Paintings, Details and Stories

As far back as I can remember, I was fascinated with aircraft and there was never a hesitation in what I wanted to do with my life – become a pilot which I did. Art however, was not part of that, and it is only in the last few years since I have started painting that I decided to try and capture them. Maybe, watercolours are not the right medium for this, but that is what I do, and I decided to see if I can make it work. I love detail and am a firm believer that an aircraft should be accurately captured and with the magnificent photographs today in circulation there are a magnitude of aviation painting opportunities out there to explore.

None of these paintings would have been possible if it were not for the exceptional photographers out there, who capture these moments, which speak to my creative side. Thanks to all of them!!

Antonov AN-225 Mriya – The Ukrainian Dream

  • Watercolour on canvas
  • Daniel Smith watercolour paint
  • Not available.
  • Not for sale

The Story


I was “commissioned” by my sister’s one grandchild, as part of my grandchild series, to paint an AN-225 Mriya.  I never thought that I would ever do a painting of this classic transporter, but it was thoroughly challenging and enjoyable.  It is a watercolour painting done on canvas and especially the background I found very challenging.  However, painting on canvas, using watercolour ground, by Shmincke, gives one the opportunity to redo what is not working.  The reference photograph was given to me by my niece and I traced it to Viarprodesign on Freepik.

Reference Photograph. Source: Viarprodesign on Freepik

The Ukrainian Dream

The story of the AN-225, Mriya (dream in Ukrainian), produced by the Antonov Serial Production Plant while Ukraine was part of the Soviet Union, begins with its original purpose: to transport the Buran spaceplane and its rocket boosters.

Designed as an enlarged derivative of the An-124, the AN-225 shares a similar forward loading method—cargo is loaded through its large open front when the nose is tilted skyward. Its redesigned empennage features twin vertical stabilizers, allowing it to carry massive external loads like the Buran. The Buran (Russian: Буран, meaning “Snowstorm” or “Blizzard”) was the first spaceplane produced as part of the Soviet/Russian Buran program. Unfortunately, the Buran was destroyed in 2002 due to the collapse of its storage hangar.

Source: Mriya taking Buran for a ride Flightradar 24

After the cancellation of the Buran project, the AN-225 was sent to storage in 1994 but was restored by 2001, whereafter it commenced with commercial operations.

Here are some interesting facts about this extraordinary aircraft:

Maiden Flight and Unique Features:

  • The An-225, with a maximum takeoff weight of 640 tons, was the heaviest and longest operational aircraft ever built. It also boasted the largest wingspan of any operational aircraft.
  • It performed its maiden flight on December 21, 1988.
  • Only one aircraft was ever completed, although a second airframe with a slightly different configuration was partially built.

Cargo Capabilities – Records

Due to its immense size and uniqueness, the An-225 attracted significant public interest worldwide. It was used to transport oversized payloads that were once thought impossible to move by air.  In total, the An-225 has set 240 world records, which is unique in aviation. Herewith some examples listed in Wikipedia:

  • On 11 September 2001, carrying five main battle tanks at a record load of 253.82 tonnes (279.79 short tons) of cargo, the An-225 flew at an altitude of up to 10,750 m (35,270 ft) over a closed circuit of 1,000 km (620 mi) at a speed of 763.2 km/h (474.2 mph). During 2017, the hired cost was US$30,000 (£23,220) per hour.
  • On 11 August 2009, the heaviest single cargo item ever sent by air, was loaded onto the An-225. At 16.23 m (53 ft 3 in) long and 4.27 m (14 ft 0 in) wide, its consignment, a generator for a gas power plant in Armenia along with its loading frame. It represented a payload of 189,980 kg.
  • On 11 June 2010, the An-225 carried the world’s longest piece of air cargo, two 42.1 m (138 ft) test wind turbine blades from Tianjin, China, to Skrydstrup, Denmark.
  • On 27 September 2012, the An-225 hosted the highest altitude art exhibition in the world at 10,150 metres (33,301 feet) above sea level during the AviaSvit-XX1 Aerospace Show at Antonov Airport. The exhibition was part of the Globus Gallery based in Kyiv and consisted of 500 artworks by 120 Ukrainian artists.

Some Specifications

The AN-225’s interior is no less impressive. Here are some interesting statistics:

  • Cargo Area: Measures 43 meters long by 6.4 meters wide by 4.4 meters tall, providing 1300 cubic meters of usable cargo space.
  • Payload Capacity: Capable of carrying just over 250 tons, the AN-225 has set dozens of world records.
  • Landing Gear: The main landing gear features 14 wheels per side, while the dual front gear has 4 wheels.
  • Powerhouse Engines: To handle its immense size and weight, the AN-225 boasts six D-18 engines.

