In a highly unusual incident, a SAAF Pilatus PC7 MkII Astra training aircraft yesterday landed with one person less than with which it took off.
The Astra, a two-seat training aircraft, is the aircraft flown by the SAAF’s Silver Falcon aerobatic team.
A member of the aerobatic team, Capt Gerhard Lourens, who occupies the number four position in the five man team, was flying with a passenger in the rear seat yesterday when the passenger unintentionally initiated the ejection seat.
The ejection seat is normally only used when the pilots need to exit the aircraft in a dire emergency such as when the aircraft is about to crash.
The unknown passenger landed without serious injury, apart from that to their pride. The Astra landed safely, but has suffered damage from the ejection.
Thirty-five of the aircraft will from next month undergo a cockpit upgrade under the supervision of the Swiss original equipment manufacturer (OEM) as part of a programme costed at R400 million in 2007.
The first of 60 aircraft acquired for the SAAF at a cost of $175 million to replace the North American Harvard as its basic trainer was delivered on October 17, 1994.
The contract was signed by then-Defence Minister Gene Louw on February 12, 1993 and provided for 55% offsets. It was SA’s first post-apartheid defence purchase.