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Chief of the South African Air Force (SAAF), Lt Gen Zimpande Msimang, in the cockpit of a Rooivalk helicopter.

Airforce Chief Salutes Local Aircraft Maintainers

Date: 14 September 2020

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By Dean Wingrin

Chief of the South African Air Force (SAAF), Lieutenant General Zimpande Msimang, has celebrated his 60th birthday by expressing his appreciation and support to the men and women who keep the airforce’s aircraft flying.

Msimang qualified as a pilot on the Mi-8 and Mi 25 helicopter prior to integration into the South African National Defence Force (SANDF) in 1994 and subsequently flew the Allouette III and Oryx helicopters and also did a factory conversion on the A109 helicopter at Agusta/Westland in Italy.

Appointed as Chief of the SAAF in 2012, Msimang turned 60 on 1 September and the past few weeks have seen the head of the military's flying arm in the pilot’s seat of numerous aircraft at bases around the country, such as the C-47TP TurboDak, C-130BZ Hercules and even flying the SA Navy chief Vice-Admiral Mosiwa Hlongwane in a Super Lynx maritime helicopter. Msimang also recently experienced a flight in a Gripen fighter.

This past Thursday, 10 September was a special day for Msimang, when he sat in the front cockpit of Rooivalk 680, performing a take-off and hover during the acceptance of the attack helicopter by the SAAF from Denel Aeronautics after a major service.

Denel Aeronautics is a key provider of aircraft maintenance and support services across various types operated by the South African Air Force, including the C-130 Hercules, Oryx and Rooivalk. However, the Denel group is presently under sever financial strain, with the state-owned defence company incurring a R1.7 billion loss in the 2019/20 financial year, leaving it struggled to pay salaries. The loss of the critical services and skills provided by Denel to the SANDF would be devastating to the operational capability of the defence force.

“We have a lot to be thankful for,” Msimang commented after the Rooivalk acceptance flight, “This progress will only be sustained when we continue to align our support for both Denel Aeronautics and the SAAF.”

“I am extremely proud of our technicians and engineers in South Africa,” he noted in support of the local defence industry, “The (country) should be jealously guarding the technological capabilities and capacity of our defence industry. Our defence industry is the goose that lays our golden egg.... and we must protect it.”

Msimang remarked that not enough was being done to educate South Africans about the importance of the local defence industry, both from an economic and security point of view. He noted that the South African defence industry is currently the envy of many in the world.

“I salute our people - South Africans are great people, we are a great nation with great potential. I was so proud flying the Rooivalk today.”

In visiting the various airforce bases around the country and undertaking the flights, Msimang was expressing his appreciation to the ground crews.

“I’m ready to fly in each and every aircraft they have serviced, just to show my appreciation,” he reflected, “I’ve confidence in their high standards despite difficult times. I salute them.”

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