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One of the Few


Squadron Leader Albert Gerald Lewis, DFC and bar

It all started with a picture. A photo in the book called THE FEW.

A photo of a young – rather long haired – RAF pilot, standing besides his Hurricane with a big grin. I could not shake off that image of this carefree young pilot. Displaying all the casual enthusiasm of operational life which characterised Fighter Command during The Battle of Britain.

Who was he? What did he do? Did he survive – not only the Battle of Britain – but the war?
For several years I tried to trace him. To find books about him – or at least books where somebody had written just small pieces about him.

It proved that he was nothing less than a double Ace in a Day.

He was shot down several times. He got horrible burns in face and arms, while jumping out of a burning Hurricane. And even after that, he came back to fight.
This is what I have gathered so far on a very special man: Albert Gerald Lewis.

Albert Gerald Lewis was born 10th of April 1918 in Kimberly, South Africa.
He got interested in flying as a teenager and went through a private Flying School on his own account at the age of 18.
With his pilot license, he went to Britain to join the Royal Air Force at the age of 20 – on a four year Short service Commission, being gazetted Acting Pilot Officer with effect from 29th of October 1938. After flying in different training units – and with different planes, he was posted to No. 616 South Yorkshire Squadron Auxiliary Air Force, which had been formed on 1st of November 1938 as a Bombing Squadron.
When he arrived, the Squadron flew Gauntlets, Tutors and Battles.
After some time he was transferred to an even duller job as a ferry pilot in No 12 Group Ferry Pool. Although the main business was ferrying aircraft, they also found time to practice fighter tactics.

16th of December 1939 Lewis was transferred again. This time to No 504 Squadron,
Debden. The Squadron flew Hurricanes, which was a great leap upwards for Lewis.
30th of January he flew the first of many single “Trawler Patrols”. This day marked his first meeting with the enemy, when he spotted and chased a German Blohm & Voss Seaplane.

“The Phoney war” in France had changed to real war and Lewis was transferred to No 87 Squadron the 26th of April 1940 – only to be transferred the day after to No 85 Squadron inder Squadron Leader “Doggie” Oliver.
85 was a crack Squadron which, during WWI had been commanded by the famous Major “Mick Mannock, VC, DSO with 2 Bars and MC with Bar.

The air war in France was more like the air war of WWI.
There was no radar – like later during Battle of Britain – so the pilots flew patrols from dawn to dusk in hope of sighting the enemy.
Sometimes they got a warning from ground troops that enemy planes had been spotted, where after the squadron was scrambled.
But most of time it was just hide and seek with endless patrols.

That changed suddenly, when the Germans attacked Holland, Belgium and France 10th of May 1940.
Losses were heavy with aircraft being shot up on the ground by strafing Me109 fighters and bombed by Heinkel He111 bombers.
The opening scene in “Battle of Britain” gives a very good image of what 85 Squadron went through in those days.

To underline the strain involved in flying all day, every day, in combat against superior odds, let me cite A. J. Brooks: Fighter Squadron at War:
Sergeant “Sammy” Allard for instance destroyed ten enemy aircraft in a week but only by flying four or five times a day with very little or no rest in between.
This had to take its toll of mind and body and on the 16th of May, after only an hour and a half’s sleep the previous night, Allard took-off on the first of four sorties that day.
Bombs were bursting on the aerodrome as he and his section took-off on their second patrol and on their third patrol Allard fell asleep three times over German occupied territory. As he taxied in from his last patrol of the day, the ground crew were surprised not to see him jump out after the aircraft had been shut down.
A mechanic opened the canopy only to find that Allard had finally succumbed to sheer weariness and had fallen asleep where he sat.
He was still unconscious when the ground crew lifted him out and it was decided to let him sleep on until the dawn patrol the next day.
But at dawn they could still not wake him, so Allard was sent off to hospital in England.
In all he slept for 30 hours non stop.”

Lewis flew just as many sorties with just as much lack of sleep, and on the 12th of May flying VY-E, he shot down – not only his first enemy aircraft – but also his second: A Messerschmidt 109 – and a Heinkel He111.


18th or 19th of May – due to all the Squadrons reports got lost in the evacuation of the Squadron a few days later, there is some differences here – flying AK-A (an aircraft borrowed from 213 Squadron) he got 5 confirmed kills in a day:
Two Messerschmidt 109s on the first patrol in the morning and three more on the evening patrol. This fight had been witnessed by his CO and the squadron.
In some books it is mentioned that Lewis jumped out of his stricken Hurricane by
parachute after the first scrap. (This has not been confirmed – again due to the loss of
Squadron reports.)

“I was jumped by a patrol of 3 Me109’s as I was about to return to base, troubled by a
loose gun panel. I became aware of attack as tracers streamed by.
Turned into attack and found the leader coming straight at me. Somehow his cannon shots missed me and he rolled into a steep turn almost on his back and pulled away. Suddenly there was his belly at point blank range. I rammed the nose of the Hurricane down, my head hitting the top of the cockpit glasshouse – and pressed the gun button.

Fuel spewed out from the L-shaped tank which the pilot sat on, and with fuel streaming behind him, the pilot flew straight down into the deck and exploded.
By the way he handled his plane, I imagine the pilot to be experienced, possibly an
instructor with two greenies or fledglings, as the two made half-hearted attacks, formed up together and headed home, towards Brussels.
The fight had occurred in the Rubaix area on the Franco-Belgian border. My first
inclination was to leave them alone, but realising we had the extra boost in the Hurricane if we needed it for a short duration, I pulled out the boost control and followed the two.

I don’t think they were aware of me following them as I was able to position myself slightly below and behind. They were sitting ducks.
Short bursts into each one and they plummeted straight down into the deck at a steep angle.
I was able to pinpoint the wreckages and submitted my report.
The ack-ack guns confirmed and “Bob” Martin, MC – our Intelligence Officer had a look at the wreckages. They were fairly close together, in wooded country.
The event happened in less time than it takes to tell it.

On landing at Seclin my ground crew met me with grins and thump up signs. Doggie Oliver came over to me and said: “We have witnessed a wonderful scrap between one of our lads and three Messerschmidts!” I told him that I had just had three Me 109s jump me, and had managed to bag all three.
He was delighted as he realised he had just witnessed – with the ground crews – the
action I had been involved in.
“I’m recommending you for the DFC” he said with a grin.”

