Archive for the ‘Aircraft’ Category
On Wednesday 4th July 2007 an unusual new exhibit arrived on a flatbed at the SAAF Museum in Port Elizabeth. The Skimmerfoil Jörg IV is an extremely interesting craft which brought a uniquely new dimension to the Museum.
The TAF (Tandem Airfoil Flareboat) Skimmerfoil is referred to as a WIG (wings into ground) craft. Its inventor is Günther W Jörg, who is still involved in Airfoil Flareboat Technology (Airfoil) in Germany. In 1979/80 successful test runs with 4-6 seaters were carried out in South Africa.
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.
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.
As part of a project to document the aircraft of the SAAF Museum, we have created a Gallery to show the various cockpits of these aircraft.
All submissions will be welcome, and we are interested in older images as well.
On December 21st, 1938, a strange fish was caught off the East London coast. Professor J. L. B. Smith was fascinated by this fish, identified as a Coelacanth. This fish was thought to have been extinct for over two hundred million years.
Excited at the possibility of obtaining a second specimen, he printed hundred’s of notices requesting information on the Coelacanth. Almost 14 years later he received a telegram informing him of the capture of another Coelacanth in the Comores Islands.
As it was December 24th, he found difficulty in arranging transport. In desperation he contacted the Prime Minister and persuaded him of the importance of the find.
The Prime Minister instructed the Chief of the Air Force to assist. In due course, a signal was received by the O.C. Natal to send an aircraft to Durban to collect Prof. Smith, and then to travel to the Comores ‘to fetch a fish.’
(l to r) Director of Fisheries, Mayotte, Mr E. Breton;
Capt. Eric Hunt; Prof. JLB Smith;Commandant Blaauw;
Captain Letley; Lt. Ralston; Cpl. van Niekerk; Lt. Bergh; Cpl. Brink.
At the time the paint scheme was silver, with dark blue anti-dazzle on the nose and engine cowlings. Her squadron code, strangely enough. was K-OD. The Air Force insignia at the time was an orange roundel with Springbok.
Dakota 6832 on arrival in Grahamstown (l to r)
Lt. Bergh; Cpl. Brink; Cpl. van Niekerk; Mrs Margaret Smith;
Commandant Blaau; Prof. JLB Smith; Capt. Letley; Lt. Ralston;
William Smith. The coelacanth is in the box in the foreground.
Prof Smith’s son, William Smith, well known for his
participation in the TV show “A Word or Two” and his educational program.
Dakota MkII (C47A-10-K) was built in Oklahoma City and allocated Serial Number 42-108863 by the U.S.A.A.F. In February 1944 she was placed on charge by the R.A.F. under Serial Number KG 4434.
In March 1944 she was transferred to the S.A.A.F. and received Serial Number 6832.
On being transferred to 28 Squadron she received the codes K-OD.
6832 is currently being restored.
Lake St Lucia is one of the oldest game reserves in Africa, having been established in1895. It also lies within South Africa’s first World Heritage Site – the Greater St Lucia Wetland Park. It is the largest estuarine lake system in sub-Saharan Africa, it contains large numbers of hippos and crocodiles, and the 36 000 ha water body is an average of one metre deep. Today it is a prime eco-tourism destination – but 60 years ago it was the scene of some spectacular military aviation activity.
Admiral Karl Doenitz, Head of the German U-boat arm, in looking for new hunting grounds for his U-boats, sent two groups of them to hunt in Cape waters in early 1942, and also sent individual U-boats to the east coast of South Africa. The U-boats reaped a terrible harvest and operated virtually unopposed at first. The big 1600 ton, type IX U-boats had a sea-going range of over 25 000 miles, and were commanded by veteran skippers such as Bartels (U-197), Lassen (U-509) Luth, and Gesau, who all operated off the east coast at some stage, destroying much Allied shipping.
