THE AIRFORCE - THE MUSEUM
No interest was shown towards the preservation of aircraft during the early years of the SAAF. It was only during the Second World War that interest was shown towards the conservation of military equipment when the official historian of the SADF put forward the idea of a War Museum in July 1941. The South African War Museum was established in Johannesburg in 1942. However, little came from the suggestion to establish a separate SAAF Museum. Furthermore, no attempt was made by the SAAF to preserve any of its historical aircraft, all of which were dispossed of during the post-war years.
It was years afterwards that the SAAF began to realise its need for the preservation of its historical aircraft, as was happening abroad. Slowly, the SAAF began displaying retired aircraft as gate guardians at base entrances.
Establishment of the Museum
When the SAAF held its 50th Anniversary celebrations in 1970, it had little material evidence to reflect on a rich aviation past which included participation in both World Wars, the Berlin Airlift and the Korean War. It was at this stage that the War Museum (later to be called the South African National War Museum) was rejecting numerous historical aircraft due to a severe lack of storage space. the situation was so bad that the War Museum disposed of it's rare Tutor, Wapiti and Fury, later disposing of a Ju-52/3m and a Ju-88 which had fell into a state disrepair while stored outdoors. During the celebrations, Lt. Gen. Sir Pierre van Ryneveld, father of the SAAF, remarked on this state of affairs.
After much rejection and deliberation, approval for the establishment of a South African Air Force Museum (SAAFM) was finally granted by the Minister of Defence on 26 October 1973, thanks to the persistent campaigning of Col. PJM McGregor and his ardent interest in the establishment of such a museum.
The objects and aims of the Museum have been set out as follows
- To collect, preserve, restore and exhibit articles and records pertaining to the heritage and traditions of the SAAF and military aviation associated there with;
- To interest and educate the general public, particularly the youth, in military aviation; and
- To undertake research into and to accumulate and disseminate information and knowledge relating to the history and traditions of the SAAF.
The sad part however is the thousands of historical aircraft that were sold for scrap prior to the Museums inception. This includes a Hawker hurricane that was sold as scrap in 1971.
Aircraft and memorabilia that were collected included parts of a Ju86, the first SAAF aircraft in action in the Second World War, parts of an Italian Fiat aircraft, the first victim of a SAAF kill, as well as a Swastika cut from a Messerschmitt. It was less than ten days after its inception, however, that the Museum received its first donation. A Lockheed PV-1 Ventura was donated by the SA Medical Corps Training School who had used it for ground training for the loading of casualties.
Due to the influx of acquisitions, storage space soon became a major problem, but was quickly solved when AFS Snake Valley, located next to AFB Swartkop, offered half a large hanger to the Museum.
A nationwide search was undertaken for airframes and components and this resulted in the recovery of five Venturas from a Cape farm, large sections of Spitfires and a Sikorsky S51 from a Cape Town scrapyard and numerous Avro Anson components from gardens and farms, mainly in the Eastern Cape. Components were serving as everything from parrot cages to water pump covers.
As the Museum gained momentum, so the attendant publicity helped to attract donations of further aircraft. A DH Chipmunk was donated by Clifford Harris Ltd, several Sikorsky S-55 helicopters by Autair and a fiesler Storch by the National Museum of Military History. A DH Tigermoth, Lockheed Lodestar and Percival Prentice were donated by private individuals and companies. Where examples of important SAAF aircraft types could not be found in South Africa, exchange deals with overseas museums were arranged. Thus far an Airspeed Oxford has been received from the RAF Museum in exchange for a Ventura, a Bristol Beaufighter from Portugal in exchange for a reconstructed Spitfire and an Auster AOP Mk IX from Duxford in the UK in exchange for a Dornier 27. An ex-Dominican Air Force F-51D Mustang was purchased and is currently in the final stages of being restored to airworthy status.
With so many aircraft joining the Museum, the problem from the outset was how to restore them to display or airworthy condition given the limited resources available to the SAAFM. A number of different approaches have been developed over the years. One of the most fruitful has been the allocation of aircraft projects to SAAF Squadrons, Air Depots and civil aviation apprentice schools. A local company, Reutech, sponsored the rebuilding of the Spitfire LF Mk Ixe, while British Aerospace has contributed towards the cost of keeping the last Avro Shackleton MR3 in the world flying.
