SAAF turns 91


The South African Air Force will be celebrating Air Force Day tomorrow in the form of a parade at Air Force Base Swartkop at 10am. The annual event highlights the achievements of the past year and the challenges facing the Air Force for the current year. Air Force Bases, Units and Squadrons that have excelled in their various tasks and obligations will be awarded with trophies for their accomplishments.

The Chief of the Air Force, Lieutenant General Carlo Gagiano, the inspecting officer, will thank his troops for their hard work during the 2010 FIFA Soccer World Cup. An aerial display of all fleets (Helicopters, Transport and Fighter aircraft) and other practical demonstrations will be conducted during the parade. The parade will be preceded by a media briefing where Gagiano and members of the Air Force Board will address various current topical matters such as the development and integration of air-to-air missiles for both the BAE Systems Hawk and SAAB Gripen, as well as simulator flying training for both the Cessna C208 Caravan and King Air aircraft amongst others.

Although military aviation was still in its infancy at the time that the Union Defence Force (UDF) was formed on April 1, 1913, the Defence Act of 1912 made provision for the establishment of the South African Aviation Corps as part of the Active Citizen Force. In August 1912 the Commandant-General of the Citizen Force, Brigadier General Christiaan Beyers, was sent to England and Europe by defence minister General Jan Smuts to observe and report on the use of aircraft in military operations.

Beyers was so impressed by what he saw that when he returned to the Union, he strongly recommended setting up a school of aviation. The Government subsequently contracted aviation pioneer Cecil Compton Paterson to provide flying training to a select group of ten aviators at his flying school at Alexanderfontein near Kimberley.

Despite the strict economies and retrenchments to which the UDF was subject in the immediate post-war years, 1920 saw the establishment of the South African Air Force (SAAF) as an independent service. Pierre van Ryneveld, now colonel, was appointed Director Air Services with effect from February 1, 1920, with instructions to establish an air force for the Union. This date is acknowledged as marking the official birth of the SAAF, making it second only to the Royal Air Force (April 1, 1918). The Royal Australian Air Force was established about two month later on March 31, 1920.

The establishment of the SAAF was greatly facilitated by the generous decision by the Imperial Government in 1919 to allocate to the Union some 100 aeroplanes from its war stocks, complete with spares and equipment. These were joined by a further 13 aircraft from other sources making for a fleet of 113 aircraft. Home for the fledgling air force from April the next year was a site at Swartkop. The SAAF’s No 1 Flight was established there April 26, 1921. Together with a later flight, it formed the nucleus of 1 Squadron, which was established by early 1922. The SAAF was listed as a unit of the reconstituted Permanent Force on February 1, 1923. By that time the SAAF’s Permanent Force establishment numbered 17 officers and 218 other ranks. A special Reserve of Flying Officers was established in the same year.