Category Archives: News Updates

The Shackleton in the SAAF

And what is it then that this old “grey lady” does to all who come into contact with her? It defies logic, even the men who fly and maintain her are also tightly bound within that intrinsic aura that surrounds Pelican 22.

The aircraft has a long and illustrious history. The Shackleton was born due to the need for a long range extra endurance maritime reconnaissance platform. The German Navy of World War 2 had taught the British some harsh lessons in the North Atlantic in the opening stages of “the Battle of the Atlantic” when shipping losses due to enemy action in the form of surface raiders and submarines became unacceptably high. By 1943 a project was implemented to design an aircraft specifically to provide maritime reconnaissance and effective defensive and offensive aerial cover for the many shipping convoys between Great Britain and the rest of what was left of the then free world. The importance of the sea route around the Cape of Good Hope was a strategic issue then as it still is today. Shipping losses in South African waters were exceptionally high (105 vessels sunk due to enemy action) between 1939 and 1945.

Aircraft of the South African Air Force and the Royal Air Force patrolled these waters with aircraft such as the Sunderland, Catalina and Ventura PV1. At the end of the war, maritime operations were downscaled to a large degree.

Developed from the design of the AVRO Lancaster and subsequently the Lincoln, the first proto type Shackleton flew in the March of 1949. The type went into production for the Royal Air Force and was taken into service in February 1951.

The threat of the emerging cold war in the 1950’s again emphasized the importance of the Cape sea route and the ageing Sunderlands needed to be replaced. After a lot of consideration the Shackleton was identified as the right machine for the job, but only after a number of major modifications had been brought on. It must be kept in mind that the Shackleton was originally designed as a tail dragger, but the South Africans wanted tricycle landing gear, additional tip tanks to improve range and better soundproofing inside the aircraft. Considering that the British had improved upon the Shackleton Mk I and already had a Mk II in service, this new version for the South African Air Force was designated the Mk III as we know it today. Subsequently the RAF also bought Mk III’s, and only the two Air Forces ever operated Shackletons.

The SAAF took delivery of the first Shackletons in May 1957 and they arrived in South Africa in the August of the same year. The aircraft were numbered successive to the serial numbers of the Sunderlands, the first Shackleton of a total order of eight was numbered J 1716, an aircraft that was fated to die in a spectacular albeit tragic manner in the Western Sahara Desert on her ill fated trip to RAF Fairford in the early hours of 13 July 1994.

The second batch of Shackletons arrived on 26 February 1957, amongst them P 1722, the only one of eight still flying in the 21st Century.

The sound of the Shackletons was to become well known to the citizens of the Cape and the maritime community. Although the role of the Shackleton was primarily aggressive, it became better known as an ethereal angel of mercy to those merchantmen, fishermen and other sailors who so often found themselves adrift in the treacherous seas off the South African coast. Of the eight Shackletons that were operated by 35 Squadron, only two crashed, and only one with a total loss of 13 crew members when 1718 crashed into the mountains near Stettynskloof Dam on the night of the 8th August 1963.The remaining seven aircraft carried out front line service up until November 1984, by which time the Sanctions imposed by the United Nations against the Government of the day made it nearly impossible to keep the aircraft in service. At the time, Pelican two- two and her sister aircraft had patrolled both the eastern and western coasts of South Africa for twenty -seven years.

After the last fly past of three aircraft (1716, 1722 and 1723) over Air Force Base Ysterplaat the seven Shackletons were dispatched to various locations throughout South Africa for static display purposes. In the Cape Argus of the 22 November 1984, a cartoon appeared on the editorial page of this Cape Town afternoon newspaper. It was of a man in the water desperately trying to get the attention of the last Shackleton flying away from him towards Table Mountain. The accompanying editorial summed up the meaning of the Shackleton not only to the people of Cape Town and the Western Cape, but also, to the international maritime community. “No one can be happy, except possibly the Russians, at the news that after twenty seven years of meritorious service patrolling the Cape sea route the Shackletons, this country’s only specialized maritime reconnaissance aircraft have made their last flight”. ” During theses years the Shackletons became a living legend, famed for their reliability and honoured for the many lives they saved in search and rescue operations under the most difficult conditions”. Starved of spares by a UN arms embargo, only the great dedication and ingenuity of their Ground Crews have kept these aircraft serviceable for so long”. ” But now, they have had their day, and the world’s nations – and especially crews who round the Cape of Storms – could well be the losers”. And so ended the Shackleton era, but the stories and legends that proliferated around them live on today. Many of the men who flew and worked on them became legends in their own right, some still surviving and many passed on.