Beside the aircraft aquisitions, the Museum has also collected a wide variety of medals, uniforms, weapons, photographs and logbooks which are available for research purposes. The Museum Today
Headquartered at AFB Swartkop, the SAAF Museum has covered an immense amount of ground with the limited resources at its disposal. Satellite museums have been established at AFB Ysterplaat, Cape Town, Durban beachfront and next to Port Elizabeth Airport, with a complement of more than 70 aircraft at locations around the country.
The Museum's main task is concerned with the collection and display of aircraft and items associated with the SAAF. It is also concerned with the restoration of SAAF aircraft to both static and flying condition. The Museum's functions can essentially be divided into three areas:
- Historical research and documentation;
- Operation of the Historic Flight; and
- The storage of aviation-related artefacts.
The first of these is centered at the Museum's administrative headquarters at AFB Swartkop and personnel are responsible for historical research on behalf of squadrons, local and overseas researchers. Photographing and documenting of current SAAF aircraft, the organisation of a photo archive and model aircraft building also fall within its realm. A Museum library has been organised to collate the valuable collection of periodicals and technical books dating back to the First World War, aircrew logbooks, maps, posters, press cuttings and SAAF memoriabilia.
The Historic Flight
The Museum's Historic Flight operates more aircraft than some operational squadrons in the SAAF. Stringent aircraft maintenance standards combined with strict criteria for accepting pilots to fly at airshows has ensured an enviable safety record. The logistical problems faced by the Museum's engineering staff derive from the operation of individual aircraft types each requiring parts no longer readily available. The airworthy aircraft are maintained and flown by the Museum's historic flight, with volunteer ground and aircrew from other squadrons flying the aircraft based at the satellite Mueums at Cape Town and Port Elizabeth.
Storage and Display
The third main task of the Museum is the recovery and storage of aeronautical items. A large collection of wooden propellors, airfield vehicles and airframes are among the items presently in storage. In separate storage facilities, the Museum's collection of armaments, badges, medals, uniforms and flying clothing are stored. In addition to the main exhibition hangers and halls at Swartkop, a mobile display unit provides displays of armaments, navigation, survival equipment and aircraft components at airshows and exhibitions with the help of the Friends of the SAAF Museum.
Due to the finanicial constraints that the SAAF finds itself in, the SAAF Museum is in the process of being scaled down. The Air Force has been faced with a number of harsh decisions the past decade with the scaling down of the size of the fleet ( a world wide phenomenon) and the reality of keeping the whole Museum fleet of 45 aircraft in the air in the light of the current budget restraints. The Museum at present is the second largest Force Structure Element (FSE) (in old terms, a squadron) in the SAAF with only the Central Flying School at Langebaanweg having more aircraft on strength. With these factors in mind the Museum Board has had to recommend the scaling down of operations and an investigation into forming partnerships with other organisations to preserve our aviation history.
The SAAF has decided to separate the static and flying elements of the Museum. The area currently occupied by the SAAF Museum at Swartkop will remain State property and the static side of the Museum will remain an FSE. The future of the flying element is still under investigation and a number of options exist to ensure that a number of aircraft are kept flying. Time and the contribution of the South African public and industry will determine the future of the flying element. Only once the airfield privatisation has reached a successful conclusion will the SAAF be able to determine the direction the flying element will follow. Indications are that the airfield will remain a operating airfield as part of the heritage preservation (the airfield was declared a National Conservation site in Feb 2000).
Investigations into the joint military/civil use of AFB Ysterplaat is underway and one possibility is to relocate the Ysterplaat satellite museum to a consolidated site offering easier access and better storage facilities. A new Section 21 non-profit company was formed by the Cape Town branch of the Friends of the SAAF Museum (The South African Aviation Foundation Museum (Assoc Inc under S21)) to oversee a privatised Museum. The decision to reverse the privatisation of the Museum has mean that the non-profit company is now active in the funding and restoration arena.
The Port Elizabeth satellite museum, already occupying space on municipal
land, has already been taken over by a trust.
The Durban Museum has closed with the aircraft transfered to the other Museums.