Source: Wikipedia

Final Flights and Destruction

The aircraft’s last commercial mission was from 2 to 5 February 2022, transporting nearly 90 tons of COVID-19 test kits from Tianjin, China, to Billund, Denmark, via Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan. It returned to its base at Antonov Airport in Hostomel on 5 February for an engine swap. On the advice of NATO it was prepared for evacuation, scheduled for the morning of 24 February, but on that day, Russia invaded, with the airfield being one of their first targets. During the ensuing Battle of Antonov Airport, the runway was rendered unusable. On 27 February 2022, it was widely reported that the aircraft had been destroyed.

Source: Aeronews

Will she be rebuilt?

According to Wikipedia, investigations into rebuilding the An-225 are being undertaken, including the possibilities of cannibalising the second, incomplete An-225, or salvaging the remnants of the first plane to finish the second. However, there are several obstacles to rebuilding. Many of the aircraft’s Soviet-made components were from the 1980s and are no longer made. Engineers quote a price of US$350–500 million, although there is uncertainty regarding whether or not it would be commercially viable and worth the cost. However, Andrii Sovenko, a former An-225 pilot and aviation author, said:

It’s impossible to talk about the repair or restoration of this aircraft — we can only talk about the construction of another Mriya, using individual components that can be salvaged from the wreckage and combining them with those that were, back in the 1980s, intended for the construction of a second aircraft.

On 20 May 2022, Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskyy announced his intentions to complete the second An-225, to replace the destroyed aircraft and as a tribute to all the Ukrainian pilots killed during the war.


Rafale landing on the Charles de Gaulle

  • Watercolour on Arches professional watercolour paper 640g cold press paper
  • Daniel Smith watercolour paint
  • 560mm x 760mm
  • Available.
  • R20 000

The Story


Of all aircraft flying today, I find very few more eye-catching than the Dassault Rafale “omnirole” fighter.  It is double as attractive as an F-16, due to its two F-16-like intakes and the shape of the wings and nose section that accommodate them.  I could never understand why the French did not join the Eurofighter programme, and I think the primary reason is that they did not like the looks of the Typhoon 😊

The Eurofigther Typhoon stands as a testament to European engineering, embodying collaboration among European nations. However, the French decision to pursue its own fighter instead of joining the Eurofighter program was influenced by the unique requirements of the French Navy’s CATOBAR (Catapult Assisted Takeoff But Arrested Recovery) carrier configuration, distinct from other Eurofighter partners. This led to the development of the Rafale M, equipped for carrier operations with arresting wires and strengthened landing gear. The Rafale choice was driven not only by carrier compatibility but also by France’s desire for an omnirole fighter, excelling in both air-to-air (A2A) and air-to-ground (A2G) missions. The Eurofighter Typhoon, optimized for A2A combat, didn’t align with France’s multirole vision. Political considerations played a crucial role, with France seeking prestige in developing its fighter, strengthening alliances, and capitalizing on the lucrative fighter market through exports.

I have however, already painted and Italian Air Force Typhoon and it was now the Rafale’s turn.

For quite a while I have been looking for a striking carrier landing photograph and during one of these searches, I found this Rafale landing on the Charles de Gaulle, the one and only French aircraft carrier.

Reference Photograph. Landing on the French Navy, Charles de Gaulle
Source: Dassault Aviation on-line Gallery
Photograph: S. Randé

Dassault Rafale – The Aircraft

Following is a consolidated description of the aircraft and its capabilities as published on the Dassault website.

Omnirole by Design

The Rafale program was initiated in response to a joint requirement from the French Air Force and French Navy seeking an omnirole aircraft to replace seven existing types of combat aircraft. The envisioned aircraft was expected to fulfil a diverse array of missions, from air defence to nuclear deterrence.

The Rafale, is available in three variants: the single-seater Rafale C for land bases, the single-seater Rafale M for carrier operations, and the two-seater Rafale B for land bases. The naval and land versions differ mainly in the undercarriage and arresting hook, and share a common airframe and mission system. The Rafale A demo’s first flight was on 4 July 1986 and the Rafale C, on 19 May 1991.