“Pottie” with Denise Dos Santos

Shackleton 1716 and 1721 were sent to the SAAF Museum at Air Force Base Swartkop for preservation. For some obscure reason, 1722 remained at 35 Squadron at Cape Town International Airport and was quietly maintained by Warrant Officer Potgieter in his spare time. This single act of dedication to a machine he loved so much was going to provide the SA Air Force and it’s Museum with the world’s last flying Shackleton Mk III.

It is interesting to note that the SAAF Museum has been approached by the RAAF Museum and the Royal Dutch Air Force Museum for assistance relating to operating and preservation procedures and policies for their respective historic flights. Once again Air Force Base Ysterplaat to the rescue and leading the way. In Andrew Schofield’s Documentary “Shackleton 1722” the viewer of this film will also find it a love story between man and machine. The footage of Brig General Ben “Gun” Kriegler’s last flight is memorable. Attention is drawn to the end titles set to the classical “Highland Cathedral” performed by the SA Army Band and the closing landing of the Shackleton as the concluding footage.

The DVD is available at the SAAF Museum and costs R170.00. The SAAF Museum gratefully acknowledges the roles of CFS, 22 and 35 Squadrons and the many members of Air Force Base Ysterplaat for their roles in the making of this documentary.

C. Teale

Swellendam Airshow


Airshow flyer email final

Gates open at 8.00 am

Air show – 10 am – 4.00 pm

The year’s first and the Cape’s largest air show will be hosted at the Swellendam air field on 5 March 2011. The air in the Overberg area will be alive with dozens of aircraft and aerobatic displays, including the Silver Falcons, the crack SA Air Force display team, and several other aircraft and helicopters.

About thirty aircraft will participate in the air show on 5 March (including model aircraft, classic aircraft, helicopters, an aerobatic glider display,  and a jet trainer), including a static display. The SA Air Force will lend its Impala simulator to us for the day, and the SAAF Museum will also take part in the day’s events.

There will be lots of entertainment for children, with participation by the SAAF’s Siyandiza Aviation Awareness Programme and the Sakhikamfa Foundation (, who plays a leading role in introducing aviation to the youth. Special competitions for children are also planned.

Very attractive packages are offered to visitors in a tented camp at the airfield for the duration of the weekend, with accommodation available in guest houses in and about Swellendam for visitors who prefer their surroundings somewhat more luxurious. I attach a pamphlet and some more information about accommodation hereto.

Visitors will also be offered food and beverages to their heart’s delight, with craft markets, a pub, live music and the like to entertain them.

Flying Programme

The Silver Falcons

Hawk trainer fighter

Agusta A109 helicopter

Oryx Helicopter


Pitt Special

Gyro Copters

Model air craft

Aerobatic glider display



Tiger Moth


L-39 Jet trainer

Cessna 180

Long Ezee



Robinson R44/22

Overberg Brand & Redding

Static display




Titan helicopter


1942 Piper L-4B

Sanka helicopter

Craft markets, food stalls, pub and much more!!!

Entrance fee:   Adults                         R40

Children          R20

Contact: Pieter on 083 250 9504 or Nico on 082 818 5563

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New Photographer

New Photographer Appointed

Irene McCullagh has joined the website team to bring you more aviation heritage news and images.
Irene’s superb images will greatly assist in bringing more news to our visitors.

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Arthur D. Piercy – 27th September 1987

It was approximately 1500B (local) on 27th September 1987 when all hell broke loose. There had been numerous call-outs previously which proved to be nothing at all, so when the “hot-line” started ringing there was very little reaction from us. However this time the call wasn’t to go on cockpit standby like before, but rather a call to scramble immediately.

