Various utility and pilot training aircraft that are no longer required by the South African Air Force (SAAF) are in the process of being disposed of.
The Defence Matériel Disposal Division of Armscor, the State-owned acquisition, support and disposal agency, openly marketed two of the aircraft types at the Africa Aerospace and Defence Exhibition which took place at Air Force Base Waterkloof last week.
On display was an example of the Pilatus PC-7 Mk II Astra turboprop trainer and a Cessna 185 light utility aircraft.
The SAAF purchased 60 PC-7 Mk II aircraft during 1993 for use as ab-initio and intermediate pilot training, with deliveries commencing in October 1994. As the aircraft were fitted with a South African developed avionics suite, they received the local name of Pilatus Astra.
The locally-developed avionics degraded over the years and the original avionic manufacturer was no longer in business. This resulted in the Astra no longer being allowed to fly in Instrument Meteorological Conditions (IMC).
This lead to the original manufacturer, Pilatus Aircraft Ltd, being awarded a contract in October 2008 to upgrade 35 Astras and the provision of associated training aids under Project Ithambo. The first two Pilatus PC-7 Mk II trainer aircraft upgraded under the Avionics Replacement Programme was handed over to the SAAF in July 2010. It was also announced that as the modifications to the aircraft had resulted in the aircraft being returned to the standard configuration used worldwide, the upgraded Astra in SAAF service had been renamed the Pilatus PC-7 Mk II. The final upgraded aircraft is expected to be delivered in March 2013.
With numerous airframes having been written-off in accidents, this left approximately 20 airframes as surplus. It appears that the decision has now been taken to offer these aircraft for disposal.
Any prospective purchaser will have to upgrade the Astra aircraft in a similar manner to Project Ithambo, as the original avionic system will not be supported. defenceWeb has also reliably learnt that the single Pratt &Whitney Canada PT6A-25C turboprop engine fitted to each surplus Astra is time expired and in need of a major overhaul before it can be used again.
Numerous Cessna 185 light observation and utility aircraft were purchased from 1965. These were progressively withdrawn, until approximately ten of the type remained in service in 2006.
However, an electrical fire in the system managers’ office at AFB Waterkloof in 2006 resulted in the destruction of all the maintenance records. Unable to recompile the records, the SAAF withdrew all the remaining aircraft from service.
Protracted delays have ensued in deciding what to do with the aircraft, as unsuccessful attempts were made to rebuild the records. Ministerial approval had also to be sought to write-off and dispose of the aircraft.
Armscor has now confirmed that they have received all the necessary approvals to dispose of the Cessna aircraft. However, without the full paper trail, the Civil Aviation Authority will only permit them to be registered in the restricted category. Complicating matters is that the aircraft have undergone numerous modifications whilst in military service.
Armscor are first offering the Astra and Cessna aircraft to foreign countries and they are not available for purchase by private individuals. It appears that at least one country is interested in purchasing the Cessna 185 aircraft, but without engines and avionics, the Astra aircraft may well be unsellable.
Should the Astra aircraft not be sold, the SAAF may decide to break-up the aircraft and use the spares to support those aircraft still in service.