Further strengthening its omnirole capabilities are:

  • The advanced digital “Fly-by-Wire” (FBW) Flight Control System (FCS) with quadruple redundancy. It further enables automatic terrain following in all weather conditions, enhancing the aircraft’s survivability in high-threat environments.
  • The airframe’s radar cross-section is minimized through careful design features, including visible stealth elements such as serrated patterns on wings and canards.
  • The extensive use of composite materials, constituting 70% of the wetted area, contributes to the Rafale’s increased max take-off weight to empty weight ratio compared to traditional aluminium and titanium airframes.
  • The M88-2 engine, a compact and powerful turbofan, enhances the Rafale’s performance. With advanced technologies like integrally bladed compressor disks, low-pollution combustor, and redundant “Full Authority Digital Engine Control” (FADEC), the M88-2 offers high thrust-to-weight ratio, easy maintainability, and lower operating costs.

Advanced Sensors

The Rafale was the first European combat aircraft to use an electronic scanning radar, developed by Thales. Compared to radars with conventional antennas, unprecedented levels of situational awareness are attained with earlier detection and tracking of multiple targets. With its superior beam agility and its enormous computing power, the RBE2 radar offers outstanding performance that cannot be replicated by mechanical scanning radars.

Other state-of-the-art sensors are the Front Sector Optronics system, which provides covert target detection. The SPECTRA Electronic Warfare system ensures survivability against threats, supporting long-range detection and data sharing with other assets. Thales’ TALIOS targeting pod and SCORPION® helmet-mounted display further enhance surveillance and engagement capabilities.

Multisensor Data Fusion

The Rafale boasts a distinctive capability through its implementation of “multi-sensor data fusion,” a process that integrates information from all onboard and offboard sensors, including wingmen and command and control (C²) systems. This approach results in precise, reliable tracks and a clear understanding of the evolving tactical situation. By consolidating data and overcoming individual sensor limitations, the Rafale reduces pilot workload, enhances pilot reactivity, and increases situational awareness both within and beyond the combat sphere.

The core of these enhanced capabilities of the Rafale lies in a new “Modular Data Processing Unit” (MDPU) that handles the data fusion. The MDPU processes data from various sources, including the RBE2-AESA radar, the Front Sector Optronic (FSO) system, the SPECTRA electronic warfare system and Identification Friend or Foe (IFF),

Advanced Weapons

The Rafale’s versatility is evident in its ability to integrate a wide range of weapons, including METEOR missiles, MICA air-to-air missiles, HAMMER air-to-ground precision-guided weapons, SCALP cruise missiles, and more.

The Rafale’s capability extends to “buddy-buddy” refuelling missions in areas beyond the reach of dedicated tanker aircraft. With its remarkable load-carrying capacity and advanced mission system, the Rafale excels in performing air-to-ground strikes, air-to-air attacks, and interceptions during the same sortie. This capability, coupled with its ability to execute multiple actions simultaneously, exemplifies the true “Omnirole” capability and outstanding survivability of the Rafale.

Mission Ready with Low Operating Costs

Built-in supportability, ease of maintenance, and modular M88 engines contribute to the Rafale’s reliability and cost-effectiveness. Maintenance features like integrated testability, human factors engineering, and centralized armament safety enhance turnaround times. The Rafale’s combat-proven track record in various missions, from Afghanistan to Mali and Syria, underscores its operational effectiveness.

Some key features showcasing the Rafale’s advancements in reliability, accessibility, and maintainability that I found interesting[1], include:

  • Integrated testability of the Weapon Delivery and Navigation System (WDNS), extended to all aircraft systems, allowing targeted replacements on the flight line.
  • Centralized armament safety system eliminating safety pins and last chance actions, contributing to an unbeatable “turn-around time” (TAT).
  • Precision manufacturing techniques and the use of CATIA eliminating time-consuming boresighting procedures after certain exchanges.
  • M88 engine’s groundbreaking design allowing for quick engine changes without the need for extensive checks on an engine test bench.
  • On-board oxygen generation system (OBOGS) eliminating the need for liquid oxygen refilling and related ground support equipment.
  • Built-in auxiliary power unit (APU) enabling engine start-up without a ground power cart.
  • Compact and foldable ground support equipment for easy transportability by air.

[1] These were all the frustrations we experienced during my time in the SAAF on Mirages and Cheetahs.

Combat Proven

From 2006 to 2011, French Air Force and Navy Rafale fighters showcased exceptional proficiency and military value in various combat missions in Afghanistan. Utilizing precision-guided modular air-to-surface armaments such as AASM/HAMMER, PAVEWAY laser-guided bombs, and the 30 mm cannon, they consistently achieved direct hits with remarkable precision.

