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Bleak medium transport status at SAAF

Date: 14 May 2020

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This is an important year for the SA Air Force (SAAF), which marks its centenary. However, the SAAF is currently facing a shortage of airlift capacity.

This is a vital component of a peacetime air force supporting continental peacekeeping deployments as well as internal ones in support of various government initiatives. For the SAAF, airlift is the task of 21, 28, 41 and 44 squadrons with AFB Waterkloof-based 28 Squadron’s Hercules the leaders providing medium transport services.

Looking at the squadron’s inventory, its first Lockheed Martin Hercules was delivered in January 1963 – 57 years ago. That aircraft (serial 401) is listed as current along with seven of the 12 four-engined, high-wing workhorses.

The other Hercs listed as current by the unofficial SAAF website, are 402, 403 (presently unserviceable) 405, 406, 407 (current but largely withdrawn from service), 408 and 409.

The C-130BZ carrying the 403 serial is written off. This follows what some term “a runway excursion” at Goma in the DR Congo in January this year.

The remaining three C-130BZ’s in the SAAF inventory are 410, 411 and 412 – all withdrawn from use with 410 additionally listed as “never having flown a SAAF mission”.

Military aviation enthusiasts maintain the SAAF can put “one, possibly two” Hercs into the air at any given time with replacement parts in short supply. 405 was recently returned to service by Denel Aeronautics.

21 Squadron is the air force’s VIP transport unit with a Boeing 737-ED business jet its number one aircraft.

41 and 44 squadrons, both based at AFB Waterkloof, are tasked with light transport using C208 Caravans, B200 Super King Air, Pilatus PC12 and C-212 Aviocars. The C-212s have been flying regularly in support of Operation Notlela, delivering supplies in support of coronavirus lockdown efforts.

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