The squadron lost more and more aeroplanes. And with no new ones coming in the order for withdrawal to England was given.
Monday 20 May Lewis flew back to England in one of the only 3 Hurricanes still usable from 85th Squadron:
“It was obvious that we were being kicked out of France and those of us who were not wounded were told we had to make our way home to England.
Bofors guns were being turned on practically new Hurricanes to destroy them and make them unfit for use by the enemy.
We came under attack by 109s which strafed rows of aircraft standing out in the open.
I eventually found one Hurricane which, apart from a few bullet holes, seemed OK. We started her up and I was soon heading out over the Channel towards England.
Landed at Gatwick and on to Northolt.”
He was met by Wing Commander Broadhurst and granted 48 hours leave.
He sets off, only to fall asleep at a table in the Paddington Hotel and woke up to find
people starring at him. He was by then utterly and completely exhausted.

28th of June the Squadron moved to Castle Camp – a satellite airfield to Debden, which were to be their base for the early part of the Battle of Britain.
Lewis is now primarily flying VY-Z.
Peter Townsend became CO of the squadron and soon gave Lewis his nickname: Zulu, as he had also christened his great chum, South African Caesar Hull in No. 43 Squadron, from which Townsend came.
From 1st of July operations started in earnest, and three or four sorties a day were flown, usually convoy patrols from Martelsham Heath.

18th of August – flying VY-D on a solo patrol, Lewis destroyed a Me110.
The same day the squadron moved south to Crydon.
31st of August –-flying VY-N – he got a Me 109 after being scrambled in a hurry.
The combat report reveals that 9 Hurricanes took off at 19:17 hours to patrol Hawinge.
They were then ordered to intercept Raid 18C. The first indication of position of enemy aircrafts were given by the anti-aircraft fire from Dover and then 9 Me 109s were seen flying at about 15.000 feet.
The squadron circled out to sea as the enemy aircrafts were off to the left, and then
wheeled in and caught them by surprise. Individual combat followed.
“Pilot officer Lewis fired a four-second burst at enemy aircraft from 150 yards on the beam and from slightly below. Black smoke bellowed out and enemy aircraft dived steeply.
Lewis followed it down to about 5.000 feet making sure it was done for and then rejoined squadron. Nine Hurricanes landed Croydon 20:05 to 20:22 hours.

Enemy casualties: 4 destroyed. Our losses: 0”
5th of September, 1940 the 85 Squadron was exhausted and rotated out of the battle line – north to Church Fenton in Yorkshire.
From there Lewis and the rest of the Squadron flew routine patrols and got the new
replacement pilots in shape for things to come.
The Squadron never came back to the fighting line in the south of England – but was
instead transformed to night fighting duties, due to the fact that the Germans had started to bomb London and other big cities day and night.
But Lewis had still some fighting ahead of him.
Squadrons in the south of England, was in desperate need of veteran pilots and Lewis went south again.

14th of September Lewis was posted to the top scoring 249 Squadron at North Weald.
He was back in the fighting again.
“A highly successful French Campaign pilot, Plt. Officer Albert G. Lewis, DFC with eight victories arrived from 85 Squadron arrived 14th of September; he was the fourth South African member of the Squadron.”
– Brian Cull: “249 at War.”

It was all out action at North Weald – sorties three, four or five times a day when Lewis arrived – and the very first day in the new Squadron, he shot down a Heinkel He111 and shared a probable destruction of another.
The day was one of the hardest days in the long hot summer, and were by many regarded as the turning point of The Battle of Britain.

Lewis combat report:
Encountered a formation of 18 He111 in diamond formation at 15.000 feet, with fighters at 20.000 feet, spread over a large area. I found myself with Spitfires, which split up the bulk of the formation. One became separated from the rest. I attacked from slightly below from beam, gave a three second burst, and from here got line astern; set both motors on fire causing undercarriage to drop and the e/a appeared to spiral down in vicinity of Brentwood. As soon as this was down I engaged formation again, which had by now dropped its bombs and was heading towards the South Coast. I went after a Spitfire, which broke away, the I closed and set starboard engine on fire. Wheels dropped out and e/a began to spiral down, circled by Spits.
– Brian Cull: “249 at War.”

18th of September he got his twelfth confirmed enemy aircraft.
Lewis combat report:
“Spotted Me109’s above us to stern. Attacked a yellow nose heading back, opening fire from slightly below, approaching head on. Gave short burst of about three seconds, pulling nose well up beneath e/a. It went in a flat spiral and following it down saw it crash near a wood. This was confirmed by Plt. Officer Worrall, Blue 3. Pilot presumed to have baled out as parachute was seen in vicinity.
– Brian Cull: “249 at War.”

27th of September – flying GN-R – he shot down eight enemy aircraft in one day!
Lewis combat report from the morning:
Sighted circle of Me110’s over area near Redhill. Attacked out of the sun and fired two short bursts into e/a following a Hurricane down. He billowed smoke and went down steeply.
Again attacked circle and put a burst into another Me110 – starboard engine out of action and on fire. Climbed into the sun again delivered attack on remains of circle. Hit one who dropped out of fight, heading towards coast and, with starboard engine out of action, tried to get home. Forced him down in vicinity of some hills near Crowhurst. He burst into flames on landing at farmyard.
– Brian Cull: “249 at War.”

Once rearmed and refuelled, seven Hurricanes lead by Lewis, (The Squadron Leader was reported Missing in Action) were ordered to patrol Maidstone before carrying a sweep of Hawking to Canterbury along with 46th Squadron.
Lewis combat report:
“As 249 Leader, sighted formation of Me109’s to north-east of Estuary. Climbed to 15.000 feet to 20.000 feet but were attacked by second 109 formation from above.
In ensuing dogfight was attacked by two 109’s, one of which I hit in belly as he passed overhead. He crashed into wood near Canterbury. Put burst into second 109, which attacked soon after the one I shot down, also in belly.
I did not observe this one hit the ground but went down smoking, whereafter smoking fires near the wood in vicinity of Canterbury could have been other aircraft destroyed, as there were no bombers.”
– Brian Cull: “249 at War.”

Later the same day.
Lewis combat report:
“As green Leader, attacked formation of Ju88’s with Blue Section, and one just dropped out with starboard engine damaged. Closed in and carried out two beam attacks from slightly above and put engine on fire.
Keept after it as it went down steeply toward coast near Selsey Bill. Crashed into sea just near coast.
Shot down one Me109 which crossed my sights after engagement with Ju88. Went down in flames, then followed a second Me109 down which I attacked from above and it crashed in woods near Petworth. This is confirmed by Sgt. Hampshire of Green Section.
Fired short bursts of approx two to three second bursts at Me109’s and a fairly long burst at another Ju88.”
(Brian Cull: “249 at War.”)