Figure 1: Rafael Operational Deployments

In 2011, during coalition operations over Libya, French Air and Space Force and French Navy Rafales played a pivotal role. They were the first to operate over Benghazi and Tripoli, demonstrating the full spectrum of Rafale missions. The Rafales displayed controlled accuracy in hitting hundreds of targets, ranging from tanks and armoured vehicles to command centres and air-defence systems.

Since early 2013, French Air Force Rafales have actively engaged in Mali, contributing to the destruction of enemy infrastructure and supporting troops in contact. Notably, four Rafales executed the longest raid in French Air Force history, hitting 21 targets during a 9-hour and 35-minute mission from Saint-Dizier to N’Djamena in Chad. The Rafale detachment expanded to eight aircraft for operations in the Sahelo-Saharan strip and the Central African Republic.

Rafales have actively been engaged in support of operations in Iraq and Syria as part of a wide international coalition, conducting long distance raid to fire SCALP cruise missiles.

In Syria, Rafales operate in difficult conditions, far from their bases, taking advantage of their huge operational range to strike distant targets with clinical accuracy. French Navy Rafales flying from the deck of nuclear carrier Charles de Gaulle have allowed a significant increase in the number of combat aircraft in theatre.

The Rafale takes an active role securing the NATO airspace (Enhanced Air Policing) in the Eastern part of Europe: after the Russian aggression in Ukraine, French Air and Space Force Rafale fighters later supported by their French Navy counterparts conducted combat air patrol and were kept at short-notice readiness during the whole 2022/2023 winter in the Baltic States. The Rafale was the only combat aircraft to demonstrate a capability to deploy without delay to two other neighbouring countries while still conducting its QRA mission.



B17G Flying Fortress, Princess Pat

Wihan, a happy chappie with his painting

My sister’s grandson presented me with a photograph of a B17 on a mission over Germany and asked me to paint it for him.  It was a striking photograph and I searched for it on the Web and found it on Instagram on the B17 Flying Fortress page.  

The aircraft was a Lockheed/Vega B-17G-15-VE Flying Fortress, serial number 42-97503 with the nickname of Princess Pat. There were seven B-17’s christened with that nickname. It was assigned to the 533rd Bomb Squadron, which was part of the 381st Bomb Group.  Captained by Lt. Chas Carpenter, she caught fire during a training flight, and crash-landed at Ridgewell, North of London on 26 March 1945, where she was based. Fortunately, all crew survived.

Source: The American Air Museum.

  • Watercolour on canvas
  • Daniel Smith watercolour paint
  • A2
  • Not available.
  • Not for sale

Italian Air Force Typhoon in Estonia

The Story

I’ll be lost without the wonderful aviation photographers out there. I discovered Daniele Faccioli on Instagram and found his work fascinating. Dan introduces himself as a military aviation photographer and journalist, as well as a fashion photographer. I decided to stay with his aviation photographs, but his fashion photography is also at another level.

I initially decided to paint another photograph of his, a Typhoon chased by a Mig 29, which was selected for the front page of a European aviation magazine. This is still on my painting list but decided to do this one first. The starkness and composition immediately attracted me, as well as the lack of colour, except for the few yellow patches and lines.

He took the photo during a NATO exercise in Estonia in 2022. His caption read: “Last checks for this Italian Eurofighter Typhoon in the snowy Estonian winter.”

You can view Daniele’s work here.

  • Watercolour on Arches professional watercolour paper 640g cold press paper
  • Daniel Smith watercolour paint
  • 560mm x 760mm
  • Available.
  • R20 000

The Mighty Shackleton meets the Playful Pussy Cat

The Mighty Shackleton meets the Playful Pussy Cat

  • Watercolour on Arches professional watercolour paper 640g cold press paper
  • Daniel Smith watercolour paint
  • 560mm x 760mm
  • Available. Proceeds go to the Friends of the SAAF Museum, Ysterplaat.
  • SAAF Museum Collection

The Story

35 Squadron SAAF, is a maritime patrol and transport squadron, based in Cape Town.  It has an illustrious history which started in 1945, flying Catalinas, followed by Spitfires, Sunderlands, Venturas, Shackleton Mk3s and Dakotas.  This is the story about three “intercept” missions, two in April 1980 and the third in December of the same year, where the “the mighty Shackleton” of the Fifties, meets “the playful pussy cat” (Tomcat) of the Seventies.  In both these missions, Capt. Japie Horn, in the second “engagement” as co-pilot and the third as aircraft captain, and his crew, experienced a “friendly” foe engagement. which resulted in the words of the author of the lines book entry, that “everybody’s adrenalin gland was working overtime”. 

