The woeful state of the South African Air Force (SAAF) was again driven home during last month’s exercise Shared Accord when its Super Lynx 300 maritime helicopters were deployed as standby casevac aircraft, rather than some of the A109 Light Utility Helicopter fleet, which is mostly grounded.
The four 22 Squadron Super Lynx were acquired primarily for use aboard the SA Navy’s Valour Class frigates and its fleet replenishment vessel, SAS Drakensberg. The primary tasking of the Super Lynxes is in a search capability for anti-surface warfare, maritime search and rescue as well as maritime patrol.
During the joint South Africa/United States peacekeeping and humanitarian exercise in the Eastern Cape, the specialist maritime helicopters flew “10 or so hours”, a reliable source has indicated.
Local military watchers are of the opinion this deployment is another indicator of the precarious financial and personnel situation the airborne arm of the SA National Defence Force (SANDF) finds itself in.
An almost total lack of flying hour allocation for the A109 light utility helicopters has seen the major part of the 30-strong fleet virtually grounded. This in turn means there are in the region of 18 pilots who stand to lose their currency ratings for the light utility helicopter.
Among the roles envisaged for the Italian manufactured, twin-engined helicopter are casevac and search and rescue. Other taskings include light passenger and cargo transport, patrol and reconnaissance, liaison and command, light attack and anti-tank, escort and area suppression.
“Unhappiness” around A109 conversions
The source also told defenceWeb there was “a lot of unhappiness” around A109 conversions.
“Those guys who were busy with conversions at the time of flying virtually stopped are very unhappy. They have been moved back to their home squadrons as they cannot fly the A109 and are now in the situation where they cannot fly Oryx due to their currency having expired. They now have to wait in a long queue behind current flight crews to fly the few missions Oryx is tasked for,” he said.
This, together with two other developments, is seen as another blow to an already low morale in the SAAF.
Major Roy Sproul (callsign “Cougar”), leader of Silver Falcons team 74, has resigned from the air force’s display team to fly civilian aircraft for a South African airline. The team has only flown one display this year at the SAAF Museum airshow in May and indicated “financial constraints” were the reasons behind its non-appearance at other airshows around the country for at least the current financial year.
There has, as yet, been no official word from the SAAF on the use of Lynx during Exercise Shared Accord or the departure of Sproul from the ranks.
DFC for South African who flew Libyan rescue missions
Adding to the morale misery of those in command of the blue uniformed and brown flying suited component of the SANDF, is that a South African rejected by the SAAF has been highly commended by the Royal Air Force (RAF) for his role in leading low-level C-130 rescue missions into Libya while under fire.
Flight Lieutenant Luke Flemington is to be awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross (DFC) during a ceremony at Windsor Castle, one of the Queen’s official residences, The South African has reported.
Flemington wanted to follow in the footsteps of his father and grandfather and become a SAAF pilot.
He told the “Global News for South Africans” website he was eligible for training in 1994 but the then political situation meant there were no positions available. He then applied to other countries and was able to study a Bachelor of Aviation in New Zealand. This opened the door into the Royal New Zealand Air Force and from there Flemington moved on to the RAF.
Of the missions he undertook to earn the DFC, Flemington said: “We had to extract foreign oil workers – both British and other nationals – and I was among those tasked to go and get them. We were unsupported and didn’t have permission to cross the border but we made it through and landed on strips deep in the desert. We had to overload the aircraft in order to get everyone out and had to fly at very low level to avoid the active air defence systems. On one approach to a landing strip, we encountered small arms fire. We took a round into one of our fuel tanks, the main gear and my co-pilot also had a chunk of helmet shot off, but he was all right and we managed to get everyone home safely”.