Burnt hangar at oldest air force base not rebuilt

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The intensity of the fire which ripped through hangar 8 at Air Force Base (AFB) Swartkop two-and-a-half years ago was such that the hangar was determined “not sound” and demolished.

“There were no repairs and/or rebuilding on the hangar after the fire,” the Directorate: Corporate Communication (DCC) of the SA National Defence Force (SANDF) said in response to a defenceWeb enquiry.

“The board of inquiry (BOI), in consultation with the National Department of Public Work determined the structure was not sound. It was demolished, the site cleared within the base’s own capability (sic).

“There is neither a structure that has been erected in the place of that hangar nor requirement received from the base to erect a new hangar.

“The site is now utilised for display by the SAAF Museum during parades/air shows,” the official response reads.

Regarding possible legal action against those allegedly responsible for the fire, DCC notes “the SAAF is awaiting finalisation of the completed BOI and is currently at the LEGSATO (Defence Legal Services Division satellite office) senior prosecutor (sic)”.

The base is home to the SA Air Force (SAAF) Museum and 17 Squadron and was an integral component of the establishment of the air force 102 years ago.

South Africa, along with the then three other British self-governing dominions, were recipients of donations of aircraft and equipment to set up own air forces. The donations were subsequently called the “Imperial Gift” and in South Africa saw iron and steel hangars along with other infrastructure built on a site adjacent to the then main Johannesburg/Pretoria road. The site was selected by Sir Pierre van Ryneveld and Kenneth van der Spuy, who were responsible for making the SAAF a reality in line with the vision of Field Marshal Jan Smuts, long a proponent of air power. He is reported by The Heritage Portal as saying “control of the air” was as important as “command of the high seas”.

In addition to workshops, tenders, motor cars, motorcycles and trailers; hangars for aeroplanes and stores; radio and photographic equipment for two squadrons; tools to equip SAAF mechanics and thousands of litres of paint, fuel, varnishes and dope (a plasticised lacquer applied to fabric-covered aircraft), the Imperial Gift saw 100 aircraft given to form the nucleus of the fledgling air force, the second oldest independent air force in the world.

The fledgling SAAF’s share of the Imperial Gift included eight Airco DH9 bombers, 30 Avro 504 trainers, 22 Royal Aircraft Factory SE5a fighters, and ten Airco DH4 bombers. These were later joined by an additional DH9 and two Royal Aircraft Factory BE2s.

Swartkop is considered a heritage site and there was talk, some years ago, of it becoming a living aviation museum. Apart from the SAAF Museum, the intention was to bring back the now no longer in existence SAA Heritage Flight to Swartkop along with the Harvard and Tiger Moth clubs.