Silver Falcons a ‘major asset’ for SAAF


Veteran air show commentator Brian Emmenis has called the South African Air Force’s (SAAF’s) aerobatic team a “major asset” for the Air Force. This was a play on the fact that all five pilots that make up the team hold the rank of major.
defenceWeb spoke to Major Mark Gentles, flying Falcon number 1, call sign Katana: “Originally the team started out as the Bumbling Bees [in 1953], flying on Vampires and when the decision was made to move over onto Impalas they decided they needed a name that was equally good in English and in Afrikaans. They decided on something majestic and powerful, and the aircraft would be painted silver, so they came up with Die Silwer Valke, the Silver Falcons.”

Major Gentles said 2017 is a key anniversary year for the team. The first time the team flew as the Silver Falcons was on 24 November 1967 at the opening of the Atlas Aircraft Corporation. “We will be 50 years old and that makes us one of the oldest aerobatic teams in the world. [We’re] very proud of that, standing on the shoulders of giants – there’ve been some amazing people who’ve gone before us. The starting number one, Colonel Chris Prins, the legendary Colonel Rodney King and all the guys who’ve been before us.”

The public relations officers and team member Major Wendy Badenhorst said that “given the significance of the age of the team, we would obviously like to make it a special occasion. All past Silver Falcons will be invited to attend.”
“The SAAF funds the Silver Falcons as part of their public relations budget. As the Silver Falcons, we’re the cockpit ambassadors of the SAAF, we go out and show people what the SAAF is all about, what the technicians can do, what the air controllers can do, what the pilots can do and we provide publicity for them,” Gentles said.
“So, we’re recruiting. We’re trying to get people to join the Air Force. We are all volunteers, ground crew, air crew, all included. The air crew are full time instructors at CFS [Central Flying School, Langebaanweg in the Western Cape], we teach the SAAF’s pilots how to fly, and the ground crew service the aircraft.
“The Air Force provides money in terms of fuel, flying hours, that sort of thing – they keep us in the air. To ensure professionalism the team required a corporate image and that’s where NAC [National Airways Corporation] stepped in, and they are our total sponsor. They provide us with all the blue overalls, badges, they give us a corporate image and they allow us to look the way we do.”

The Silver Falcons are training hard for upcoming air shows and will be attending the Lowveld air show in Nelspruit on 13 May. The team also hopes to attend the Newcastle air show on 3 June and the Middleburg air show on 24 June.

The Silver Falcons have had a busy start to the year, performing during Armed Forces Week in Durban in February, at the Navy Festival in Simon’s Town in March, the opening weekend of the Rand Show in April, at Richards Bay on 27 April for Freedom Day and at the Zwartkop Air Show on 6 May.

The members of the current Team 80 include Team Leader Major Mark Gentles; Major James Wilcox (No 2); Major Sivu Tangana (No 3); Major Wendy Badenhorst (No 4); Major Omphile Mutloane (No 5) and Major Bheki Shabangu (Ground Liaison Officer).

Wilcox is being transferred back to 28 Squadron and fly-offs were recently held to find a replacement for him. Major Bheki Shabangu was selected as the new No 2 Falcon and Major Corne Van Deventer was selected as the new Ground Liaison Officer. Shabangu should take up his new position by the end of May this year.

Click here to view the Silver Falcons gallery.