The History of the SAAF Museum

The Beginnings of a 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 disposed 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 its 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 therewith;
  • To interest and educate the general public, particularly the youth, in military aviation;
  • To undertake research into and to accumulate and disseminate information and knowledge relating to the history and traditions of the SAAF.

Under the initiative of Col. McGregor, the first SAAFM OC, a small staff was gathered together for the purpose of documenting the history of the SAAF and gathering together those aviation relics which had survived the ravages of time. Before long a steady stream of photographs, logbooks, uniforms, aircraft parts and other items were reaching the Museum and arrangements were made to store a number of aircraft which had survived in the absence of a formal preservation policy.

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.

The South African Aviation Foundation, a Section 21 non-profit company, assists the museum with funding and is the public persona of the volunteer group The Friends of the SAAF Museum.