The SAAF turns 90


The world’s second oldest air force, that of South Africa, is 90 this Tuesday. The flying service today celebrates the event with a massive parade at Swartkop Air Field in Pretoria.

Minister of Defence and Military Veterans Lindiwe Sisulu will take the salute.

The event will see more than 80 air force aircraft take part in a flypast and air capability demonstration. The moment will also see the air force unveil four fully armed Saab Gripen D advanced lightweight fighters. Nine BAE Systems Hawk Mk 120 lead-in fighter trainers will also be on hand this morning to show the public how to deal with an aircraft hijack situation.

Over 500 invited guests and more than 1500 members of the public, including children from schools around Tshwane, will also be treated to a 500 Security Squadron demonstration of how to protect deployed forces, paratroop and conduct combat search and rescue.

Chief of the Air Force Lieutenant General Carlo Gagiano says “the parade to celebrate the 90th anniversary of the SAAF will be the highlight of many milestones achieved during the past year which added value to the objectives of government.”

A Prestige Evening Banquet where trophies were awarded to deserving divisions and individuals was held last night. The trophy for an overall winner will be presented at the parade on Friday.
SAAF history

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 the year before 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 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.