Lewis was awarded his second DFC for this day
He thus got 11 confirmed victories in only two days – five at 19th of May and six at 27th of September.
Which is believed to be a record for single-engine British fighters.

28th of September – only the very next day – the Squadron was flying patrol over
Maidstone, and Lewis was shot down in flames while flying the same aircraft GN-R.
The Squadron was in a gentle dive, with Lewis weaving above them, when he was hit from behind by cannon shells and set on fire.
“We had been patrolling at 26.000 feet, making contrails and were aware that what we thought was He113’s were slightly above us, also making contrails. On being ordered back to base, we dived, with myself weaving back and forth to cover the Squadron.”
Sgt. Hampshire flying as Lewis no. 2 added:
“He and I were tail-end Charlies. I’d just had a look in the sun when he shouted: Look out!
Whereupon I took evasive action and the tracers went over my port wing.
Meanwhile they got him – and he bailed out.”
Lewis continues:
“At about 30.000 feet I was hit by by cannonfire, receiving shrapnel splinters in my legs and the Hurricane caught fire, burning fiercely at the speed at which we were traveling.
When I pulled back the cockpit cover the flames roared up around my face and, having just pulled the release of the Sutton harness, I attempted to get out.
The suddenness with which I parted company with the plane caused me to be shaken
around like an old rag, then the blissful peace and calm of falling free.
I remembered what we had been told: Don’t pull the ripcord immediately on falling free, allow time to get separated from the plane, and also to lose initial speed. Brace yourself for the jerk that follow the opening of the chute.”
– Brian Cull: “249 at War.”

Jimmy Crossey following him down, circling the parachute to prevent him being shot at.
Lewis landed safely, but was severely burned and was taken to Faversham Cottage
Hospital. Blind for two weeks, with a piece of shrapnel in his leg and severe burns on the face, throat, hands and legs.
He received his little golden caterpillar with his name engraved on the back while in
hospital, which confirmed his membership of the selected band of pilots who had saved their lives by parachute.
After two months in hospital and convalescing, Lewis returned to the 249 Squadron in December 1940 having been promoted Flying Officer on 29th of November.

17th of January 1941 he became A flight Commander and received a Bar to his DFC.
He then flew local, night and day. Enemy- and routine patrols and Fightersweeps.
The war was far from over.

One of Lewis fellow pilots, Tom Neil remembers:
“When I taxied into my hardstand to stop, I saw Gerald Lewis’ Hurricane just ahead of me. He was still in the cockpit as I dropped to the ground and I saw him waving his arms in my direction. When I walked towards him, I could see why.
There were massive damage to the left hand side of the cockpit. No wonder he was upset; it was a miracle he had not been killed or badly wounded.”
– Brian Cull: “249 at War.”

No. 249 Squadron was one of the highest scoring squadrons in The Battle of Britain, with 54 enemy aircrafts destroyed, 16 Probable and 17 damaged.
April1941 Lewis was taken off combat duty and posted to No. 52 OUT as an instructor and commander of C flight.
(At Debden with 52 OUT he flew a Spitfire for the first – and only time – in his life)

Lewis volunteered for overseas service and was posted to 261 Squadron in January 1942.
Via Sierra Leone he went to Tricomalee in China bay, Ceylon to take command of 261
Squadron – a Squadron famous for it’s defence of Malta earlier in the war.
Lewis recalls that the force consisted of himself as CO, 6 Flt Lts, 3 FOs, 8 Pos, 1 WO pilot and 34 Sgt. Pilots. Most of the force were Australians and New Zealand pilots with a few Canadians and an American.
China Bay was a grass airfield – or rather – a clearing in the jungle. Everything was “under construction” and very primitive.
Malaria was bad. Typhoid was caused by foul water supplies and after a Jap bombing, all waterborne sanitation was smashed and cholera added to their troubles.
Most of the dead were buried wrapped in blankets in long trenches, as there was no time to make coffins. Despite all that – the force developed a love for the island of Ceylon.

9th of April – the day before his 24th birthday, Lewis led his Squadron to intercept a
Japanese raid and as he was taking off, his aircraft was hit by fire from one of the Japanese Zeros.
He was wounded in the left shoulder and could not use his arm.
On fire – once again – he bales out at only 200 feet, with his parachute opening just in time. He could see his base was under heavy attack and for six hours he lay suffering from shock until he was found by some natives, who revived him with coconut milk, and helped him back to the base.

In June 1942 he returns to Britain via South Africa, where he was amazed and
embarrassed to find himself …”a local lad who had hit the limelight”
He had his portrait painted by Springs artist Johannsen – commissioned by the City
Council of Springs and was give a few days leave to see his folks.
Lewis remembers:
“It was rather trying, one reception after another, speeches, grinning whether you liked it or not. And although my ego was no doubt was exercised I was relieved when it was all over!”
For the rest of the war Lewis stayed in Britain. First as Chief Flying Instructor at Tealing, in Scotland. Then at 10th Group HQ and at 11th Group HQ.
A letter of gratitude from a yank Lt.Col. 8th USAAF, while Lewis was a Squadron Leader.

Lewis left Royal Air Force on 16th of February 1946, having been an Acting Squadron
leader since 22nd of April 1943.
After the war Lewis started farming. First in Britain – but in 1947 he went back home to South Africa.
In 1953-55 he studied agriculture in the USA where he also became a member of The
Church of the Latterday Saints (Mormons), but in 1957 he returned to farm in England.
Albert Gerald Lewis, as well as being a brave and resourceful pilot, was also a deeply
religious man. He provides a summary of his philosophy of life like this:
“As my mind reflects on The Battle of Britain and on the many wonderful characters who formed a part of that scene and died a quarter of a century ago in order that the world might be a better place to live in – as did those in The First World War – and indeed all righteous people from the beginning of time – I wonder, have we achieved lasting peace?
If we are not to disappoint ourselves and all of those who have come before, we need a plan – one that is practical and embraces all mankind.
I sincerely believe that the Gospel of Jesus Christ is the only plan which can embrace the world so that all who desire to – may live in peace.”