The letter I was writing went flying as I scrambled to get into the cockpit. In a matter of minutes we were screaming down the runway. I was lucky I was number two in the formation as it was about 45 deg C outside and the take-off was hair-raising. How numbers three, four, five and six got airborne I don’t know.

After take-off we remained low level and set heading for the combat zone. It was our intention to remain low level for as long as possible to avoid being detected by the Angolan radars.

The order came to pitch about 10 minutes after take-off and up we soared like homesick angels. We levelled of at about 30 000′ and the mission controller sounded like a horse racing commentator with all the instructions he was giving us to intercept the targets. Next came the order to jettison the drop tanks. This command was a little strange for me, because one never throws the tanks away in training so only when I saw a 1 200 litre tank falling away from the lead aircraft did I know this was no training sortie. It was serious. The adrenaline was flowing.

The next thing I saw was a Mig 23 flying through the formation about 300′ below us. My first reaction was WOW what a great looking aircraft. This was the first time I had seen one in the flesh so to speak. When he started turning only then did I see the second Mig. I called the engagement and started turning. I was doing Mach 1.3 (about 1600 km per hour) and he was going like hell so the turn was so wide I almost lost sight of him.

This where I get a little frustrated. For 10 years I have trained for this day and the majority of the fight I cannot recall. WHY! Anyway the next thing I remember is this Mig coming head on at me from about my one, two o’clock position. Still turning towards him I remember flicking the trigger safety over to the cannon position. If he was going to fly through my sights I was going to squeeze off a few rounds. Unfortunately for me he got off the first shot.

There was a bright orange flash from his left wing and then this incredibly fast telephone pole came hurtling towards me trailing a solid white smoke trail. What more is that it was cork screwing so I was never sure where it was going.

In all our training we were taught to break towards the missile. This could or should create a tracking problem for the missile and cause it to possibly overshoot.

But faced with reality I found it took a lot of willpower to fly towards something I knew was trying to kill me. However, I kept breaking towards it and I watched it corkscrew over my right wing and disappear behind me. I thought it had missed until I heard a dull thud and felt a light bump on the aircraft. I immediately scanned all the gauges but there was not indication of any damage. When I looked up again the Mig flew over the canopy and disappeared behind me as well.

I immediately informed the leader that I thought I might have been hit and his reaction was: “OK let’s go home.” I did not need a second invitation and I rolled the aircraft onto its back and headed for the ground. With hindsight it appeared that the whole fight lasted no more than 60 seconds from the time we pitched until I got the ‘go home’ command.

This is perhaps where I got a fright for the first time. I had not retarded the throttle any and I was rushing at the ground in a vertical dive. When I pulled the stick into my stomach to recover from the dive all that initially happen was the aircraft changed attitude but not direction. The momentum was so great the aircraft carried on descending. Just when I thought that this is the end of me, the aircraft bottomed out just above the trees.

With all this rolling and diving I was separated from my leader and had no idea where he could be. Just then I started getting a radar warning audio in my helmet from my 6 o’clock (from behind). Some radar was looking at me. Was it the anti aircraft batteries or was it the Mig? I radioed to the boss that I thought someone was behind me. His reaction was to tell me get as low as I can, as fast as I can and not to turn to look behind me. My first reaction was – I was so low I was raising a dust cloud like those crazy American Road Runner cartoons. The leader said he could not see any dust trails so I eased the aircraft lower. The radio alt read 50′ and the speed approximate 730-740 knots.

At this stage I was beginning to think that I’d over-reacted and that I might not have been hit. Had I got out of the fight too early? The aircraft was performing as if there was nothing wrong with it. No vibrations and no handling difficulties. Oh well tomorrow I’ll be back I thought. It was now about five minutes later and halfway home when the first warning light flashed on. EP pump failure. Instinct must have taken over because I thought my first reaction was to call the boss and tell him I have a failure. He pulled out his emergency checklist, and started reading the failure procedures for me. That is when I realised that all the necessary switches had been set. I don’t remember doing them.

While he was reading the EP pump failure I got the second failure, a right hand fuel pump failure. This is not too serious under normal operating conditions as the engine can gravity feed. While the boss was reading the fuel pump failure procedure and I was confirming that they were done the following light on the warning panel appeared. A HYD 2 system failure.

