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 Post subject: Year End Review
PostPosted: 22 Dec 2020, 17:35 
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The more things change, the more they stay the same (End of year message and Review)

By Dean Wingrin (Webmaster)

It’s not easy writing these year-end reviews. It’s a recurring theme over the past decade: Lack of budget, skills shortages, loss of capability, poor media and public relations. Then there is 2020 … what more needs saying?

I’m exhausted. But I will say it anyway. 2020 was a year in which the South African Air Force (SAAF) snatched mediocrity from the jaws of celebration.

The SAAF is generally accepted as having been formed on 1 February 1920. This makes it the second oldest Commonwealth air force, but celebrating the centenary of its founding is under intense debate. Not the actual date of formation, but whether something as momentous as 100 years of continuous organisational existence is worthy of celebration in the new democratic South Africa.

My editorial When the Present Collides with the Past can be read here.

Initial indications late last year were that the SAAF, despite debilitating budgetary restrictions, would be celebrating its centenary. But it was not to be.

And then came COVID-19.

Despite the negative talk, the SAAF was able to perform when called upon at short notice. The nation must thank the people at the coal face, from experienced flight crew to dedicated ground and support crew. For without the guidance of the ‘old hands’ of all races and genders, the state of the SAAF would be in a far more perilous state.

Looking back at the SAAF

January did not start off well, with news that a C-130BZ Hercules had crashed on landing at Goma International Airport in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). Fortunately with no injuries, but the hard-working aircraft was written-off.

The Hercules fleet would feature throughout the year. If it was not a nose-gear collapse during post-maintenance testing (luckily with no serious damage), it was an off-runway taxiing excursion (again with no damage to the aircraft). However, the Hercules did end the year on a good note with improved fleet availability with three airframes in either near or full airworthy condition.

Another transport fleet that found itself on the receiving end of much needed maintenance support was the C-47TP TurboDak operated by 35 Squadron. For the first time in many years the squadron was able to fly, even coming close to the 250 hours allocated. It would appear that priority is being given to keeping the maritime version operational.

The Air Force Prestige Day Parade on 31 January 2020 at AFB Swartkop did not address the centenary of the SAAF directly, but then Chief of the Airforce, Lieutenant General Fabian Msimang, noted that he was the “21st Air Chief in the pre and post 1994 history of the South Air African Force.”

In acknowledging the history of the Air Force as well as celebrating 25 years of a democratic SAAF, Msimang touched on the formation of the SAAF, when General Jan Smuts requested Sir Pierre van Ryneveld to start an air force.

Msimang praised the SAAF for its contribution to the country and its neighbours, but it could not give proper consideration to the challenges of the future “without making an assessment of the means at our disposal to position ourselves for the future. Defence can only perform to the extent that it is resourced and funded. The Department of Defence has been forced to continuously adjust its plans downwards,” Msimang said. “This is dangerous. The Defence force is the Nations’ Insurance Policy.”

The Parade and flypast was preceded by a Prestige Awards evening, but the SAAF has still not provided an official list of award winners.

February 1st should have been a day of celebration, but the SAAF unveiled a rather uninspiring logo making no reference to the centenary of its founding. So sudden was the decision to not celebrate the centenary of the SAAF that Air Force Bases and squadrons were advised only at a late stage to cancel planned festivities. However, small parades and gatherings were still held at various air bases around the country.

With the cancellation of both the SAAF Museum Airshow in May and the African Aerospace and Defence (AAD) Expo in September due to COVID-19, no more was heard of the SAAF centenary.

The helicopter squadrons were involved in numerous sea and mountain rescues, a common occurrence throughout the year.

In April we reported that the SAAF intended rescuing aviation enthusiasts who, whilst in Covid-19 lockdown, were suffering airshow withdrawal symptoms. The SAAF had decided to stream virtual airshows over the internet! Our annual April Fool report caught a number of people hook, line and sinker.

What the COVID-19 pandemic did do was provide the SAAF and the SA Navy with an opportunity to play a vital role in assisting the efforts to combat and contain the spread of COVID-19 Coronavirus during the national lockdown.

Under Operation NOTLELA, the SANDF mission in support of the Government’s lockdown initiatives, the SAAF flew hundreds of hours under trying circumstances, basing aircraft around the country in support of various Joint Tactical Headquarters in different provinces.

Ten years after the relocation of all commercial air operations from Durban International Airport to King Shaka International Airport, north of Durban, the first steps in the relocation of 15 Squadron to the new airport site was taken. Although planned, the SANDF will still not say exactly where the new SAAF facility will be located.

