The South African Air Force’s Silver Falcons aerobatic display team is taking a break from all air shows and events primarily due to the coronavirus pandemic, and will resume training at a later date.
This is according to a South African Air Force (SAAF) statement from Brigadier General Hilton Smith, SAAF Director Corporate Staff Services, who said on 24 June that “the Silver Falcons based at Air Force Base Langebaanweg is currently not participating at any air shows due to COVID-19 restrictions on public gatherings, which include air shows.
“In accordance with the amended Regulations on Disaster Management the SAAF have cancelled all events until further notice.
“At present the SAAF members are under continuous staff and instructors training. The Silver Falcons will resume training as per the training schedule of Central Flying School at Air Force Base Langebaanweg.”
The SAAF’s statement is in response to a leaked signal dated 21 May regarding the allocation and utilisation of the PC-7 Mk II aircraft, which the Silver Falcons flies. The signal said that that “based on the present financial allocation, priority utilisation of aircraft (PC-7 Mk II) must be given to PWC 128 [Pilots Wing Course 128] and PIC 01 [Pilot Instructors Course 01] of 2019 and necessary flying maintenance.
“Any other support roles, i.e. operational support (border patrol) and Silver Falcons cannot be supported and planned for at present status. Quarterly review of situation may effect utilisation.”
Smith clarified that this “is not the end of the Silver Falcons,” and they will resume training at a later stage.
Dean Wingrin, webmaster of the unofficial SAAF website and defenceWeb correspondent, said it appears the budget allocation to Central Flying School is so severe that use of the PC-7 Mk II is prioritised to one Wings and one Instructors courses only.
Defence expert and director at African Defence Review, Darren Olivier, points out that the SAAF is facing serious budget cuts and reallocation of funds towards Operation Notlela coronavirus relief activities and has a training deficit caused by a series of flight hour budget cuts in past years. This means crews and pilots may lose currency and qualifications without continuation training time.
As the Silver Falcons cannot do display practice, it will be more time consuming and expensive to start things up again when events are allowed.
Another issue facing the Silver Falcons, and the SAAF, is corrosion with the engine mounts on the PC-7 Mk II, which is believed to have affected the majority of the SAAF’s PC-7s, including the 35 upgraded between 2010 and 2013 under Project Ithambo. Due to persistent corrosion issues, the Silver Falcons have had to use other airframes, in standard red and white paint schemes, for their displays.
It is not clear when the Silver Falcons might take to the skies again. Almost all local air shows and events have been cancelled this year although the organisers of the 2020 Africa Aerospace and Defence (AAD) exhibition still plan to host the event at Air Force Base Waterkloof between 16 and 20 September. Other events remaining on the South African calendar include the Sport Aerobatic Club air show at New Tempe, Bloemfontein, on 8 August; the Bethlehem Air Show on 22 August; the Rand Air Show on 6 September; Garden Route Air Show at George on 26 September; and Newcastle Air Show on 3 October. Whether or not these events will indeed take place remains to be seen.