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Soaring With Eagles

The South African Air Force - Visual Celebration

Author: Frans Dely, with text by John Illsley

ISBN: 0 620 32806 1

Reviewed By: Dean Wingrin

This book is billed as 'a visual celebration of the South African Air Force and is a true representation of the SAAF as it is today. For the first time we have the luxury of a book, which has like never before, included the people on the ground.'

It has been 20 years since Herman Potgieter's superb Aircraft of the SAAF was published in 1980, followed up ten years later by More Than Game. These two books, particularly the former, did more than any other to push South African aviation photography to the forefront and capture the imagination of the SAAF enthusiast and general public. Hence, this book has been eagerly awaited, as the photography of Frans Dely is truly stunning.

The book, a hardcover with dust jacket, is in landscape format, with each squadron being introduced with a title, badge and their location prominently displayed. Photographs of the squadron aircraft and personnel follow. The photographs are truly superb, with the format and layout not what one has seen in a book before, but nevertheless very modern. It is interesting to note that there are very few captions to the photographs. The maintenance people feature quite prominently (they are, after all, also important), but there are also many close-up shots of individuals involved with, eg, the Gripen program. Who they are or what they do we don't know, but there are plenty of them willing to get their faces into print. The squadron badges are a mix of cloth patches, artwork and other sources, resulting in varying degrees of quality. The text provides a background to the squadron aircraft in SAAF service, together with a brief history of each squadron. Due to the text having a coloured background, there were certain sections that were difficult to read. Guest writers contribute to the section on the SAAF acquisition program for the Gripen, Hawk, Agusta A109 and Super Lynx (the later with just one AgustaWestland supplied photograph).

While on the subject of the text, there are plenty of spelling and grammatical errors, words left out, etc, all indicating a lack of effective proof reading and possibly indicating an all-to-hasty effort to get the book into print before AAD 2004 (which it just missed). There are also a large number of factual errors, which should never occur in a book of this quality (and price) as considerable assistance was provided by the SAAF. I have also heard of the binding of a few books had already started parting after a week or two.

Am I being too severe on the book? Considering that the retail price is R460, I don't think so. For that price, only the serious aviation / SAAF enthusiast (or modeller) would be willing to purchase this book. But let me reiterate, the photographs are outstanding and provide a fantastic visual celebration of the South African Air Force ten years after democracy. That would be the main reason to purchase the book. Besides, the funds generated from sales will be used to benefit the SAAF Museum.

All the photographs, plus more, are also available from the Aviation Dimension website (at a cost).

My verdict? A great book for the coffee table if you can afford it.

240x335mm, 192pp, colour

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