It was revealed in June that the Silver Falcons aerobatic display team was taking a break from all air shows and events primarily due to the coronavirus pandemic and will resume training at a later date.

The pandemic would also have serious repercussions for the various Wings courses undertaken by the Central Flying School.

According to the Supplementary Budget Review 2020 published by National Treasury in June, the SANDF received an extra R2.88 billion, but had to outlay at least R4 billion on COVID-19-related activities, with the shortfall being taken from training and equipment budgets. The SAAF had R91 million in spending frozen and R330 million re-allocated to COVID-19 tasks.

Twenty-seven candidate officers who underwent training in disciplines such as engineering, air traffic control and technical disciplines in Cuba were commissioned back into the SAAF in September.

September also saw Lt Gen Msimang retire as Chief of the Airforce after eight years in the position. Msimang visited every Airforce unit on a farewell tour, flew in many aircraft and a retirement parade was held at AFB Swartkop. True to form, his successor has still not been announced.

Due to the distribution of a draft retirement speech, rumours spread that the SAAF was to acquire three ex-SAA Airbus A340 aircraft. The finalisation of the acquisition was subsequently denied by the SAA Business Rescue Practitioners, but the SANDF may still push for its acquisition despite some reservations by senior SAAF officers.

Major General Mzayifani Buthelezi was subsequently named as Acting SA Air Force chief.

The SAAF participated in Exercise UKUTHULA, with the purpose to provide support to the SA Army students undergoing the Junior Command and Staff Course at the SA Army Combat Training Centre Lohatla in the Northern Cape, over the period from 27 September-27 November 2020. For this exercise, the SA Air Force provided an Oryx for trooping and hot extraction training, an Agusta A109 for recce training, a Rooivalk for Close Air Support and Hawks for air to ground bombing missions.

85 Combat Flying School participated in the air-to-air training camp at AFB Overberg from 8 November until 6 December 2020, allowing the requalification of operational aircrew as well as qualifying of the current operational training course for air-to-air firing. Six Hawks were deployed in the area.

Despite the successes of providing support for Operation NOTLELA, Exercise UKUTHULA and the 85 CFS weapons camp, the SAAF still found itself coming up short. COVID-19 is being blamed for the postponement of the traditional Wings Passing Out Parade in December, with the next Parade now scheduled for December 2021. It is thought that the Central Flying School was not able to fly the required number of hours to enable the current Wings course to complete its syllabus in time.

The SAAF also traditionally commences its annual recruitment drive in February of each year. The SAAF has now confirmed that all recruitment activities have been cancelled due to COVID-19 protocols. As the initial phase of any recruitment campaign is advertising, the receipt and evaluation of all applications received and then shortlisting prospective recruits, no actual group contact takes place. Whatever the reason, the delay in both the Wings course and recruitment activities will have serious repercussions for future SAAF aircrew and MSDS numbers and courses (and follow-on development and promotion).

Whilst the SAAF earned a big fail in the public relations department, with what appears to be political interference in the centenary celebration plans, the pandemic must have caused some relief as a convenient excuse to quietly drop the topic from public discourse.

COVID-19 has certainly disrupted the lives of the worlds population and the SAAF was unable to escape the wrath the pandemic has brought, it also allowed the SAAF to shine in certain areas.

One may be hard-pressed to see the positives amongst all the gloom, but the positives were there, just waiting to be told. Unfortunately, the perceived reluctance of the SANDF and SAAF to be proactive and interact with the general and specialised media continues unabated.

The Unofficial SAAF Website

As with the SAAF, 2020 was year during which the more things change, the more they stay the same for the Unofficial SAAF Website and the Webmaster.

A hectic work load, family commitments and few aviation events led to a decline in the number of articles published.
The SAAF Forum has been active and some of the discussions have been very detailed and thorough. The modelling section has seen some fantastic and detailed builds, with many important colour scheme and equipment variations being researched.

The Unofficial SAAF Website as well as the SAAF Forum has accomplished much in the past year. This has only been possible with your support, encouragement and input. I would like to thank all of you and hope you will support our continuing efforts in the coming year.

As we await 2021 and the challenges it brings, I wish you and your families a great year-end break, a safe holiday and a prosperous New Year. For those who celebrate, I'd also like to take this opportunity to wish you and yours a very Merry Christmas (or hope you had a happy Chanukah).

Stay safe and looking forward to interacting with all of you in 2021.

Kind regards

Dean Wingrin
Webmaster: The Unofficial South African Air Force Website

How come every time my ship comes in, I'm at the airport?

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