South African Airways (SAA) denies reports the South African Air Force (SAAF) is getting three ex-SAA Airbus aircraft, although this may be a possibility in future.
When SAAF Chief Lieutenant General Fabian Zimpande Msimang retired on 30 September, his speaking notes stated “we signed off the purchasing of the three strategic lift A340s under the current SAA business rescue plan, to increase our fleet.” The comments were restricted to his notes and he did not verbalise the agreement in his speech.
Asked for comment, the SAA Business Rescue Practitioners told defenceWeb they “are not aware of these reports and confirm the reports are not accurate.”
SAA head of media relations Tlali Tlali told defenceWeb “there is no truth at all in the claims made.”
defenceWeb is informed the proposal to acquire ex-SAA aircraft, apparently Airbus A340s, will be shortly presented to the SAAF command structure.
If a deal went through, the A340s would most likely be used for VIP and transport flights, although there is concern over whether the SAAF can afford to take on the cost of operating another type.
Guy Leitch, SA Flyer editor, told Newzroom Afrika “there are any number of reasons as to why the air force can attempt to justify such big aircraft, including the long held need to replace the ageing Hercules with transports to move South African troops into the hot zones in Africa where they have an agreement to be deployed. The air force has been contracting, or chartering, aircraft to do that. There is a case for it, but certainly there are questions as to whether a fair price is being used or whether SAA is simply borrowing money from the defence force budget, which is already extremely tight.”
If acquired, the A340s would be suitable replacements for the Boeing 707s the SAAF used to fly.
Three Boeing 707s were added to the fleet register in March 1982 – “the result of a 10 year project to provide a dedicated in-flight refuelling capability” according to SAAF Museum technical historian WO2 Alan Taylor.
An initial three ex-Air France aircraft were acquired through a Belgian company and sent to Israel for overhaul and modification. In addition to serving as flying tankers, the 707s were fitted with removable electronic warfare (EW) equipment to serve in electronic intelligence (ELINT) as well as passenger-carrying roles.
These aircraft were to be the largest ever flown by the SAAF with the furthest range and longest endurance.
In the interim 60 Squadron, a famous WW II photo reconnaissance unit which flew Mosquitoes in the Italian Campaign, was reformed to operate the type. New hangars and facilities were built at AFB Waterkloof and, after ministerial approval was granted, the squadron was officially reformed on 16 July 1986.
The first EW flight was executed within six months of the squadron’s activation and the first in-flight refuelling of Mirage F1AZs was done on 5 March 1987.
The first operational sortie was flown from AFB Grootfontein in what was South West Africa over Angola on 8 September 1987 during Operation “Moduler”.
A further two 707s were later acquired, both ex-South African Airways and Safair. The first was fitted with a locally developed removable airborne communications system while the second was delivered in a cargo-carrying configuration and was initially earmarked to be fitted out as a Presidential VVIP transport.
The 707s flew a number of long-range flights to the United Kingdom, Chile, Brazil, Haiti, Russia and finally to Sweden for refuelling trials with the SAAB JAS 39 Gripen.
They also flew humanitarian and peace support missions – to Rwanda, to Mozambique in support of the local national elections during Operation “Amizade” and DR Congo. Its long-range capability allowed the four-engined aircraft to make non-stop flights to Marion Island and Antarctica.
By 2004 only two aircraft remained serviceable, with number 1419 making its last operational flight on 13 September 2006. The last operational flight of a SAAF Boeing 707 was to Bujumbura, Kinshasa and Kindu on 10 July 2007.
Of the five 707s operated by the SAAF, one was sold and exported to the USA, one was scrapped, the forward fuselage sections of two were removed and are preserved – one at the SAAF Museum and the other at the SA Airways Museum. Number 1419, having flown a total of 46 433 hours over its lifetime, was delivered to the SAAF Museum on 2 November 2007 where it remains on public display.