His grandson Nathan Lewis (the small boy on his fathers arm, next to Albert Lewis)
“I knew and loved him until he passed away when I was 8 years of age.
My memory of him is of a deeply humble man, who was very spiritual on his out look on life, he truly loved his fellow man. As a young boy who would watch the battle of Britain movie and held grampy in some kind of awe, I vividly remember telling him that he was my hero after hearing from my father and uncles about his exploits. When grampy asked why and I told him because of his being an ace fighter pilot he looked at me and told me quietly that he was no hero, he was just one of many people who had a job to do and a duty to serve those that couldn’t help themselves.
His later life was always marked by how he served others; he seemed driven by a need to give all he had to helping others.”

In an epilogue in his book “Gun Button to Fire” Tom Neil writes about several of his fellow pilots and what happened to them after the war.
It is obvious that Tom Neil and Lewis were truly great friends. But it is also evident that Tom Neil lost contact with Lewis.
This is also the first time somebody mentions that Lewis might have suffered from “combat fatigue” – very understandable with all he had been through. Fighting from the early days in France and during Battle of Britain. Being shot down several times, badly burned once and several other close calls. A man who gave everything.

Here follows Tom Neil’s own words:
“Gerald Lewis was another South African, a short-service officer who came to 249 in
September 1940. A splendid looking young man, he was 6ft 3in, had a mop of flaxen hair and a very engaging grin.
He had also been very successful during the early months of the war, serving in France with no. 85 Squadron and earning a DFC after being credited with the destruction of at least five enemy aircraft and himself being shot down, though uninjured.

Continuing his good work with 249, he claimed another nine enemy aircraft before he was again shot down on 28 September, this time bailing out after badly burned.
Recovering in Faversham Hospital he rejoined 249 in January 1941 and, having being awarded a bar to his DFC, he joined my own flight and flew with me on several offensive sorties over France.

On 10 February, 249 Squadron was acting high cover to a bomber attack on Dunkirk, with my own section of four, consisting of Lewis, Crossey and Davis, flying rear-guard at 20,000 feet.
Over the target, we were attacked by a large force of Me 109s, Davis being shot down
almost immediately and Lewis badly mauled.
Landing back at North Weald, the cockpit of his aircraft a wreck, I found Lewis profoundly disturbed by the incident and unusually critical of the manner in which such sorties were being carried out. It was this engagement, I believe, that was a tipping point for him, as he never felt entirely comfortable on any such operation again.
When in April 1941, the squadron was told it was to move to the Middle East, as a married officer, Lewis was informed that he would not be making the journey and that he would be posted to the new OTU then being formed at Debden.
So, his departure from the squadron, sadly, was to be the last time I was ever to see him. Although we only served together for five months, I grew to be very fond of Gerald. A shy and retiring young man, he was never at ease in mixed company especially and, despite his splendid physique, seldom took part in any overt horseplay.

Inordinately fond of his home country he would talk at length – usually after dinner in the mess – about the glories of South Africa and how important it was for me to emigrate to the Drakensburg Mountains after the war.
Later, I was told by friends serving with him, how he had gradually lost confidence in
himself and that he was keen “to get away from it all”. So that when he was posted to
command No. 261 Squadron in “out of way” Ceylon, it must have come as a great relief.
But the fates were against him as he was to move into trouble!
Only weeks after arriving in Trincomalee, a Japanese carrier force attacked the Island and he was shot down and wounded again, when in the act of taking off to intercept.
I believe he returned to the United Kingdom several months after the Ceylon incident, but I lost track of him until many years after the war.

It was only in the 1990s, in fact, that Pat Wells informed me that earlier he had met Gerald in South Africa and that our late colleague had “taken to religion in a big way”, and was “trying to convert everyone”.
I had long been aware that before his arrival at North Weald, Gerald had married, but I never heard mention of any children. Nor indeed, now, if he, his wife or any near relation is still alive – he was two years older than me and, as I write, must now be well into his nineties.
If, however, children did result, they would be proud of their fathers achievements, as he gave a great deal for Britain – and South Africa.”

Albert Gerald Lewis died 14th of December 1982 – only 64 years old.

Article by Søren Parup and re-published with permission.

C-47 6855 SA-7 Missile Strike

Category : Posts

About to land safely after being hit by a SA-7 surface to air missile on 1 May 1986 Photograph: Captain William Good collection

In 1986, while on a flight to Ondangwa at about 8000ft, Dakota C-47 #32961, SAAF 6855 was hit by a SA-7 missile. The explosion ripped off most of the tail. To add additional pressure, the Dakota was full of military VIP passengers including the Chief of the Army.  The aircraft commander, Capt Colin Green slowed the Dak down to 100kts in order to keep it under control and called for help. There was a chopper in the area which formatted on him and relayed the damage to him. The chopper also took these images.

Ordering the passengers around to regulate the Centre of Gravity, and using flaps and power to control the pitch, Captain Green eased the aircraft onto the tarmac. He was later awarded The Chief of the SADF Commendation for his exceptional flying skills.

Safely down


The extent of the damage


Left to right: Loadmaster NSM Private Walsh, Captain Colin Green and co-pilot Lt Mark Moses. (Photograph – Captain William Good collection)

It took 15 years to save MT-2800

  After decades of neglect and threat of destruction MT2800 has a proper home and a future.

Zulu Jetty

Zulu Jetty – boats at the Umsingazi base jetty (Robert Page and FAD)

MT 2800 built by British Power Boat Company at their Hythe yard as a 24ft marine Tender Mk II and was assigned the Yard number 1961. She was completed and taken on charge by the RAF at 62 MU Dumbarton on 24 September 1941, allocated the RAF hull number 2800 and was immediately allocated for service in Durban in South Africa, arriving there in late 1941.


She served until the 1990s and then languished in various locations, her continued survival fought for by a few dedicated individuals who have passed on the baton of care from one to the other. Durban Harbour on the East coast of South Africa is renowned as a major port, but from the 1930’s to the late 1950’s it was an important hub for civilian and military flying boats.  Imperial Airways Short C class, which opened the first commercial air route to Europe, and warlike Sunderland and Catalina flying boats that watched over the convoys of World War II and ships in peace time, used the harbour as a base.

