Alouette III final flightDate: 3 August 2007
22 Squadron, AFB Ysterplaat
The Alouette III helicopter is a legend in the South African Air Force. Doing all it was asked and more, this amazing helicopter served for 44 years and the fleet flew more than 346 000 hours. That equates to 39.5 years continuously in the air!
The first version of the Alouette III, the SE-3160 prototype, flew on 28 February 1959. The SAAF received its first examples in 1962. In all, 118 were delivered between 1962 and the late 1970s.
Used in many roles, the Alouette's primary role was qualifying helicopter pilots and flight engineers for the SA Air Force, its secondary roles of search and rescue and supporting internal stability in South Africa. It was also used extensively throughout the Bush War.
The Alouette III will be remembered for its durability in the challenging African environment. It has been said that if you can hover the Alouette you can hover any other helicopter. It was affectionately known as the "Draadkar", loved by its pilots and crew, feared by its enemies, and regarded as a saviour by those it rescued from a mountain ledge or a flood devastated area.
There was a final formation flight at AFB Bloemspruit on 4 May 2006 and an 8-ship formation flypast over AFB Swartkop on 30 June 2006, when it was officially withdrawn from SAAF service. The AgustaWestland A109 LUH will replace the Alouette III in the SAAF to satisfy the operational roles to be fulfilled by a light utility helicopter (LUH).
Final Flight Ceremony and Function
Three Alouettes had been retained and operated by 22 Suadron at AFB Ysterplaat for various duties, so it is fitting that the official final flight was held there. The final flight of the Alouette III in the SAAF was made by serial number 624. The pilot was Maj J Agenberg and the flight engineer was Sgt PJ Oosthuizen.
624 directed a mock attack and fire-fight demonstration with two Oryx helicopters 1235 and 1229 which landed troops. The pyrotechnics were fitting: it was almost as if the Alouette was going out with a bang. The skies were dark and somber, adding to the atmosphere and mood, as the sun went down. This was followed by a simulated air-sea rescue, winching a person down on to a boat, as the Squadron had worked closely with the NSRI as well as the Mountain Club of South Africa. At war, at peace.
624 landed at sunset, and the crew walked down the red carpet to the podium. The farewell speech was delivered by Lt Col ML Carstens, the OC of 22 Squadron. A mounted Alouette III cyclic was handed to Mr Chris Teale of the SAAF Museum Ysterplaat, for safekeeping. The Last Post was played and the SA flag lowered. 624 was then towed to the entrance of No 2 hanger, with 22 Squadron personnel and invited guests walking behind in procession.
The display in the 22 Squadron hanger showed 630 in a Bush War gunship configuration with a 20mm cannon mounted to fire out the door and 612 in the humanitarian rescue role, with a stretcher on a hoist. At war, at peace. A continuous slideshow of amazing Alouette III photographs was screened. The Squadron "line" books and scrap books were on display, to be perused and memories jogged.
Maj Gees Basson gave a brief introduction and speech, followed by the Chopper song. 624 was then symbolically towed out of the front of the hanger and the hanger doors were closed. This is the end, my friend. Then it was time to have a drink and chat to old friends and acquaintances, veterans, guests and friends.
A tribute to the Alouette III was given by Col H Treuchnich, a previous OC of 22 Squadron and currently OC of 87 Helicopter Flight School at AFB Bloemspruit. From his tribute, it was obvious that he has a great affection for the Alouette III. Mention was made of various humorous incidents and Alouette III legends. When discussing the multifunction role of the "ideal" helicopter, it is reputed that a USAF pilot said that such a helicopter did not exist, so a SAAF pilot proudly showed him a photograph of the Alouette III.
This was followed by a minutes silence in tribute to those who had paid the ultimate sacrifice while operating the Alouette III. Following this, a delicious meal was served and the party continued until late.
The three Ysterplaat examples were due to be ferried to Pretoria, two on Saturday 4 August and the third one on Monday 6 August. The SAAF Museum at AFB Swartkops has already been allocated two examples, hopefully one will find its way back to AFB Ysterplaat. It is hoped that these flying examples will not be allowed to deteriorate and will be kept in flying condition as a tribute to those who operated them and also to those who paid the ultimate sacrifice while operating the Alouette III.
It was, for me, a privilege to have been at the function. It was an event of great historic value and in many ways also a sad farewell.
For 22 Squadron, it is the end of an era, it is looking forward to the new: operating the AgustaWestland Super Lynx Mk 64 naval helicopters and possibly the AgustaWestland A109.
Article and photos by www.SAairforce.co.za reporter Greg Pullin.