Ironically, the only known U-boat sinking in that area was that of Bartels’ U-197 sunk by Catalinas of 262 and 259 Squadron RAF south of Madagascar. The sinking of this U-boat was probably due to information gained from the breaking of the German ENIGMA codes. Access to these codes was one of the most jealously guarded of Allied secrets and enabled Allied High Command to eavesdrop on German operational radio messages throughout most of the war.
Establishing Catalina Operations
In the early 1940s the first Catalina squadrons of the Royal Air Force began anti-submarine operations off the Cape coast, flying mostly from Langebaan. As the U-boats moved eastwards so did the Catalinas, arriving eventually at their base at Congella in Durban Harbour. They quickly identified the need for a forward base and Lake St Lucia, with its large expanses of water, was chosen after a snap survey. On 1 December 1942 the first ground crews led by Flight Lieutenant S J Wood arrived on the Eastern Shores and built a standard pattern RAF sea-plane base at what is now known as Catalina Bay on the eastern shore. They dynamited the rocks on the sea-shore at Mission Rocks for concrete, and built strip roads connecting various installations at points along the adjoining dunes. To this day the blast marks are clearly visible at Mission Rocks.
A massive radar installation was also built on one of the higher dunes, called Mount Tabor by the local missionaries. The main bunker is still used today as a trails base by hikers in the area. The Officer’s mess and certain other installations were sited across the Lake at Charter’s Creek.
The first Catalinas of 262 Squadron arrived on 26 February 1942 and began using the St Lucia base as springboard for extended 20 – 24 hour patrols along the sea-lanes up to Madagascar and down to Durban. These were mostly Catalina 1b aircraft. The flarepath, consisted of a double row of bomb-scows moored at intervals diagonally across Catalina Bay, each fitted with a lantern for use during night landings. Ivan Spring, in his book “Flying Boat” tells an amusing story of a Catalina coming in to land at the height of a storm one night in which some of the vital scows were sunk. One of the base staff hurried out in a launch and took up position where the main scow should have been and signalled to the incoming aircraft “I am a flare…I am a flare…”
Some of the U-boat skippers were more than willing to fight it out on the surface and more than once, a Catalina limped back to St Lucia trailing smoke and with shell-holes decorating its wing panels.
The base was ideal, being shielded from the sea by a rank of high, forested dunes. Operations from this tropical base were not without incident, in spite of the idyllic setting. One of the early clashes occurred when gunners decided that basking crocs made good targets for the .50 waist guns as they droned their way up the Lake. The local game warden was very soon banging on the base commander’s door!
A very long T jetty was also built for refuelling and “bombing up”. The last of the pilings of this structure were removed by the conservation authorities in the 1980s and the area became known as “The Old Jetty”. There is also still a slipway leading to a concrete apron probably used when hauling the various boats used at the base out for maintenance. Various other foundations and well points litter the area, but are mostly very overgrown.
These pipes were in later years usually all that could be seen of the crash site. The wreck was apparently also used as bombing target later, resulting in it being further broken up. As the years went by the wreck slowly disintegrated as exposure to the elements and salt water took its toll.
I waded to the wreckage in the early 80s, in calf-deep water with two colleagues, wishing at every step that I could lift both feet out of the water. All around us grew thick mats of sea-grass in which lived hundreds of very large mud-crabs the size of dinner plates, and armed with fearsome pincers. As we walked, the matted sea-grass heaved and moved as these monsters scuttled out of our way. We retrieved an intact section of the tailplane that is now stored in the KZN Wildlife offices at St Lucia.
Shortly after the fatal crash of “E”, in the dark before dawn of 25 June 1943, Catalina H (FP265) of 262 Squadron RAF, piloted by Flying Officer F N C White, took off in dead calm conditions for an extended patrol. All sea-planes require a degree of chop on the water in order to “unstick” and apparently the glassy calmness of the water contributed to subsequent. A launch, with Flying Officer Keely on board, also went out to create a bit of chop on the water. The heavily laden Catalina ran the full length of the flarepath from the Eastern Shores towards Charters Creek and was seen to climb steeply, only to stall and plummet into the Lake where it exploded. A young Zulu herd-boy, who later became a field ranger at St Lucia, witnessed the crash and told a colleague that the explosion lit up the entire south basin of the Lake. This account tallies with Keely’s eyewitness report of a terrific flash of red followed by an explosion. One crewman, Sgt Benjamin Lee, survived.