Sunderland - A 35 SQN Sunderland lies moored at the base at Congella. The aircraft's name painted on her nose is 'Little Zulu Lulu'. Launch 999 is a sister ship to 2800 (Lebbeus Laybutt and FAD)

Sunderland – A 35 SQN Sunderland lies moored at the base at Congella. The aircraft’s name painted on her nose is ‘Little Zulu Lulu’. Launch 999 is a sister ship to 2800 (Lebbeus Laybutt and FAD)

The MT was assigned to Durban to support the flying boat service between South Africa and Great Britain and then to 262 Squadron RAF from November 1942. Initially operating Consolidated Catalina aircraft the squadron patrolled the increasingly busy Indian Ocean, watching for U boats and giving assistance to vessels in distress. The many ship convoys that stopped in Durban for resupply interfered with flying and the RAF operations were moved to Langebaan on the west coast and St Lucia in the then Zululand in 1943.


The Catalina’s were being gradually replaced by the large Short Sunderland Mk 5 which drew over five foot of water and St Lucia proved to be  too shallow. Looking for deeper water the Squadron moved to Umsingazi toward the end of 1944. RAF records show that 1961/MT2800 was based at St Lucia in 1943 and it is probable that she moved to the new base in 1944. Contemporary photographs show a number of similar vessel tied up to the Squadron jetty. By 1945 there were so many South Africans on strength that it was decided to transfer the squadron to the SAAF and it became 35 Squadron SAAF.  Once again operations returned to Congella in Durban.


However the planes were not allowed to land in Durban at night for fear of colliding with the fishing boats active in the harbour and the Umsingazi base was retained as an alternative alighting facility. With the war over the famous SAAF shuttle service was put in place to bring the troops home. One route was flown by the flying boats from Cairo to Durban. During November and December 1945 it was recorded that 1022 troops had been brought home and 72526lbs or 32966kgs of Christmas packages delivered to the waiting men in Egypt. The last Sunderland left North Africa on 26 February 1946 with the commander of the South African 6th Armoured Division, Major General Evered Poole on board. Records show that MT2800 was based in Congella in February 1945, and it is possible that she was used to transport many of these returning soldiers from flying boat to shore.


Although the days of flying boats drew to close in the 1950s the SAAF retained some elements of it is maritime unit that had saved over 600 lives during the war. MT2800 served at Langebaan lagoon attached to the No I Motor Boat Squadron and was then transferred to No 3 Motor Boat Flight along with 3 SAAF 63ft Miami class high speed launches and two dinghies on 5 December 1956. Service continued with the Air Force until the Navy took over the marine unit in 1969. MT 2800 was eventually ‘Struck Off Charge’ by the South African Navy (SAN) in 1990. In SAN service she was painted grey with a green deck, yellow engine cover and displayed her number in yellow on the bow. For a short time she was used as a pleasure craft and was painted blue and christened CAMERON L, the name she still carried into the new century.


Willie Burger, of the West Coast SAAFA, saved the boat from destruction when the tender was up for disposal in 1997. He highlighted its’ historical importance and made plans for its preservation. Funding was difficult and there were ideas that using her as a pleasure cruiser would pay for the upkeep, but these plans failed. She was stored undercover in a set of open sheds within a secure lock up outside the Langebaan air force base, where she suffered very little damage, but was under continual threat of a scrapping order. The Old Boat Trust was established by Guy Ellis in 2003 to preserve the boat. For two years various schemes and ideas were explored to find a location or organisation which could provide a secure future for MT2800. Westlake Technical College came to the rescue. Westlake 2006 The College had established a shipwrights’ school and agreed to take the boat on as an educational project. One hot February day in 2006 the SAAF provided a large truck and staff to load the boat and drove it south to Westlake. Unloading a two and a half ton boat and its cradle took a great deal of ingenuity and muscle power, as there were no heavy lifting capabilities at the College. Through brute force, clever thinking and care MT2800 was put under cover.


Westlake store At this stage she represented the last vestige of an RAF link to Westlake, which during the war had served as barracks to the RAF personnel who served on the SAAF air sea rescue launches. It is a good possibility that some men who had been accommodated at Westlake had at some stage driven or been transported by MT2800.


Modern day boat building does not demand the skills needed to work on a clinker built wooden marine tender. There was no space in the curriculum for work on the boat and it remained untouched, luckily mostly undercover and reasonably secure. By the end of 2009 it was clear that a new location had to be found. Richard Hellyer began to investigate the feasibility of returning the boat to the UK for the Portsmouth Naval Trust. There were no funds for the building of a new cradle or to cover the costs of shipment on a container vessel. When it was clear that MT2800 would remain in South Africa, Charles Hellyer took on the task of finding a solution.


These ranged from a private organization to mounting the boat at the entrance to the collage as a gate guard. The former would not have ensured her existence as an artefact of military history and the later was fraught with issues around protecting the boat from the elements and vandalisation.

Removal 2012

Contact was made with of the South African Navy in November 2011 and through the efforts of Leon Steyn of the Navy museum she was moved to Simons Town naval base on 6 September 2012. Here she will be restored over three years as part of the Armscor apprentice scheme and put on display when complete.

Simonstown 2012


Hellyer, R., British Military Powerboat Team, Jackson, Allan., Facts about Durban, Ellis G., Serve to Save, The South African Air Force at Sea, Freeworld Publications, 2001

Thanks to:

Richard Hellyer Charles Hellyer John Leech South African Navy – Cdr Leon Steyn Westlake Technical College – Mark Cornelise, Tracy-Lee Anderson, Johan, Mike and the Class of 2006 SAAF – Pretoria – General Derek Page Langebaanweg – Herman Els, Mattrass van Staden and Col Jacques Niemann

Johan Conradie – Buccaneer Images

Category : Posts



Some more feedback on the Buccaneer profile sketch project.

Johan Conradie now has the following sketches completed

  • A sketch of each of the eight Buccaneers (412 to 419) with the flight crew names at Lossiemouth on 27 October 1965
  • Buccaneer G-2-1 (411) fitted with long range fuel tanks
  • Buccaneer G-2-2 (412) equipped with French Nord AS.30 missiles.
  • Buccaneer 415 equipped with 1000 lb. bombs at Langebaanweg during a weapons camp in September 1969
  • Buccaneer 411 equipped with a Nord AS.30 missile at the first AS.30 weapons camp in Cape Town June 1969


They can be printed in A3 size and on good quality paper it looks awesome and even more awesome if properly framed.

The plan is to sell the individual prints at R150.00 each to raise funds for the Buccaneer restoration projects.

