An unexplained fire at the weekend in 8 Hangar at Air Force Base (AFB) Swartkop, home to the SA Air Force (SAAF) Museum, was brought under control and extinguished without serious damage except to the building itself.
The hangar was part of the Imperial Gift that saw the establishment of the SAAF in the early 1920s. Along with other buildings on the base it was classified a heritage structure and, according to SAAF Corporate Staff Services, is “a setback to the SAAF and the history of military aviation around the world”.
“Since 2012, SAAF Chief, Lieutenant General Zakes Msimang, has initiated a programme to preserve and promote our air force history, which includes former TBVC states and the armed wings of former liberation movements in relation to the corresponding political, social and economic dispensation of the country under the theme ‘embracing our collective heritage’.
“A fundamental element in nation building and cultivating a cohesive society is reconfiguration of the heritage landscape to ensure it reflects the diversity and the incredible efforts of the unity of our society,” a SAAF statement said.
The hangar caught fire at around 05h00 on 10 August.
defenceWeb correspondent Dean Wingrin reports “no injuries were sustained by personnel and no aircraft or historical items were lost as the historic hangar was used as general storage for airfield maintenance equipment, with the hangar itself sustaining extensive structural damage”.
AFB Swartkop fire services and Tshwane Metro emergency services extinguished the fire. Base Commander Colonel Trish Schoeman used social media to say “nobody burned the hangar down on purpose” and a board of inquiry was convened to investigate. The cause of the fire is not yet known.
Established in April 1921 as the then fledgling SAAF’s first base, Swartkop is today home to the SAAF Museum, the SAAF Museum historic flight and 17 Squadron, operating Agusta A109 and Oryx helicopters.
Early indications are the fire damaged, corrugated iron and steel building will be replaced by “a new modern structure, embracing the concept of old to new”. At least one military aviation enthusiast has already asked if the new hangar will be in service by February next year when the SAAF marks its centenary.
The SAAF Museum is due to hold its annual air show on Saturday 7 September, and indications are the fire will not affect the show.