Final flight test of Draken’s Cheetahs marks end of an era


Cheetah C tail number 376 performed its final flight acceptance test on Wednesday ahead of being shipped to the United States, marking the end of Cheetah flights in South Africa. Draken has acquired 12 ex-SA Air Force Cheetahs for adversary training.

Nine single seat Cheetah C and three dual seat D models were in 2017 sold to Florida-based Draken, which will use them for adversary training for the US Air Force, US Navy and US Marine Corps. Draken sees the Cheetah as complementary to its recent acquisition of 22 modernised radar-equipped Spanish Mirages F1Ms.

After painstaking efforts to reassemble and return the aircraft to airworthy status after years of storage, each Cheetah is flown several times by Denel Aeronautics to make sure everything is working correctly (included upgraded avionics) before partial disassembly and shipping to the United States – this involves the wings being removed and the engine taken out, amongst others.

Over the last year and a half, Denel has been flying and accepting Draken’s Cheetahs, culminating in Wednesday’s final flight with 376. The aircraft last flew, with the SA Air Force, in 2001 (the Cheetah fleet was retired in 2008).

The first two Cheetahs (a single seat and a dual seat) arrived in the United States in October 2019. According to import tracking websites, Denel’s most recent shipment was in June this year.

In addition to the 12 ex-SAAF Cheetahs, Draken has acquired a vast supply of spares and equipment from Denel to support the Cheetah fleet, including the Cheetah simulator from Air Force Base Makhado.