Shawn Fouché will set up a suitable order and payment arrangement which will be posted at a later stage.

Johan will update you on the progress with the other tail numbers as they become available.

Museum Stalwarts


Exhibition Transformation 005

F Sgt Elna Hadfield is a museographer and a jack of all trades, from managing the SAAF Museum “Ops” Room to running 110 Squadron.

She says that nothing is impossible and is responsible for all staff matters to ordering a pot of paint of paint.

She is married to Lt Col Pierre Hadfield and has a daughter, Nikita who is also involved in Military Heritage.

History Made and Heritage Lost

By Geoff Hamp-Adams.

With the cessation of hostilities in May 1945, aircraft in their hundreds lined the runways of both friend and foe right across the expanse of Europe and the Far East, and the problem of de-mobilisation of personnel was compounded by the recovery and disposal of aircraft and related equipment.

South Africa was no exception, and the 20 bomber, fighter, coastal, and strike squadrons deployed in Italy, the Mediterranean, the Balkans, and in West Africa were left at RAF maintenance units, while their air and ground crews returned to the Union their thoughts focused on rebuilding their careers in a world at peace.

At home, the Joint Air Training Scheme, the equivalent of the Empire Air Training Scheme had been summarily brought to a close, and the aircraft pushed into the hangars on the airfields where they had been based.

Ansons, Masters, Tiger Moths, and Oxford trainers, as well as utility aircraft such as the Fairey Battle were shut away to gather dust.

The raison d’etre of the Operational Training Units (the O.T.U’s) with their Hurricanes and Kittyhawks had disappeared.

After VE Day 29 Squadron was disbanded, and its ground crews and Ventura aircraft formed the nucleus of a Transport Wing , with the express purpose of repatriating servicemen from the Middle East.

35 Squadron discontinued its operations , and concentrated on working up on the new Sunderlands in anticipation of operations in the Far East.Both 17 and 27 Squadrons at Gianaclis in Egypt were similarly preparing to carry the offensive to the Far East with their Vickers Warwick GR V aircraft.

The Marauders, Mustangs, Beaufighters, Liberators, and Spitfires were left behind as were half of the Warwicks. 60 Squadron crews ferried 10 PRMk.XVI Mosquitoes (a gift from the U.K.Government) back to the Union, and 17 Squadron brought back 16 Warwick G.R.V’s


It was, to coin a phrase, wishful thinking that there was any likelihood of examples of the aforementioned combat aircraft apart from the ones returning to the Union being given to the Commonwealth Forces, for their respective museums, as the priorities at the time, concentrated around the issues of demobilisation.

The Dakotas of 28 and 44 Squadrons continued to transport repatriated servicemen from Cairo to the Union and remained in South Africa when the task was over.The Lodestars which had borne the brunt of the transport task prior to the arrival of the Dakotas, were returned to their rightful owners South African Airways, so that the internal air services which had been interrupted by the war could be re- introduced.

The South African Air Force Directorate had a post-war air force to plan which would have to be based on the airworthy aircraft available in the country at the time.

The Director General South African Air Force Conference minutes for the 26th of November 1946 listed the following aircraft as those held by the SAAF on that date

TYPE                      TOTAL                 REQUIRED                 SURPLUS

Anson                           480                             200                             280

Auster                               6                                 6                                –                                

Catalina                           15                                 –                               15

Dakota                             78                               78                                  –

Harvard                         250                             150                             100

Hawker Hart                     4                                 –                                   4

Hurricane                         82                                –                                 82

Kittyhawk                       58                                 –                                 58

Mosquito                         10                               10                                  –

Oxford                           342                               50                               292

Tiger Moth                   115                             100                                 15

B34 Ventura                   62                               62                                   –              

PV1 Ventura                   86                               86                                   –

Warwick                         16                                 –                               16

York                                 1                                   1                                   –

For reasons unknown, the 15 Short Sunderlands were excluded, but the aircraft surplus to requirements totalled a staggering 862, and the disposal of   of these airframes took place over the course of the years 1947 to 1949.

As can be seen from the above listing the SAAF selected Harvards, Tiger Moths, Venturas, Dakotas, and Sunderlands, for its post war equipment. Some of the Harvards and Dakotas surviving to the present day, having been maintained in tip top condition.

On the 16th of July 1946 authority came through for the last 2 Catalinas of the 15 survivors of the war years dismantled in Durban, to be scrapped, and so, not a vestige of any of these memorable aircraft remains in South Africa today!!

For front line purposes the SAAF needed a fighter, and with so much experience gained on the Spitfire during the war, it was the logical choice.

In 1947, a total of 136 Mk IXe’s were delivered by sea and air to South Africa, in December 1947, and into 1948. These aircraft served on as the SAAF’s frontline fighter force, and were issued to 1, 2 and 60 Squadrons, CFS, and the Bombing Gunnery and Air Navigation School, as well as one or two other units.

The Spitfires were used to train and prepare the pilots of 2 Squadron for combat in Korea between 1950 and 1952, finally being withdrawn on the 7th of April 1954.

(The efforts to subsequently restore, and fly Spitfires across the world have met with resounding success, with the exception of South Africa.)

The details of the projects in the form of Spitfire MA793 ”Evelyn” and the SAAF Museum’s “gate-guard” Spitfire 5553 K AX(5518) have been well documented elsewhere, and suffice to say, the outcome of which, did not put South Africa in the fore- front as far as the preservation “scene” is concerned.

At 2AD Alexandersfontein near Kimberley 182 of the 252 Miles Masters, were gathered together and sold to Metal Smelters and Machinery Merchants of Johannesburg on the 21st of December 1946.

The Master is totally extinct in the world today!!!

A similar fate awaited the 58 Kittyhawks, the bulk of which were at 2AD. In 1985 all that remained of a Kittyhawk airframe found at St. Albans in Port Elizabeth, was the complete rear cockpit canopy section being used as a ‘porch’ over a door propped up with two pieces of brandering!!

The 280 Avro Ansons, and 292 Airspeed Oxfords, were progressively sold off on auction, fetching prices ranging from as little as 2 pounds sterling up to 5 or 10 pounds, some even with fuel in the tanks!!!!!

Many individuals bought aircraft, cut off the wooden wings, towed the airframes to their farms and homes, where they stood as children’s playthings, and a source of nuts, bolts, screws, tubing, aluminium, wood and so on.

