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SA aviation heritage – SAAF Museum 

When the SAAF held its 50th Anniversary celebrations in 1970, it had little material evidence to reflect on a rich aviation past which included participation in both World Wars, the Berlin Airlift and the Korean War.

The South African National War Museum was rejecting numerous historical aircraft due to a severe lack of storage space. The situation was so bad that it disposed of its rare Tutor, Wapiti and Hawker Fury, and later disposing of a Ju-52/3m and a Ju-88 which had fell into a state disrepair while stored outdoors.

Thousands of historical aircraft were sold for scrap prior to the museum’s inception. This includes a Hawker hurricane that was sold as scrap in 1971.

Lt. Gen. Sir Pierre van Ryneveld, father of the SAAF, remarked on this state of affairs. After much rejection and deliberation, approval for the establishment of a South African Air Force Museum (SAAFM) was finally granted by the Minister of Defence on 26 October 1973, thanks to the persistent campaigning of Col. PJM McGregor and his ardent interest in the establishment of such a museum.

The objects and aims of the Museum have been set out as follows:

  • To collect, preserve, restore and exhibit articles and records pertaining to the heritage and traditions of the SAAF and military aviation associated there with;
  • To interest and educate the general public, particularly the youth, in military aviation; and
  • To undertake research into and to accumulate and disseminate information and knowledge relating to the history and traditions of the SAAF.

The Museum presently has three branches operating throughout the country. There was a fourth Museum in Durban based on the beachfront, but this museum has been dissolved. The SAAF was formed on 1 February 1920, and is the second oldest air force in the Commonwealth, with the majority of aircraft displayed within the museums from the South African Air Force, with one or two rare exceptions.

The museums aim to preserve the aircraft and history of the SAAF during the Second World War, in the 1948/49 Berlin Airlift, Korea in the 1950s, the ‘Border’ or ‘Bush’ war in South West Africa and Angola, and the transition to a new democracy in South Africa.

Swartkop – Pretoria

AFB Swartkop is home to the headquarters and largest of the three SAAF Museums, occupying at least five hangars. Swartkops contains a number of Dassault Mirage III, Mirage F1, Atlas Cheetah various other historical aircraft, as well as aviation-related items on display such as ejection seats, uniforms, aircraft engines, aircraft weaponry and a Cheetah C flight simulator. Unique additions to this museum are the LEO deployment rocket, the replica Patterson Number 2 Biplane, and an SAAF North American P-51 Mustang. A non-SAAF aircraft is a MiG – 21.

Ysterplaat – Cape Town

The SAAF Museum Ysterplaat is the second largest military aviation museum in South Africa and home to the last airworthy Avro Shackleton. The Shackleton has been grounded for several years though, as there are not enough qualified aircrew and remaining airframe hours to train a new crew. The Douglas C-47 Dakota on display, is the aircraft used in 1952 by the SAAF to help Professor J.L.B. Smith acquire a coelacanth fish specimen from the Comoros Islands. The museum also houses a rare Lockheed Ventura. This aircraft was part of a collection found abandoned on a farm.

Gqeberha (Port Elizabeth)

Most of this museum’s static exhibits are housed in the original 42-Air School Air Gunnery Training Centre, and a Belman Hangar used during the Joint Air Training Scheme during WWII. Besides the SAAF aircraft, this museum has a wooden replica Spitfire, an original Airspeed Oxford, a de Havilland Vampire and a recently donated Auster.

Unusual for this museum is the Cessna C150 and a Brittan Norman Islander. Recently two new aircraft were added that were originally gate-guards outside the main airport, namely a P166 Albatross and an original Silver Falcons Impala.

Friends of the SAAF Museum

The Friends is a voluntary non-profit organisation run by civilians dedicated to the preservation and display of the history and aircraft of the SAAF, and are primarily concerned with providing the Museum with support in three areas including fund-raising, maintenance and restoration work.

The friends of the SAAF museum is divided into three branches with one located at each of the museums. The Cape Town branch was officially formed in 1984. Membership of the Friends is open to all and although they do not receive any funds from the SAAF or the government, members who wish to work on aircraft or undertake tasks may join various work parties doing restoration and refurbishment. Others help man the Museum shop or undertake research.




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