Following is their first-hand experience (extracted text) as documented in one of the 35 Squadron’s diaries or “lines” books, which is safeguarded in the library of the SAAF Museum, at AFB Ysterplaat.

The 35 Squadron Diaries (Lines Book)


In April 1980, the aircraft carrier, USS Dwight D Eisenhower was dispatched by President Carter to the Indian Ocean, in response to the Iran hostage crisis in Teheran.  On 15 April, the Task Force with Air Wing Seven assigned, departed Naval Station Norfolk on a 12,000-mile voyage around the Cape of Good Hope to the Gulf of Oman Naval Zone of Operations (GONZO) station, where the Dwight D Eisenhower Battle Group (BG) relieved the USS Nimitz (CVN 68) BG. On 9 December 1980, the Dwight D Eisenhower Battle Group departed on its return journey for the USA after being relieved by USS Independence (CV 62). It arrived back home on 22 December 1980, after a historic 254 days at-sea with only one liberty visit.

The first engagement, involving the F-14, was on Ike’s outbound journey, 300 nautical miles west of Dassen Island on 28 April 1980; the second engagement was on 29 April, approximately 80 – 90 nautical miles South of Cape Point and the third engagement was South of Port Elizabeth (Gqeberha) on the task force’s return journey on 8 December 1980.

Locations of Engagements

This is their story as documented in the Squadron Diaries:

One Fine Day Over the Indian Ocean – A Three-Act Play

Act 1: 26 April 1980 Saturday (Enter and Exit No 1 Crew)

As a nice change from buzzing Russians, 35 was given the task of locating a U.S.N. Task Force which was rounding the Cape.  The job was tackled by the Premier Crew, “Die Basdromslaners”, of fabled ability.  Amid scenes of tremendous excitement, three tankers were detected.

Act 2: 28 April 1980 Monday (Enter No 2 crew wherein they stick around)

Amid fading interest, the No 2 crew was sent out as an “also-ran” effort, with the OC, Cmdt. Hayton, as pilot.  Some 300 miles due West of Dassen Island, at 1500B radar contact was made (by Brian Ferreira, electronics leader) at 85 miles range.  The Shackleton sailed blithely in and caught the Yanks with their pants down in typical (now classical?) Sunday 7th December style.  First, the Nuclear-powered DLGN (guided missile frigate) – 37 USS South Caroline was overrun.  Its Sea King was in the air and attempted what the Yank Navy calls a Fleet CAP (Combat Air Patrol) by making a fighter pass down the port side then turning round behind to follow.  Needless to say, it got left somewhat behind – to the delight of the fixed-wing jockeys in the Shackleton (Pride comes before the air marshals?), the Nimitz-class nuclear attack carrier CVAN-69 Dwight D Eisenhower.  On the deck was about the equivalent strength of the SAAF – but they were in each others way and the intrepid No 2 crew sailed (blundered?) blithely on to look at the DLGN-38, the USS Virginia.  After giving the Task Force ships (which were doing 20 kts) two passes each; and having spent an hour in the area, the Shackleton went home – landing at 1800B.  Here it was that the agitator, via his mouth pieces, reminded that the “intrepid No 2” did not bother with mere tankers. No 1 crew was meanwhile slated for the “Secret Mission” to Rooikop and were glad to get away.

On the deck was about the equivalent strength of the SAAF

Act 3: 29 April 1980 Tuesday (Re-enter No 2 Crew, who stick around, become famous. And exit prudently)

Scene 1:

Col. Kotze, ex 35 OC, gave a briefing for the next sortie to visit Pres. Carter’s boys.  He made it clear that, despite the friendly waving by the U.S. matelots on the previous day, he had a feeling that they could pull a fast one today.  But not even he could guess that the “fast” would be Mach 2.31. It was to be a “surprise” approach with the minimum radar usage and no funny business.  At 1100B they took off in Shackleton 1721 and in 8/8th cloudy conditions, around Cape Point at 3000 ft.  Radar operator Bryan Ferreira gets his first contact, 75 miles away, to the Southeast.  After a short time Cmdt. Hayton, Pilot, took the Shack down to 200 ft in a classic low-level approach “on the deck”.  However, Capt. Japie Horn (ex-Albatross pilot, and an original Flock driver) had to remind him forcibly that he was not a Heinkel III pilot of 1942-vintage attacking PQ 17 at wave-top level.

