SAAF Museum celebrates 40 years of flying heritage


The South African Air Force Museum celebrated 40 years of South Africa’s military aviation heritage at the weekend during a Flying Day dedicated to this anniversary.

The anniversary is based on a 1973 order given to museum pioneer Colonel Peter McGregor to seek and assemble items of aviation heritage. The Museum was only opened to the public in 1978. McGregor became the first Officer Commanding (OC) of the Museum, which is housed in historic hangars at Swartkop Air Force Base (AFB) in Pretoria.

The hangars are part of the Imperial Gift received in 1919 from the British government to the Dominions. The gift comprised 100 aircraft to each country, sent as replacements for aeroplanes given to Britain by them during World War One.

With the exception of India, this gift became the nucleus of the air forces of these countries. South Africa also received steel framework material for 20 permanent hangars, 30 collapsible hangars, as well as equipment necessary to operate military aircraft, including radios, engine and airframe workshops.
“The hangars themselves are also of historical significance. We need to look after them and we may not change or alter the appearance of the hangars,” said present OC, Lieutenant Colonel Mike O’Connor. “We’re going through a process of restoring them, repainting them as they were in those days when the air force received them. At this stage we’ve done four of our six hangars.”

O’Connor said the SAAF Museum was one of only three in the world that not only had aircraft on static display but also repaired, maintained and flew aircraft. He said the other two were in the US and the UK. The museum, which has satellite branches in Cape Town and Port Elizabeth, is unique in Africa in this respect.
“We’ve never really had the displays in a chronological order from the birth of the air force right up to the present. In the next month or two we’re going to start moving exhibits around. The other important thing is we are developing the fourth hanger into the former MK, APLA, TBVC hanger.

We’re getting a lot of equipment from the Special Forces.”

On finances, O’Connor said. “Presently we got a lot of support to fix up the static environment from the air force, however on the flying side we’re basically keeping the museum up in the air by hosting events. Recently we had General Motors here and they made a substantial donation to the museum. The Air Force Benevolent Fund is helping us and then (there is) our air show every year.”

He said the museum has recently spent a lot of money building a hangar which will house the Avro Shackleton, the English Electric Canberra, the Lockheed Lodestar and Ventura and the Aerospatiale Super Frelon helicopter.

The museum has 135 aircraft on show covering all the functions performed by the SAAF. Currently it has 18 aircraft representing 14 types in flying condition, maintained by only six qualified mechanics.

A Tiger Moth has been restored and is expected soon and the North American P-51 Mustang “Patsy Dawn” which is on static display, could be brought back to flying condition in the not-so-distant future.

Click here to view the SAAF Museum October flying day gallery.