This caused a little concern initially as the aircraft’s main systems use hydraulic fluid. Undercarriage, flaps, controls, airbrakes and of course wheel brakes. After a quick and careful analysis of the situation I relaxed a little. The HYD 2 system is basically a standby system for the main HYD 1 system. All I had really lost with the HYD 2 failure was the nose-wheel steering. It could have been worse.

By now we were far enough away from the combat zone and the dangers associated with it, so I started to climb to try and conserve fuel.

The next thing that happened is that I was getting an audio warning but no visual warning when I looked at the panel. The hours of simulator training came into action – a pending OIL failure. This concerned me a little more than the rest of them. There are two critical components that use oil. The throttle and the nozzle flaps on the engine.

Flying the aircraft on the emergency throttle (electrically operated) is not easy. The throttle is very slow and unresponsive.

At this time the leader pulled in next to me to inspect for any damage. He reported that there was fuel leaking out the aircraft and that the drag chute was missing. As he said that, the 500 litre warning light came on. The fuel gauges still read 1700 litres so now which one is right. A little more pressure was applied onto little old me.

Landing a perfectly serviceable aircraft on a 7500′ runway requires some work. I was going to have to do it on emergency throttle and without a drag chute – a task I felt I could handle.

What the approach looked like.


I planned to land the aircraft short on a new stretch of runway that was being constructed. This would give me an additional 500′ to play with on the landing roll. I got her down at the threshold but when I applied the brakes the only thing that happened was the expression on my face changed. I pulled the nose higher so that there would be some form of aerodynamic braking but this did not help. About a 1500′ from the end of the runway I applied the emergency hand brake with little effect. The arrester-bed or sandpit at the end of the runway was my next hope of stopping this machine.

Sand trap and security fence.


The aircraft went through the arrester bed like a hot knife through butter. No braking effect whatsoever. The next ‘obstacle’ was the security fence.

Where does ones sense of humour come from in at a time like this? I was about to go AWOL (absent without leave) with a multimillion rand aircraft. The board of enquiry is probably going to ask me who authorised this illegal departure from the security area. At the same time I was scared I was going to drown in the river just beyond the fence. My seat has a land survival pack in it and not an inflatable dinghy!!

When I went through the fence I remember putting my hands in front of my face. It was at this precise moment that there was a loud bang. I remember smelling cordite or gunpowder and then everything went black. I felt the rush of wind over my face and the feeling of silk on my cheek. With hindsight I realised that when the ejection seat went off, my helmet must have come off as well and the silk I felt on the cheek was the ejection seat’s stabilising parachute and not my personal parachute.

When I regained my senses I was lying in the sand on my right hand side. The first thing I attempted to do was to roll onto my back and when I pushed on the sand with my left arm there was this incredible piercing pain in my arm. The left arm was broken just above the elbow. I then looked down at my legs to see why they had not moved and I could not feel them at all. I realised that the ejection seat was still strapped to my back and thought that this might have something to do with the lack of movement in my legs. I had no idea that the neck was dislocated.

I then started looking around and the first thing I saw was that I was lying directly in front of my aircraft. Here was a F1 Mirage pointing straight at me. The problem wasn’t that the aircraft was pointing at me but rather that there was a fire just behind the left air intake. I know there is a fuel tank there but even worse was the fact that the ammo bins (with over a hundred rounds of 30mm ammunition) was just under the fire. If those rounds started going off I was in the line of fire.

When the fire brigade arrived on the scene they naturally came to my aid first. My immediate advice to them was that no one touches me until a doctor pitches up and that they immediately tend to the fire on the aircraft. There is no way that I want to be shot at by my own aircraft.

When the doctors arrived with the ambulance my first concern was they treat my arm for pain, then they can worry about the rest. Even after 2 morphine injections there was still not relief from the pain. I was later told that the adrenaline in the body was so high that the morphine had no effect.

Just before they pushed me into the back of the ambulance I passed out only to wake up in 1 Military Hospital in Pretoria 10 days later.

It was another seven months before I left the hospital with a C6, C7 fracture of the neck and permanently confined to using a wheelchair.