Scene 2:

Col Kotze was acting as No 1 nav with Leo (Hollywood) Capt. Theron as No 2.  Nav Giepie (keep-fit runner) van den Berg had thus been displaced to galley-slave position and was serving coffee.  The Colonel then gave the position of the T.F. as 20 miles away and the battle climb commenced at 2600 + 14, with radar switched on.  At about 3000 ft radar operator Cpl. Hutchinson made a sector scan with three quick sweeps. At 19 miles contact was made, to the left. A gradual descent was made to establish a visual, and this was obtained by the co-pilot, in indifferent VIZ at about 10 miles.  This was quickly endorsed by No 1 flight engineer Tiro Vorster in the nose (F/E leader, Staff Stoof de Villiers was on the panel). The Commandant getting into the swing of things, decided that as they had come all the way, they might as well take plenty pictures.  Port beam was informed accordingly.  A hammerhead turn was made to line up for approach. At this point the ships were seen to the 90o turn and the intercom became somewhat cluttered with chatter.  The pilot, bearing Col Kotze’s injunction in mind (i.e. not to upset our “friends and allies”) turned away.  In the nose Tiro saw a plane-guard Chopper get airborne from the carrier, but this vital observation was lost in the chatter.  The Cmdt. Asked him to repeat what he has said, and he did. But the implication was soon self-evident!

Scene 3 (Heavy scene that was)

When the Shack was 13 miles away from the Fleeing T.F., a high-pitched noise was heard from the tail.  It was Telecom op F Sgt Piet “Broad” Breedt and the noises he was making translated as “OOOO ——, hier kom iets met ‘n moerse spoed!!!” The next few seconds represented possibly the biggest stampede in 35’s history to date as everyone sought to see what “it” was.  Bryan Ferreira dashed forward to stand between the pilots – his aircraft enthusiasts delight at seeing a Grumman F-14 Tomcat possibly not being shared by all. This time the EISENHOWER was prepared and had a reception committee ready, in the form of (it is presumed) a F-14 of fighter squadron (VF-142 (GHOSTRIDERS) of Carrier Air Wing 7 (tail codes “AG”).  The sinister grey arrow barrelled past on the starboard side, its wings automatically extending as the playful fighter jocks slowed down.  In the nose F/E Tiro Vorster noted an ominous cloud of smoke and got the impression of a pair of flying air intakes turning in to come head-on and past the port side.  Meanwhile, the pilot was waggling the Shack’s wings, and everybody’s adrenalin gland was working overtime. Cmdt. Hayton instructed the crew to wave to the playful pussy cat (to show that the mighty Shackleton was quite peaceful in its intentions).  In the nose position Tiro waved his white cookie box.  Not being plugged in, Nav vd Berg had noticed all the excitement and peered out from a window expecting to see the ships.  His thoughts on getting an eyeful of an aggressive-looking US Navy fighter plane are not recorded!  Meanwhile, the Colonel had gone to replace Cpl Johan Kotze on the port beam position and “die een het harder gewerk as die ander”. The colonel was then handed the camera but declined to operate it and further confusion followed.  The F-14 made a few turns then took up a holding position “in back” of the Shack which was holding its course away from the ships, with the crew reporting the fighter’s movements.  But our intrepid ex-T-33 jockey was in no mood to give up so easily and went into a 360o turn.  Within seconds the Tomcat was in their midst in no uncertain way. After a few more turns it was deemed prudent to call it a day and they levelled off for the journey home.  But at this point the drama reached its climax with a sinister smoke cloud behind and an even more ominous “foot-toot-toot” distinctly audible on everybody’s headsets. This quickly changed to the unbearable shriek as the F-14’s gunnery/missile radar “locked-on”.  Inside the flying target it was generally believed that the Yanks could have the Indian Ocean and after 2 hrs 15 minutes they were back home. The unexpected nature of the first “interception” of a 35 Sqn aircraft was emphasised by the fond belief that when, one day, an “enemy” plane was met in the air, it would be Russian, and a fellow Rumbering Maritime-kite, but never a fighter!

Cartoons/Sketches by Mike Schoeman.

But the incidents were not forgotten by the “Enemy”

The Yanks have a sense of humour,  three months and a bit later the following was written in the lines book.

