A Cape Town residence is home to a veritable treasure trove of military aviation memorabilia including a South African designed, developed and fabricated helmet-mounted sight (HMS) – a world first for the late 1970s.
The sight, along with flying helmets, g-suits, life preservers and survival jackets, flying gloves, headsets and more belong to self-confessed military aviation junkie, Dean Wingrin.
He first put the SA Air Force (SAAF) onto the then new-fangled Internet 26 years ago via his Unofficial SAAF Website – still going strong today – and is a regular contributor to defenceWeb. His reporting is – obviously – biased toward the airborne service of the SA National Defence Force (SANDF) but he is not entirely dismissive of the fleet and knows the value of the SA Navy (SAN) to the wider South African economy.
Wingrin gave defenceWeb some insight into his passion which started before he reported for national service in the late 1980s.
“I’ve always had a passion for an interest in aviation, particularly military, since junior school,” he told defenceWeb adding this could be easily verified by teachers and classmates.
“I acquired a few timex flight gear items while in uniform but the urge to collect surfaced decades later.
“There was hardly any SAAF related information available on the new online source known as the internet in those days, so I established the Unofficial SAAF Website (www.saairforce.co.za) in 1995. This was before the SANDF had any web presence. Twenty-six years later I still actively keep the website updated as the primary source of SAAF related information.
“In 2013 my book ‘Tumult in the Clouds, Stories from the South African Air Force, 1920–2010’ was published, for which I interviewed air and ground crews about their personal SAAF experiences. The book resulted from queries by relatives of those who served in the SAAF and were researching family members’ involvement. Many who served and fought in the SAAF never told their stories to relatives – now it was too late as they had passed on.
“In 2002 I realised these personal memories and experiences had to be recorded before they were lost. Eleven years later the book was published and I have sufficient contributions for a second volume.”
In addition to his day job, Wingrin was researching any number of projects – all obviously military aviation related – and keeping the website updated. He confesses the almost constant exposure to military aviation re-awakened “a dormant passion” for flight gear.
“That was 2018 and off I went hunting for and acquiring flying helmets, masks and flight suits. The natural progression was to research the items I now owned and it soon dawned on me there was very little accurate information on SAAF flight gear available, but a lot of erroneous assumptions.
“Another bout of manic research followed. I contacted current and retired aircrew, survival specialists and assorted technical types to assist. Local and overseas manufacturers were contacted, as well as other international flight gear collectors and historians.
“As most of the equipment up to and including World War II was British, I restricted my collection and research to post-1945. As I built up my knowledge and research papers, so did my understanding of the ground-breaking research and development done in South Africa on flight gear including helmets, masks, and shoes, the background of which has never been made public. This was borne out of Bush War experience and arms embargo necessities and is excellent material to include in a book on all SAAF flight gear since 1945.”
The Wingrin collection comprising numerous types and variants of helmets, masks, flight suits, boots, gloves, goggles, survival jackets, life jackets, survival (wet) suits, flight jackets, headphones and parachutes soon outpaced space in his garage leaving him no option but to involve wife Jodi.
“She was – and still is – massively understanding allowing some display items and even storage containers in the house,” he says of his better half who, while not as passionate about military aviation as her husband, has a shared interest.
“The majority of my collection is what was used by the SAAF – British, American, French and later from other countries. I have pre-World War II gear and that used by foreign air forces when the opportunity arose. This includes a leather flying helmet with Gosport Tubes used by a SAAF/RAF (Royal Air Force) pupil pilot instructor in the early 1940’s.
“I interviewed former MK pilots trained in what was the USSR (United Soviet Socialist Republic) prior to them joining the SAAF after 1994 so my collection had to include leather helmets and ZSh-3A hard Russian helmet with KM-32 mask they wore during training. Stock was acquired from Russia and Belarus. I was donated a ZSh-7A helmet with KM-35 mask used on the MiG-29 and had to acquire a ZSh-5A helmet with KM-34 mask as used by the Angolan and Cuban MiG-21 and MiG-23 pilots in Angola.
“Other interesting items are a Chilean helmet and USAF (US Air Force) mask I’m told comes from Angola as well as a Martin Baker Mk WY6A-M ejection seat (minus one or two items) from an Impala MkII.
“The Korean War is also represented, including a K-2B flight suit and boots used by a Sabre pilot and leather A-11 helmet with B-8 goggles as used by the early Mustang pilots. I also have a EFA Type 21 helmet Type 30 stratospheric suit as used by the Mirage III pilots flying high altitude missions. All that is missing is the white leather overall.
“A prized possession is an original South African developed Kentron HMS (Helmet Mounted Sight) helmet, a world first integrated on the Mirage III in the late 1970’s and early 1980’s for use with the V3A and V3B AAMs. Descendants of this helmet are still being developed for international use.
“To date, I’ve acquired over 50 helmets, many with masks, 15 g-suits (including an example of the first South African made g-suit), 19 flight suits, seven life preservers, two survival suits and sundry goggles, boots, gloves, headsets, survival jackets, flight jackets and so on,” he told defenceWeb as part of this publication’s contribution to Heritage Month.