The 10 Mosquito Mk XVI’s brought back to the Union as related, and incorporated into the SAAF, saw limited service, and after a fatal crash in June 1947 as a result of glue failure, all the Mosquitoes were grounded.

None of the Mk XVI’s survived, and the only one that still exists, is a Mk IX in the S.A.National War Museum Saxonwold in Johannesburg.

As a youngster, in the early 1950’s, the writer recalls the numerous occasions when travelling from Cape Town to Somerset West by car via Kuils River, the familiar sight of 60 odd Avro Ansons on private property without wings, standing on their noses, being slowly reduced to produce over the course of time.

 In Port Elizabeth something of the order of 38 Hawker Hurricanes ended up in the storage yard of B.Friedman &Co. during 1947-48. According to records most of these airframes were complete in most respects, and eventually ended up being disposed for scrap, with no components remaining .

The Avro York 4999 operated by the VIP Flight from Waterkloof, saw little service in the SAAF, and was sold to Tropic Airways in 1952.

The following Air Schools 62, 68, 69, and 70 had intact aircraft such as follows:

Wapiti, Hart, Fury, Gloster Survey, Envoy, Tutor, Battle, Nomad, Master, Maryland, Kittyhawk, Mohawk, Tomahawk, and Hurricane as instructional airframes, and their fate?—–the scrapyard.

There was some effort to put aircraft on display like Harvard 7731 at the SAAF Gymnasium at Valhalla, while Vampire FB5 –205 (now on display at the P.E.Branch of the SAAF Museum) was initially displayed at the School of Technical Training at Snake Valley in a totally spurious camouflage scheme reminiscent of that used by Japanese aircraft during World War 2!!!!

However, as Spitfires were struck off charge (SOC) in 1955 a large number ended up being axed and cut up on the dumps, whilst a few precious airframes –13 on record, found their way to the private sector.Through the wisdom and fore-sight of the late Lt.Gen. Bob Rodgers former Chief of the Air Force , Spitfire 5518 was placed on display at AFB Waterkloof where it remained for 23 years.

At least, at that stage the SAAF had something to show for its association with this remarkable aircraft!!

 So, apart from 5501 at the Saxonwold War Museum the remaining airframes slowly disappeared to destinations as far afield as Vancouver, U.K., Florida, Portugal, Queensland, Sao Paulo and so on.

In March 1955 it was the turn of 35 Squadron to dispose of some of their fleet of Sunderlands, and 8 airframes went to the scrapyard. By late 1957 only 2 aircraft remained, and after a costly major overhaul 1710 RB-D made the last flight on the 8th of October 1957 which was a test of all the systems, and after two hours airborne, returned to base.

Barely weeks later 1710 together with 1703 ended up in the scrapyard. Apart from bits and pieces over the years, nothing remains of these magnificent machines.!!

During the mid-sixties a senior officer at Defence Headquarters Colonel Peter Mcgregor, one- time 24 Squadron Marauder pilot, and better known as a SAAF Historian and co-author of “Per Noctem per Diem” had commenced lobbying support for the idea of a SAAF Museum, over and above his official duties at Defence Headquarters.

About this time, the restorable airframe of Hawker Hurricane 5214 which had lingered on at CFS Dunnottar for many years, was brought over to Pretoria, by HQ to be restored, and placed on a plinth next to Spitfire 5518 at Waterkloof.

There was an Officer Commanding change in the interim, and the new OC had no interest in the aircraft, and it lay decaying in the transport yard.It was then transferred to 15 AD where it was sold as scrap to National Scrap Metals in 1971!!

 Once again, a precious airframe of great historical value was lost for all time because of reckless and irresponsible attitudes, and above all lack of “coms” between departments in the SAAF.

The proposals to establish a SAAF Museum, received much favourable support, and a great deal of opposition, the main reasons for objections have never been really clear, and in the light of the SAAF’s track record up to that point, to say the least—extremely negative and confusing to say the least!!

On the 26th of October 1973 the Minister of Defence Mr P.W.Botha gave his approval to establish the SAAF Museum as an official department in the SAAF.

At long last an official effort was being made to save and conserve the Air Force Aviation Heritage, and Col. Peter McGregor rightly so, became the First Commanding Officer.

With his boundless enthusiasm Col. Mcgregor, with a small staff –less than a dozen personnel, and limited storage place at 15 Air Depot Snake Valley, the SAAF Museum came into being.

Over the course of time the historical hangars at Zwartkop, were restored, and aircraft began to fill up the spaces, and other aviation artifacts and memorabilia started to arrive.

An indication of the indifference to preservation in the SAAF, was the near destruction of the first helicopter to grace South African skies in the form of

Sikorsky S-51- A1 rescued from a plinth at a Cape Town scrapyard in 1978 and the sale of the 3 Sikorsky S-55’s A4, A5, and A6 to Autair (Pty) Ltd !!

August 1979 saw the Canadair CL13B Sabre jets withdrawn from service due to high attrition, and according to reports mainspar fatigue cracks were found. Yet in 1982, 10 Sabres were sold to Flight Systems of California for use as target drones, and reports came through to the effect that Sabre 365 had been seen at numerous air shows in the U.S. flying in SAAF colours?!!

381 went via France in 1988, and ended up in the U.S. as N40CJ—flying?

Col.Mcgregor with his tremendous fore-sight realised that the Museum would be incomplete without an aircraft to represent the Wartime Air Training Scheme.Only bits and pieces remained of Ansons around the country—so what about an Airspeed Oxford?

After negotiating a deal with the Royal Air Force Museum at Hendon in the 1983, Lockheed B34 Ventura 6130 was exchanged for Airspeed Oxford GAITF which is being currently being restored at the SAAF Museum in Port Elizabeth.

On the 23rd of November 1984, a memorable and sad moment as 3 majestic Shackletons roared over D.F.Malan Airport in a final salute, after 27 years of amazing service, and what has been preserved of the 7 remaining aircraft?

1716—costly re-spar, and lowest hours—crashes in the Sahara desert 13-07-94

1717—costly re-spar, on display Midmar Dam now in Stanger,— scrapped?