August 1980 – Feedback from the Peanut Navy

A sharp reminder of that “one day over the Indian Ocean” April 80 was recently received from Maritime Group, making one think that the Americans are either trying to be sarcastic (if that is the case, they succeeded) or that they have a sense of humour after all.  Apparently while the Shackleton was taking pictures of the Yanks, the Yanks were taking pictures of the Shack. In what was possibly intended as a friendly gesture after all, they did not draw a gunsight on any of the accompanying pictures – they have supplied us with three photographs (herewith) showing one of the funny old crates that sometimes provide them with light relief around the Southern African Coast, and an accurate track chart of the interception on 28th April.  We would have liked to see a photo of the F-14 and the Shack together, but perhaps they were too surprised to take the picture then.  One wonders what the thoughts of the Americans are on Maritime Recce in the Southern Oceans not that the Indian Ocean has proved so vulnerable, following the problems in Iran and Afghanistan, and with the Peanut Admiral having problems in the future elections (Pres Carter).

The Track of Pelican 16 as plotted by the Yanks
With Love from Ike – Photographs received in August from the 28 April 1980 intercept

The Battle Group Returns

Although Ike can sail for more than 25 years without refuelling, the sailors can’t and the BG returned, to be “buzzed” again by those South Africans in their “funny old crates”.

8 December 1980 – The Tomcat Episode

No 3 crew took off early one fine day for an ECH.  Once airborne and heading out, we were briefed by our crew commander, Capt Horn, about a USN Task Force doing its thing in our waters.

At 0555Z, in position 3546S 2647E, a radar contact was detected, 31 nm’s at position 3523S 2618E, and was identified at 10 nm’s as the USA Aircraft Carrier.  As we approached at 3 nm, a helo took off from the deck.  We passed the A/C carrier at 1nm, took a few photographs, and approx. 2 mins later, a F-14 “Tomcat” was launched, and after 3½ min intercepted us.  The Tomcat stayed with us in close formo, with u/c and flaps down, for the duration of the trip, which lasted about 49 mins.

In a voice note, Japie told me first-hand what he could remember after 43 years, while he was doing some work in his garage:

Japie’s crew still with him in his garage

On the Friday, 5 December 1980, I was summonsed to Ysterplaat and briefed on a US Task Force that was rounding the Cape and that they would like some photographs taken of the task force. A whole tribe of photographers were on board and we took off at 04h00 the next morning to be on target at 06h00, 200 miles west- south-wes of Cape Town.  Later that morning the radar became unserviceable and we could therefore not transmit.  We had to change the wave form generator, a large component, and I walked to the back where Flight Engineer Frans Fourie and Piet du Toit, an extra telecom operator that was also on board, were doing the exchange.  It took them about 45 minute and they informed me that the radar was now again operational. 

Immediately after the radar started transmitting, the operator informed me that they made contact with some vessels, north-west of us, about 60 miles.  The decision had to be made to turn around and to see what it was or to continue to Durban.  I decided that we would go and have a look.  At around 35 miles we could see that there were more than one vessel and at 25 miles I could see that they were war ships.  In the nose of the Shack is a gyro-stabilised binoculars and we could see that there were three ships sailing from East to West.  At 12 miles we could see them launching a helicopter as we passed by their port side whilst taking photographs. We flew quite a distance past them and then turned past their bow against what is prescribed by naval law. 

When we came past them again, flying at round 800 ft AMSL, a F-14 appeared next to us, flying in a loose formation.  We tried to make contact on all frequencies, whilst the rest of the crew and photographers took as many photographs as they could. There was no response from the F-14 nor from any of the US Naval vessels.  One of the telecom operators took one of the old F-95 cameras and also started taking some photographs.  This was very fortunate as those were the only photographs that were developed successfully and available.  The “professional” photographs were sent to another lab in the city as being too “special” to be done on the base – not one film was developed successfully.

Back to the F-14.  It followed us even with Swannie, my co-pilot, and I reducing the speed to close to stalling speed.  The F-14, with undercarriage and flaps down, just stayed with us.  Elevons and other flight surfaces moving at all speeds and angles, keeping the big fighter in position – the magic of fly-by-wire.  He followed us for around 150 miles, moved to our port side and then started climbing, possibly to stay within radar contact with the ship.  Soon thereafter we lost sight of him. 

