Air Force to put best foot forward


The annual Air Force Day Parade taking place next week will be an opportunity for the new Chief of the South African Air Force (SAAF) to put some pride back into the service.

Having only taken over the reins of the Air Force in October last year, the new Chief of the Air Force, Lt Gen Fabian Msimang, has not had much opportunity to place his stamp on the military service known as “the pride of the nation”.

The last three months have placed the Air Force squarely in the public eyes and for all the wrong reasons. First it was the dire financial circumstances that the entire South African Defence Force finds itself in, then the prospect that the Denel Aviation/Aero Manpower Group (AMG) aircraft technicians, who are crucial to keeping the Air Force’s aircraft safely in the air, face having their contract terminated with effect from 1 April 2013.

Then in early November a C-47TP Dakota transport plane was involved in a landing incident at Mthatha airport and was subsequently written-off. Fortunately, the crew and passengers were not injured.

However, just one month later, on 7 December, on the day Msimang presided over his inaugural Wings Parade in which newly qualified pilots were awarded their coveted Wings brevet, another Dakota aircraft was tragically written-off. Eleven SAAF personnel aboard were killed when the aircraft flew into high ground in the Drakensburg Mountains.

A further incident occurred last week when a CASA 212 transport was involved in a heavy landing at Tempe Airfield. Once again, it was fortuitous that no one on board was injured and this time the aircraft may be repaired.

As one of the SAAF’s major ceremonial events of the year, the Air Force Day Parade is traditionally held on the Friday closest to 1 February, the day acknowledged as the official birth of the SAAF in 1920. After initially delaying the event due to Msimang attending a staff course in Cuba, the Parade was moved back to its traditional slot and will be held on Friday 1 February.

The last few Parades were held at Air Force Base Swartkop outside Pretoria, home to the SAAF Museum, and incorporated large flypasts and spectacular displays. The 2012 Parade was highlighted by the lack of mass fly-pasts. This, then Chief of the SAAF Lt Gen Carlo Gagiano said, was because he wanted to make a statement that “if the balance between the human resources budget and operating budget is not corrected, very few aircraft will fly.”

This year will be different in that the Parade is moving back to AFB Waterkloof and will, once again, incorporate flypasts, aerial displays and a mini-Air Capability Demonstration. These will include the following aircraft:
• 3 x Oryx
• 2 x Rooivalk
• 2 x Cessna Caravans
• Hawk formation
• Gripen formation
• The Silver Falcons aerobatic team

Clearly, Msimang is facing many challenges in re-invigorating the SAAF, but the Air Force Day Parade will be a welcome opportunity to celebrate the founding of the SAAF and present his plans for the future.

The Parade is open to the public and entrance is free, but it is not known if Msimang will have returned to South Africa in time or if someone else will deliver his address.