AFB Waterkloof today (August 1) marks its 80th anniversary.
It started life on 1 August 1938 as Waterkloof Air Station as a practice force landing field secondary to AFB Swartkop (then correct, but now Zwartkop).
Today’s anniversary event at the base in Centurion was scheduled to feature a flypast and an 80 man parachute jump as well as performances by the SA Air Force (SAAF) choir and entertainment band.
The planned highlight was to have as many serving AFB Waterkloof members wearing white T-shirts and making the figure 80 for an aerial photograph as a lasting memory of the day. Base 80th anniversary caps were also available.
Over the years AFB Waterkloof, along with the SA Air Force (SAAF), changed and in July 1951 the newly delivered Vampires of 1 Squadron were moved to nearby AFB Swartkop ahead of construction work starting at Waterkloof. The following month saw the last aircraft which used the base in its then format leave. They were Auster Mk 5s of 42 Squadron.
Work start in January 1952 at a then estimated cost of 424 000 pounds. Indications were the revamped base would be ready for operations by mid-1954.
When completed it was planned for 1, 2, 3, 4 and 42 squadrons to operate from Waterkloof along with 1 and 15 air depots. Various circumstances and events saw flying units only move back to Waterkloof in 1956.
Following this the SAAF expanded to the force it was in the 70s and 80s with new equipment introduced, units reformed, personnel expertise increased and AFB Waterkloof became the foremost SAAF air base.
A second upgrade came in 2008/9 with the runway and taxiway the recipients. The kink in the taxiway, remembered not always fondly by pilots, was removed.
Waterkloof is currently home to 1 Air Servicing Unit, 21 Sqn, 28 Sqn, 41 Sqn, 44 Sqn, 5 ASU; 504 Sqn, Central Photographic Institute, Electronic Warfare Centre; Joint Air Reconnaissance Centre (JARIC) and the Telecommunication Centre.
In the 90s re-organisation of the SAAF, Waterkloof became the force’s centre of excellence for air transport with Bloemspruit named helicopter centre of excellence, Ysterplaat maritime centre of excellent and what was then AFB Louis Trichardt, now AFB Makhado, the fighter centre of excellence.
The base has hosted Aerospace Africa and Defence exhibitions, which grew from the Dexsa exhibitions, every two years apart from when the runway and taxiway were upgraded.
Thanks to SAAF Association, Pretoria and the Unofficial SAAF website for information.