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Photo via internet.
Photo via internet.
Photo via internet.

Historical hangar damaged in AFB Swartkop fire

Date: 10 August 2019

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By Dean Wingrin

A a general-purpose hangar fire at AFB Swartkop, home to the SAAF Museum, was contained on the morning of Saturday 10 August.

Known as 8 Hangar and part of the original Imperial Gift, the fire was discovered at around 5am on Saturday morning and brought under control by the SAAF fire and rescue unit located on the base.

Fortunately, no injuries were sustained by personnel and no aircraft or historical items were lost as the historical hangar was used as a general storage hangar for airfield maintenance equipment, although the hangar did sustain extensive structural damage.

The Base Fire Services and the Tshwane Fire Services managed to extinguish the fire to prevent further damages to other vehicles and equipment, with Col Trish Schoeman, Officer Commanding of AFB Swartkop, saying that "nobody burned it down on purpose."

AFB Swartkop, established in April 1921, is the South African Air Force's first air force base and home of the SAAF Museum, the SAAF Museum Historic Flight and 17 Squadron flying the A109 LUH and Oryx helicopters.

The Imperial Government gave 100 aircraft (including 30 Avro 504K's, 22 SE.5a's and 48 DH.9's), together with spares, tools, hangars, etc., as a gift to start the Empire's newest air force. As a suitable airfield was required, the farm Zwartkop, near Roberts Heights, was acquired in April 1921, thus becoming South Africa's first air force base. Swartkop is now the headquarters of the SAAF Museum which still uses the original Imperial Gift hangars as exhibition halls.

The majority of the hangars of AFB Swartkops are classified as “heritage structures” and the South African National Defence Force (SANDF) has acknowledged in a statement that the “loss of the hangar is a setback to the South African Air Force and the history of Military Aviation worldwide.”

"Since 2012, the Chief of the South African Air Force, Lt Gen FZ Msimang, has initiated a programme to preserve and promote our Air Force history, which includes former TBVC states and the Armed Wings of Former Liberation Movements in relation to the corresponding political, social and economic dispensation of the country under the theme “embracing our collective heritage”. One of the fundamental elements in nation-building and cultivating a cohesive society is the reconfiguration of the heritage landscape to ensure that it reflects the diversity and the incredible efforts of the unity of our society."

The SANDF also expressed their gratefulness for the prompt response of the City of Tshwane and the Air Force Base Swartkop Fire Services.

The SANDF, with the support of the Tshwane Fire Services, will immediately initiate a Preliminary Investigation and/or a Board of Inquiry to determine the cause and extent of the fire.


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