Navy divers recovered the bodies of the crew by blasting the sunken wreckage, but complained of zero visibility in the cold, muddy waters, having to work entirely by feel. The bodies of the crew were buried in the Stellawood Cemetery in Durban. This aircraft crashed into an unusually deep part of the Lake and its exact location is unknown today.
The last Catalina flew off St Lucia on 13 October 1944. The RAF chose Lake Umsingazi at Richards Bay as an alternative and the squadron eventually relocated there in November 1944. British tongues could not master the Zulu Umsingazi and the base was called “Loch Richard”. By this time there were more than a few South Africans serving in 262 Squadron and it eventually was handed over to the SAAF to become 35 Squadron, later being equipped with Short Sunderland flying-boats.
A 35 Sqn SAAF Sunderland with the registration letters RB-N crashed and sank there on the night of 1 November 1956 in bad weather after a navigation exercise to Europa Island in the Mozambique Channel.
“Three Sunderlands flew on the navigation exercise from Durban to Europa Island – their serial numbers were RB-D and RB-N which was the aircraft I flew in. I cannot recall the registration of the third one. En route our radar set failed. Great waterspouts were rising all around us, forcing us to dodge backwards and forwards and it wasn’t long before our navigators had no idea where we were. Without radar we were almost blind.
The Sunderland was about 60 feet off the water when for no apparent reason we dropped onto the surface, hitting very hard. We bounced, then hit the water again. I fly privately now but in those days wind-shear was a little- understood factor. Our pilot, Capt Naude, rammed the throttles open to abort the landing and go around once more, but at about 100 feet the Sunderland stalled under full power and crashed into the lake. The nose was partially broken off, the co-pilot Lt Col Thys Uys was flung bodily through the cockpit canopy and landed almost 200 yards away. Capt Naude’s harness snapped and he was flung back-first against the instrument panel, injuring his back. I was seated in the wardroom below the flight deck with three other crewmen and was catapulted against the bulkhead ahead of us and knocked unconscious. Two of these crewmen were the only fatalities. I came to a few minutes later underwater and in pitch darkness. I found some air trapped above me and, after taking a deep breath, swam back through the wardroom into the galley – there I opened a hatch that led to the flight deck, but this was also under water. There was a small perspex dome used by the navigator just aft the main canopy. I found some air trapped there and this gave me a few more gulps.
Acting more on instinct I swam along a passageway to the weapons deck intending to exit the Sunderland through one of two machine-gun hatches situated on either side of the fuselage just aft of the wing trailing edges. Some flame floats in this compartment had ignited and the interior of the compartment was aflame so I swam underneath the flames to get to the left hand hatch. The rest of the crew were sitting on the left hand wing and Jan Knoll, a Dutch radio officer, heard me yelling. He had been in the wardroom with us and had swum out through the galley and through the viciously sharp tangle of wreckage where the nose had been. He jumped into the water and helped me out, swimming with me to the wing where my friends pulled me up and out of the water. They battled to pull me up because a hook on my Mae West buoyancy jacket had caught on the wing trailing edge. All their pulling was pretty painful! I passed out from the pain of my injuries – I had broken both ankles – and only came to briefly on the boat taking us to shore.
We were given first aid and bundled into the back of 1947 Ford ambulance that bounced its way across a terribly rough track to the Empangeni Hospital. Both my feet were dangling off the end of the stretcher and were being mercilessly bounced up and down. One of the medics realised that I was in agony and they shifted me up a bit. At the hospital they cut off our flying suits and gave us another thorough wash! We were later flown to Durban and spent a few weeks recovering in Addington Hospital before being flown to Cape Town in another Sunderland,” he told me.
