Arguably South Africa’s best known warbird – the distinctive black and gold Mirage IIICZ – is no longer airworthy and is languishing at AFB Hoedspruit.
The aircraft, the first of type to be delivered to the SA Air Force (SAAF) in June 1963, was put onto the Air Force Museum inventory in the early nineties and was until four years ago a regular participant on the South Africa airshow circuit. She was flown almost exclusively by Glen Warden who took the aircraft out to sea during the Durban Airshow a few years ago to show the old lady still had it in her and broke the sound barrier.
During its time as an active SAAF aircraft the Black Widow was one of 2 Squadron’s warbirds.
The Black Widow (SAAF tail number 800) is based at AFB Hoedespruit, several hundred kilometres away from the SAAF Museum at AFB Zwartkkop. This has not stopped SAAF Museum Officer Commanding Lieutenant Colonel Mike O’Connor from giving it the same attention as all his other charges.
He knows the IIICZ has to come to AFB Zwartkop but is still working on ways and means of making it airworthy at least one more time so it can fly into the base before becoming a part of the museum’s impressive array of static displays.
“If it is going to be transported by road, the wings have to be removed and then it will never be a proper aircraft again. Presently we are exploring all avenues,” is how O’Connor this week described the situation he finds himself in.
The unavailability of spares, particularly regarding safety equipment including ejection seat cartridges, and a lack of finance, has contributed to ending the flying life of the Black Widow. Given that the aircraft is 51 years old, sourcing of spares is understandably a problem and the possibility of having them specially made presents a daunting financial challenge to the Museum, which has to generate the majority of its own income as it is classified as a non-operational unit of the SAAF.