Author: Arthur Piercy

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“Pottie” Potgieter has a visitor

"Pottie" with Denise Dos Santos

WO R.G. (Jock) Smail (RAF) was one of the engineers who came out with the Shackleton delivery flight. He then joined 35 Squadron SAAF, and was Pottie’s mentor on the “Shack.”

Denise dos Santos is Jock Smail’s daughter.

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Mach Plus Club Function


01 APRIL 2011



2LT NTSANE ON 012 312 1033 OR


Kindly inform other Mach Plus Members of the event and ask them to provide their details to ensure a complete guest list

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2 ASU wins Air Force Prestige Unit Award

2 ASU does it again!

Date: 28 January 2011

For the third successive year, the Air Force Prestige Unit of the year for 2010 has been awarded to 2 Air Servicing Unit, head-quartered at AFB Langebaanweg.

The aim of the SAAF annual awards competition is to give recognition to those SAAF units and personnel who have achieved the best results within a given period. The awards were announced at the annual Air Force Day Parade held on Friday 28 January 2011 at the Zwartkop airfield near Pretoria.

Although head-quartered at AFB Langebaanweg, 2 ASU also has a detachment at nearby AFB Ysterplaat. 2 ASU were the winners in 2009 and 2008 as well.

In addition to the Prestige Award, 2 ASU also received the Royal Air Force Training Award and the Air Force Air Servicing Unit of the Year awards. The Prestige Trophy was handed over to the OC of 2 ASU, Col. Earl Swanepoel, by Lindiwe Sisulu, Minister of Defence and Veterans Affairs.

Congratulations 2 ASU!

Unit Emblem Central Flying School

2 ASU’s badge features the heraldic shield as background on which is placed a parallel pair of fish eagle wings – symbol for Air Force Operations. The central symbol represents the old chemical symbol for iron and is derived from the area – Ysterplaat. On top of this symbol is an extended arrowhead, a direction indication – always at the sharp end. Additional gear teeth to the central element is the heraldic symbol for technical/logistic.
At the bottom of the shield is a scroll with 2 Air Servicing Unit’s motto in Latin “SUSTINEMUS” which means “Support”

Museum Volunteers attend Fire Briefing

The volunteers at the AFB Ysterplaat branch of the museum attended a full morning’s briefing by WO2 Mark Howell.

The Museum Volunteers were divided into two groups, and the briefings will be repeated on the last Saturday of each month. The session started at the Fire and Rescue Section’s briefing room, where WO2 Mark Howell provided an enjoyable presentation.

An old storage tank previously used to store Jet A-1 fuel was then the venue for the next session on operating in a smoke-filled building.

Our thanks to WO2 Mark Howell.

You too can become a volunteer. Join the Friends of the SAAF Museum.

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Air Force Day Parade

Image by Sarel Wagner

The annual Air Force Day Parade took place on Friday 28 January 2011 at Swartkop.

The Air Force Day parade is held every year, on or near to the 1st February, which was the day the SAAF was established in 1920.

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Mystery Evening at the Museum

A Mystery Night at the Museum

Join the Friends of the SAAF Museum for an evening of fun and intrigue and
help us hunt for the ghost of the Museum.

Bring your family and friends along to help solve the mystery while also
learning about the colourful history of the South African Air Force. Teams
of three to four people will be tasked to find clues hidden in the Display
Hall and Hangars 1, 2 and 3.

All participants will be briefed while enjoying snacks and sherry before
embarking on the hunt. The hunt should last no longer than 1½ hours. After
all participants have completed the hunt, our famous Friends of the SAAF
Museum boerewors rolls will be served.

All teams that find the ghost of the Museum will be entered into a lucky
draw to win a mystery prize.

Venue: Swartkop Air Force Base

When: Friday, 4 March 2011

Time: 18:30 for 19:00

Cost: R100 per person

RSVP not later than 1 March 2011:

Wally 082 577 3611

Arthur 082 469 1395

Margaret 082 706 0057

Bank details: Absa

Account name: Friends of the SAAF Museum

Account number: 38106672030

Branch Code: 632005

Reference: Mystery Night