Sad day for SA military aviation


Wednesday, 17 March 2021, will go into history as a sad day for South Africa’s military aviation fraternity, marked by the death of two top pilots in a crash while apparently attempting to land a one-of-type aircraft at AFB Swartkop in Centurion.

The pilots were retired SA Air Force (SAAF) Major General Des Barker, widely known as having by far the most aircraft types of any SAAF pilot in his lengthy logbook, and former Indian Air Force (AIF) fighter pilot Rama Iyer. Before moving to the SA Civil Aviation Authority (SACAA) Iyer was part of the air force’s training directorate and a regular visitor to the SAAF Museum where he was current on a number of aircraft, including the Patchen Explorer. This is the aircraft  with himself and Barker aboard that crashed on approach, killing both.

The Directorate: Corporate Communication of the national defence force, said: “The SA National Defence Force (SANDF) Military Command is saddened to learn of the untimely death of two Reserve Force pilots as a result of a fatal Patchen Explorer aircraft crash during the scheduled General Flying day at the SAAF Museum in Valhalla, Pretoria. The fatal crash happened on Wednesday, 17 March 2021 at approximately 09:30am”.

It notes high level condolences to family, friends and colleagues of Barker and Iyer from Defence and Military Veterans Minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula; Deputy Defence and Military Veterans Minister Thabang Makwetla; SANDF Chief General Solly Shoke and acting CAF Major General Mzayifani Innocent Buthelezi.

An investigation into the crash is, according to the statement, “currently underway” to determine its causes.

An eyewitness told the Unofficial SAAF Website the single-engined, high-wing aircraft flew over his house “sputtering badly”, possibly as a result of carburettor icing, and went in short of runway 02 on the oldest air force base in South Africa. A person who was on the base at the time of the crash said: “It was not a good day for flying. The cloud base was low, very low and there was steady rain at Swartkop since early”.

The Explorer, serial 2000, was one of the aircraft in the SAAF Museum historic flight. It was the only one of type ever built and came to South Africa in 1975 with plans to put it into production. This reportedly did not materialise and the aircraft was offered to the SAAF for evaluation as a reconnaissance asset.

It found a home at AFB Waterkloof, at that time home to the SAAF Test Flight and Development Centre (TDFC) later moved to AFB Overberg in Western Cape, where the world’s only Patchen Explorer was put into service as a communications aircraft. It stood idle and deteriorating for some seven years before it was moved to nearby Swartkop and put onto SAAF Museum strength. Many hours of work by SAAF Museum staff (regular and Reserve Force along with volunteers) brought the Patchen back to full airworthiness in February 1987. Two years later the aircraft was grounded for repairs, finally regaining airworthiness in 2013.

As far as defenceWeb can ascertain, no announcements regarding funeral details had been made at the time of publishing. There was also no further SANDF statement on the crash.