As part of its role in preserving South Africa’s military aviation heritage through its museum, the SA Air Force (SAAF) is compiling a history which is inclusive and reflects all factors that have made the SAAF what it is today, according to Major General Wiseman Mbambo, Chief: Air Staff Operations.
This directive has seen the main museum at AFB Zwartkop and the satellite museums at AFB Ysterplaat and AFB Port Elizabeth working to capture and reflect, in detail, the memories of the air components of the Azanian People’s Liberation Army (Apla), the former TBVC defence forces (Transkei, Bophuthatswana, Venda and Ciskei), Umkhonto we Sizwe (MK) and the SAAF.
“This means compiling a history which is inclusive and reflects all factors that have made the SAAF what it is today – an air force that inspires confidence. This means new displays and exhibits reflecting this dynamic history will be unveiled for all to enjoy in the upcoming months,” Mbambo said.
Work on collecting information, changing exhibitors and planning new exhibits in line with this directive started more than a year ago when retired SAAF Major General Lucky Ngema was brought aboard to oversee transformation at particularly the Zwartkop museum.
In this regard Museum Officer Commanding, Lieutenant Colonel Thor Fredericks, reports a complete refurbishment and upgrade is currently underway “to reflect and portray the SAAF from 1920 to the present day”.
“[Given] the size of the task, the process is being executed in phases. The first phase is scheduled for completed by September 14 and Ngema, who is no longer involved, has made a huge contribution in guiding the project since inception.”
Among the changes coming and one which directly involves the then Bophuthatswana Defence Force is the CN235, which is currently one of the aircraft on static display at Zwartkop.
“Because of its history as a former BDF aircraft it features significantly in the Museum’s future plans,” Fredericks said.
The SAAF inherited the CN235 from the BDF Air Wing in 1994. It was first acquired by then then independent homeland’s defence force in 1991 and was given the tail number 8026 when it was taken into service with 44 Squadron at AFB Waterkloof. Making the aircraft of even more value historically is that it was the original prototype built by Casa. It was retired from service late in 2011 ostensibly because of the difficulty inherent in obtaining spares.
The Boeing 707 that was part of 60 Squadron’s inventory, used for air-to-air refuelling, electronic warfare and transport, is also part of the Zwartkop upgrade plan. Fredericks said it was currently in storage pending completion of construction work in the display area.
As far as restoration projects are concerned the Zwartkop Museum is, led by the Friends of the SAAF Museum, currently busy restoring the crashed Spitfire Mk1Xe.
“It was agreed the Friends would execute the restoration rather than send the airframe to an internationally recognised foreign restoration company,” he said, adding no date has been set for the project to be finished.
Restoration work is also underway at Zwartkop on a second Cessna 185D that will become airworthy again.
SAAF Chief, Lieutenant General Zakes Msimang, told defenceWeb that history was an important part of the airborne arm of the SA National Defence Force (SANDF) and “every unit and base will in time have a dedicated history room showing, among other information, previous officers commanding since establishment of the unit, squadron or base”.