The helicopter population of the oldest base in the SA Air Force (SAAF) – Swartkop in Centurion – has grown by one but the rotorcraft will neither be operational nor join other exhibits at the SAAF Museum.
Oryx 1234 was on the strength of AFB Ysterplaat-based 22 Squadron for some time and earlier this year found itself at Denel’s Ekurhuleni campus for what has been reported as “a scheduled overhaul”.
Earlier this month, the medium transport helicopter was put onto a lowbed, after preparation to allow for road transport, ahead of moving to the base adjacent to what was the SAAF Gymnasium in Valhalla. Speculation was the Oryx was destined for the SAAF Museum with at least one observer saying the lack of work on the locally manufactured machine was due to a shortage of funds – from both the air force and Denel.
“Chronic underfunding of the SA National Defence Force (SANDF), together with the terminal funding crunch at Denel, means no funds are available to fund the overhaul (of Oryx 1234),” defenceWeb was told.
The official response from the Directorate: Corporate Communication of the national defence force is the aircraft is not being withdrawn from service. It is, according to Brigadier General Mafi Mgobozi, “awaiting service” at Swartkop and “will return for utilisation” once the necessary major maintenance work is complete.
If 1234 had gone to the SAAF Museum at Swartkop it would have been the first of type to be exhibited.
The other occupant of the oldest SAAF base is helicopter unit 17 Squadron. With 15 Squadron at AFB Durban, 19 Squadron at AFB Hoedspruit and 22 Squadron at AFB Ysterplaat they are the only currently operational helicopter squadrons.
The Oryx was taken into the SAAF inventory in 1991, replacing the Puma as the force’s primary rotary-winged transport. Fifty-one Oryxes, assembled at what was then Denel Aviation, were delivered to the airborne service of the SANDF. In 2006 the SAAF approved a mid-life upgrade for 35 airframes with all work undertaken at Denel’s Ekurhuleni campus, east of OR Tambo International Airport. These re-entered service by 2017.