1718—written off in Stettynsberg mountains 08-08-63

1719—displayed Cape Town waterfront—neglected–and scrapped (a disgrace)

1720— SAAF Museum Ysterplaat—scrapped 2013— because of neglect

1721— SAAF Museum Zwartkop – intact

1722—SAAF Museum Ysterplaat—intact—ground runs are still done

1723—painted in Coca-Cola red, and displayed with 35 Squadron’s badge

             on top of garage at “Uncle Charlies” Johannesburg (a disgrace)

*1723—exchanged for Vickers Viking, which is part of SAA collection



About the same time Col. Mcgregor was on the lookout for an aircraft to represent our wartime operations in either North Africa or Italy, and at the time the only avenue to pursue was to conclude an exchange deal.

Eventually, one was concluded with the Portugese Air Force for a Bristol Beaufighter Mk X RD 220 in exchange for a composite Spitfire rebuild. The Beaufighter served the SAAF in 16 and 19 Squadrons with distinction, and so a very interesting and unique exhibit arrived in South Africa, one of only 8 known survivors worldwide at the time.

Five years down the line, a magnificent composite Spitfire (5563) resplendent in Portugese Air Force finish was handed over to the Portugese Air Force in 1989.

The Beaufighter needed a great deal of repair and metal treatment, this was carried out byAtlas, over the course of months. However, pressure of work, and commitment to the Air Force in servicing and repairing aircraft for duty in the Bush War, necessitated postponing work on the Beaufighter. Having seen the Beaufighter fuselage at Swartkops, the writer was impressed at the quality of the work that had been carried out at that stage.

Then came the devastating news, that the Beaufighter had departed our shores to Scotland for good, to The Museum of Flight in East Lothian. Whatever the circumstances, the acquisition of the Beaufighter had taken the best part of 5 years to obtain, and this action must be a first ever internationally—where an aviation museum negotiates a deal with another for a very rare aircraft to represent a period in its history, and then disposes of it!!!

What an insult to the late Colonel Peter Mcgregor and all his efforts!!

In concluding this series, the 26th of October 1995 bears mention for the spectacular send-off of the Harvard with 50 years of service in the SAAF, at Air Force Base Langebaan, now the C.F.S. The sight of 50 of these celebrated machines in “diamond” formation, flying over the base, landing in stream, and once all the aircraft were lined up with engines running, switching off one by one until there was dead silence—was something to remember by those who flew and serviced them.

Finally, the fact that there is a good Harvard representation in the SAAF, as well as the aircraft of the Harvard Club of South Africa, are hopefully the ‘flagships’ for the future preservation of our Aviation Heritage, however, only time will tell!

So, as things stand at present, if we want to see real ‘warbirds’ operating at airshows we have to rely on the local enthusiasts in the private sector, and alternatively we will have to go to the USA, Europe, Australia, and New Zealand, to appreciate how things are organised!!

He acknowledges the following people and enthusiasts who, over the years strove to bring the importance of aviation heritage not only to the private sector but also officialdom, and in the case of the latter often dealing with bureaucratic indifference.

Their recollections, and records accumulated , are the source of information for this article, to which the writer is indebted, and he apologises for any errors and omissions.

The late Colonel Peter M.J. Mcgregor –First O. C. of the SAAF Museum

The late Major David St H Becker –Historical Research Officer SAAF Museum

The late Major Ronald R.Belling—Official War Artist of the SAAF

The late Major Ivan R.D. Spring—ex SAAF/RAF author and historian

Dr. Dennis Hoskin rtd—- (SAAFA)—ex 60 Squadron Mosquito crew member

The late Major Des Eden– (SAAFA)—ex 35 Squadron—Catalina crew commander

Mr Steven Mclean —Aviation Author

                           “Squadrons of the South African Air Force and their Aircraft “

                           “The Spitfire in South African Air Force Service”

Geoffrey M.Hamp-Adams

Friends of the SAAF Museum Port Elizabeth

Historian and Researcher

SA Fleet Air Arm Exercises

Category : Film , Posts , Publications


Film of Fleet Air Arm exercise in South Africa. Film includes Wingfield, Marmon Herrington Armoured Cars, and PV1.


[youtube httpv:// ]



Alan Weinburg – RIP 13.06.2014

Alan - GregPullenWP_20140125_006


It is with great sadness that I have to inform you that Alan passed away this morning.

Alan dedicated many years to the SAAF Museum as a fundraiser, shop manager, long standing committee member amongst a host of other activities.

Very few people have spent the amount of time and effort that Alan contributed to the Museum.

A candle will be set up in the SAAF Museum this afternoon in his memory.

The funeral will take place at the Jewish cemetery in Pinelands on Sunday morning at 11h00.

Your support to Jon and his family will be highly appreciated.


The Shackleton Ground run on 28 June will be dedicated to his memory.


Our condolences to the family from the SAAF Museum Staff,


Chris Teale, Elize Grobbelaar, Elna Hadfield, Barry Pieterse and Lt Col Peter Smith as well as the 2014 Crew of Shackleton 1722.


68th Anniversary of the Warsaw Flights – Saturday, 8th September 2012

68th ANNIVERSARY OF THE WARSAW FLIGHTS – Saturday, 8 September 2012

Tomorrow we will commemorate the 68th Anniversary of the heroic flights over Warsaw by South African and Allied airmen to drop supplies to the Polish Home Army and civilian population of Warsaw, at that time locked in a mortal struggle for freedom.
Details of the ceremony are as follows:
11: 00 hrs – Religious Service and Wreath Laying at the Katyn Memorial, James and Ethel Gray Park, Melrose Estate, Johannesburg, South Africa The Commemoration will be podcast so you can watch it from anywhere in the world.

The podcast will start at 11am South African Time ( Johannesburg – we have only one time zone in RSA) You can check your local time against Johannesburg on the World Clock on google.

To watch the podcast go to: <> and follow directions from there. Last year I watched the podcast from Kenya and will be watching again this year from Zanzibar. I hope many of you will be able to link in. Vanessa asked about a reunion/get together a long time back, how about at the 69th Anniversary next year, we see how many people can be in Johannesburg for it?

If you cannot tune in tomorrow, just take a minute to Salute the men of 31 and 34 Sq. and make a point of it to tell someone about the heroic work they did.

I post this on behalf of the Organising Committee: Mr A Romanowicz (Chairman)

P.O. Box 905, Northlands, 2116, South Africa – – – Tel. +27 11 788 6577

South Africa’s oldest paratrooper

Bloemfontein- The oldest still-serving member of South Africa’s elite paratroops, Major Hans Human, has been a paratrooper all his life, whether as a National Serviceman or a member of the Reserve Force. He’s been jumping out of aeroplanes for more than 47 years.

Read more:


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