Wasp #93 and website author at AFB Ysterplaat in 2002. He served on the SAS President Kruger, which operated Wasp helicopters in an anti-submarine role.
Taken by the website author in 1981 from the helicopter deck of the SA Navy Flagship SAS President Kruger, SAS President Pretorius and WASP HAS. MK1 operate south of Cape Point.
Note the forefoot of the frigate is completely out of the water.
The first prototype flew in the UK in 1958, and the first production model flew in 1962. Developed as an antisubmarine ship-based unit, the aircraft carries a pilot and a flight engineer and three passengers. Armed with either two Mk 44 torpedoes or depth charges, this aircraft had a range of 488km and a maximum speed of 104 knots, or 193 km/h.
Powered by a Rolls Royce Bristol Nimbus 503 turbo shaft, the SAAF ordered 17 WASPs of which 16 were delivered.
The S-55 was introduced into the SAAF in 1956, with further airframes arriving in 1956 and 1957. These were assembled at Ysterplaat, and joined an S-51 as the Helicopter flight at AFS Langebaanweg. This flight was later re-established as 17SQN.
WV 224 HISTORY
1953 – Built by Kaiser Corporation and delivered to Sikorsky on 26/05/53 after making an acceptance flight on 11/02/53. WV224 arrived at Gosport, UK on the 26/09/53 and issued to 706 Squadron (coded 733/gj) Fleet Air Arm on the 14/10/53.
1954 – Transferred to 845 Sqdn. On 01/03/54 and coded “s”, whilst with 845 Sqdn WV224 would almost certainly have taken part in the Suez operations of 1956 flying from HSM Theseus, the first British amphibious assault using helicopters.
1957 – Sent to RNAS Lee-On-Solent on 01/04/57 and passed onto Westland Helicopters at Illchester for cat 4 reconditioning on 29/05/57.
1958 – Returned to Lee-On-Solent via RAF Shawbury on 27/04/58 from Westlands and issued to 848 Sqdn coded “354” on its formation on 15/10/58, departing to Malta on HMS Victorious. NOTE: Code 354 is reported but can not be confirmed.
1960 – Transferred to RNAS Hal Far SAR Flight Malta 01/01/60 and may have been coded “958”.
1962 – Returned to the UK (details unknown) and arrived at Westlands, Weston-Super-Mare for cat 4 reconditioning on 21/05/62.
1964 – Sent to NARIV? Lee-On-Solent for UHF installation on 04/11/64.
1965 – Issued to 728 Sqdn at Hal Far Malta for SAR duties on 23/03/65 to replace WV203 and coded “961”. WV224 was flown back to the UK from Malta on 30/08/65 arriving back at Fleetlands on 04/09/65.
1966 – Joined 781 Sqdn at Lee-On-Solent on 23/02/66 and was sent to NARIV for installation of MAD gear (Magnetic Anomaly Detection) still coded “961”. Returned to NARIV on 14/09/66, presumably for MAD gear removal, moving to Fleetlands on 28/09/66, rejoined 781 Sqdn at Lee-On-Solent on 20/10/66 on a temporary basis and sent back to Fleetlands on 17/11/66 for storage.
1970 – Sold to Autair Helicopters on 19/11/70 and departed on 01/03/71 to be used as a spare source for other Autair helicopters. WV224 arrived at Port Elizabeth with 3 other ex RNAS S55 airframes.
It’s believed these were flown by Autair to Grand Central Airport in Johannesburg from Port Elizabeth . The only information we have is that they languished in a hanger and in due course given to the SAAF Museum at Swartskop with WV224 finding it’s way to Ysterplaat.
706 and 845 squadron Oxford Blue. It is believed it was refinished in extra dark sea grey with upper surfaces and sky lower surfaces while with 848 squadron.
Back to Oxford blue when it was transferred to SAR Flight, Malta.
This particular airframe is another volunteer project, and is being restored under the guidance of Richard Woodard, who became particulary intimate with the type when he was posted to RAF Kuching in Borneo, serving with 225 SQN.