ZU-800, the first Mirage 111CZ to be taken into service by the SA Air Force (SAAF), is currently languishing at AFB Hoedspruit but plans are afoot to make the Black Widow airworthy for one last flight to the SAAF Museum.
Retired SAAF Chief, Lieutenant General Denis Earp, the Museum board member for heritage, told defenceWeb plans and processes are underway to bring the aircraft to the Museum at AFB Zwartkop, home to at least 20 airworthy former SAAF aircraft.
“One of the major problems facing us processes that used to happen quickly during my tenure as CAF take a lot longer nowadays,” he said.
The aircraft (SAAF tail number 800) was taken into the Museum inventory in the early nineties and was, until four years ago, a regular feature at airshows around the country. It was flown by Glen Warden who recently told defenceWeb the aircraft had “become very much a part” of him.
Museum Officer Commanding Lieutenant Colonel Mike O’Connor is also fully supportive of efforts to make the Black Widow airworthy for one last flight to Zwartkop.
“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,” he said last month of the 51-year-old French jet fighter.
The unavailability of spares, particularly safety equipment including ejection seat cartridges, and a lack of finance, has contributed to ending the flying life of the Black Widow. Given the aircraft’s age, 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.
This is where Earp, O’Connor, the pilot and others involved in aviation are working behind the scenes to find a solution to ensure ZU-800 arrives at Zwartkop by air and not road.
“With everything that’s going on and various meetings ahead there is no chance of the Black Widow being at Zwartkop for the Museum airshow on May 10,”Admin Ops Officer, Lieutenant Colonel Clive Shepherd said.
When ZU-800 does arrive at Zwartkop it will join a collection of SAAF warbirds ranging from a Tiger Moth through to a Vampire that are still airworthy as well as numerous Buccaneers, Sabres, Impalas, Harvards, a Mustang and helicopters including Alouette 11s and 111s and a Puma on display.