A shining example of “where there’s a will there’s a way” saw volunteers with a common interest in aviation band together to move two neglected aircraft “in service” as gate guards to a new home at the Port Elizabeth branch of the SA Air Force (SAAF) Museum.
The aircraft – a former SAAF P166S Albatross and a Mk I Impala (tail number 507) – graced the entrance to what was Port Elizabeth Airport, now Dawid Stuurman International, for years until the degrading effects of the coastal climate took their toll. The Albatross high-wing inshore maritime patrol aircraft parted company with its plinth and the Impala, according to former Buccaneer navigator Charlie Wroth and initiator of the move, was “not looking good”.
April 2020 was when the Albatross parted company from its plinth and Wroth, whose passion is “saving metal military aircraft and giving them safe haven”, decided a rescue mission was in order.
“Enquiries were made and I was put in touch with Captain Mark Kelbrick (Officer Commanding SAAF Museum Port Elizabeth). It became ‘we’ and Mark and I started working the project. This in turn saw air show broadcaster and the best aviation PR man in the country Brian Emmenis put social media to use, starting the volunteer ball rolling,” Wroth said.
While Emmenis’ social media efforts were moving along, Wroth and Kelbrick made contact with local management of the Dawid Stuurman International Airport, formerly Port Elizabeth Airport, one of nine in the Airports Company of SA (ACSA) stable.
“With Claudia Daniels onboard the team numbered three,” he recalls, adding this was when the project took on the Impala knowing “it had been on the plinth for a long, long time and needed refurbishment”.
“An ACSA decision to donate both aircraft to the Port Elizabeth branch of the air force museum was the next step in the right direction and approval to move the airframes was granted.”
This approval opened the door for Kelbrick to start seeking SAAF authorisation and assistance – knowing specialist ground crew and equipment – would be essential for the move to go smoothly.
Air Force Base (AFB) Ysterplaat’s 2 Aircraft Service Unit (ASU) was given the nod to join the team. At the same time Steve Kotze, owner of Samson Machine Moving and Rigging, offered the specialist services of his company, headed by operations manager Neil Duvenage. Again, the camaraderie of the military aviation community shone through as Kotze’s late father once wore the blue SAAF uniform, first as a crashboat captain at Langebaan and subsequently a pilot in Durban.
A hiccup in the form of missing a window of opportunity to move the aircraft, due non-availability of mobile cranes, saw the project on hold until early 2022. The team of civvy volunteers and equipment, all working pro bono and supported by SAAF expertise with Wroth, Kelbrick and Daniels unofficially in charge, arranged site inspections and came up with a workable game plan.
“Late April was chosen as a date for the move but became 6 and 7 May. That was made certain when Mark (Kelbrick) used his connections to access free use of a pair of horses and lowbed trailers, kindly lent to the project for the day from the Davidson family, a well-known aeronautical family in Port Elizabeth. The involvement of local municipal road traffic control officers and ATNS (Air Traffic and Navigation Services) was also confirmed”.
“Saturday, 7 May was ‘go for launch’ with the weather on the limits,” Wroth said.
This did not deter the team and the Albat was first up, then the Imp. With both safe on the lowbeds, the convoy set off in low visibility and driving rain for the museum on the opposite side of the airfield. “Some bundu bashing” handled with aplomb by the drivers ensured safe arrival was Wroth’s appreciative summation of the professionalism on display.
“By 16h30 it was ‘Mission Accomplished’ and the pair of ‘old ladies’ safe in their retirement home for much-needed TLC,” he said.
The Italian maritime patrol aircraft has no SAAF tail number because it was made from a pair by Classic Aircraft Maintenance, a company once owned by the late Mike Beachyhead of Thunder City fame, Wroth told defenceWeb when asked for this information.
Although a long and daunting road lies ahead, refurbishment is up next. The project’s originator is optimistic the involvement of privateers like himself will eventually see the Albatross and Impala in static display condition. He knows this full well as driver of a project to restore Buccaneer 421 on the inventory of the SAAF Museum at AFB Swartkop.