to match the then national flag. At the end of April 1994 with South Africa a democratic state the new national flag was institutionalised making the orange, white and blue livery obsolete. To embrace new South African symbols, the Impalas were repainted using similar design geometry with white, navy and artic blue – the SAAF colours – dominating. This livery was publicly displayed for the first time on May 10, 1994 during the Presidential inauguration of Nelson Mandela.

The Silver Falcons flew their last display in Impalas in September 1997 and the team was dormant for two years before a new four ship routine was unveiled. Colonel Dave Knoesen led team 52, the first to fly the Pilatus PC-7 Mk11 Astra.

For the next nine years, the Falcons continued to operate as a four ship team in the red and white livery of the SAAF Astra fleet. Numbers were applied to the vertical stabilisers of the team aircraft in order to create distinction from the training fleet. Although the Astra lacked the much-loved jet noise of the Impala, the pilots had new challenges in the form of torque- and slipstream effects and the ever-lurking risk of spinning propellers inches away from vital control surfaces. The lower speed and increased manoeuvring ability of the Astra enabled the display to be flown in a smaller “box”, closer to the crowd.

In 2008, a decision was made to transform the image of the team by repainting the six-strong team fleet in a blue and white livery and expanding the team to a five ship again. The paint for the task was donated by Kuba Miszewski, managing director of First African Paints. During the painting and test flying of the blue Astras, great care was taken to keep the new design a surprise to the public and the media.

The new livery, portraying a falcon’s head and wings, was unveiled at AFB Ysterplaat on September 16, 2008 and the new morning the silver Falcons performed for the official opening of the Africa Aerospace and Defence (AAD) exhibition at the Cape Town air force base.