Japie Horn’s Logbook Entries.  Third line from the bottom is a multi-mission summary, which includes the mission of 8 December 1980
Capt Japie Horn (3rd from the right in back row) and his crew. Not all of them were on the last mission
Source: Japie Horn’s logbook
The F-14 Tail Number 200 being launched using catapult # 4
Source: Japie Horn’s logbook
The F-14 showing off its armament and low speed handling capabilities
Source: Japie Horn’s logbook

Three Years Later

Japie continues the story. Three years later, in 1983 a US Embassy team visited the squadron, to give us some feedback and other photos of another mission during that year.  I was sitting in the crew room having a cup of tea when I heard someone shouting in an American accent “Who took this photograph?”. It was a photograph of the F-14 mission in 1980 hanging on 35 Squadron’s Wall of Fame. I walked out to welcome them and told him that I was part of that mission and he said: “Do you see that guy standing next to the Hawkeye E2C, that’s me.”  He then told the story from his side.  He said that at the same time as ours, their radar also did not operate, and they therefore did not detect us.  It was only when our radar starting transmitting that their ECM picked us up.  They then scrambled the helicopter and the F-14 in time to give us a “friendly” welcome – quite an incredible response time.

What happened to Pelican 16

The Shackletons were finally withdrawn from service at the end of 1984 as their “time” had run out.

Shackleton 1716 was re-furbished to flying condition for the SAAF Museum, but had the unfortunate experience to crash land in the Sahara desert near the border with Mauritania on 13 July 1994 whilst on a flight to Great Britain to take part in a number of air shows. It suffered a number of engine failures and was forced to land in the dark, without any loss of life to the 19 crew on board.

The last resting place of Pelican 16

Sikorsky S-51 in the SAAF

S-51 Spraying Tsetse Flies over Hluhluwe Imfolozi Park

  • Watercolour on Arches professional watercolour paper 640g cold press paper
  • Daniel Smith watercolour paint
  • 560mm x 760mm
  • Available. Proceeds go to the SAAF Museum for the restoration of the S-51
  • SAAF Museum Collection

S-51 Ground crew servicing aircraft between spraying sorties

  • Watercolour on Arches professional watercolour paper 640g cold press paper
  • Daniel Smith watercolour paint
  • 500mm x 760mm
  • Available. Proceeds go to the SAAF Museum for the restoration of the S-51
  • SAAF Museum Collection

The Story

The Painting

Kevin Viljoen, a retired SAAF chopper pilot and the Sikorsky S-51 Restoration Project Co-ordinator, phoned me one day and asked whether I would be willing to do a painting of an S-51 in the spraying configuration. It is the 75th anniversary of the first chopper flight in the SAAF and he needed to do some fundraising to get the S-51 that is exhibited at the SAAF Museum at AFB Swartkop into show readiness, “skougereed” as we say in Afrikaans. I immediately agreed and the research started. Kevin sent me some information and Christo Crous a SAAF air photographer was tasked to take some additional reference photographs. Again, I depended on Piet van Schalkwyk to send me some information and as usual, his response and contribution was exceptional!

I did some concept work and presented some ideas on Photoshop to Kevin. He gave me some feedback on comments made by the chopper community, and I decided on a dawn spraying mission over the Hluhluwe Umfolozi Game Reserve, which was one of the primary areas covered during the nagana campaign in the forties and early fifties. I decided on this as Maj Genl. Jack Robbs, mentioned in a talk he gave in April 1975 that: “We had to do the spraying in the early morning, before the thermals arose, otherwise the smoke dissipated too quickly. … We were thus confined to early mornings and the chaps became quite used to getting up in the dark and finishing their job by breakfast time.

Whilst busy with the painting and looking at a reference photograph on my computer, my wife passed by and said, “that is a very nice picture, you should do that one too” and I immediately agreed. Two ground crew busy with a turn-around on an S-51. This one, on my wife’s advice, I only used two colours and wanted it a close resemblance of the original photograph, using the white of the paper, silver/grey for the fuselage and khaki for the two groundcrew, which was the colour of their overalls at the time.

Sikorsky S-51 – The Aircraft

This introduction to the S-51 is mainly based on Wikipedia. The Sikorsky S-51 was originally designated the Sikorsky H-5, which was initially designated R-5 and also known as the S-48. The R-5 differed from the R-4 by having an increased rotor diameter and a new, longer fuselage for two persons in tandem, though it retained the R-4’s tailwheel-type landing gear. For the purpose of this article, I will stay with S-51 for all derivatives.

Sikorsky Helicopter Innovation Era 1939 – 1946
Source: Sikorsky Archives

The S-51 was in service with the United States Air Force, its predecessor the United States Army Air Force, the United States Navy, United States Coast Guard and the United States Post Office Department. It was also in service with eight other air forces, including the South African Air Force (SAAF). The civilian version, under the designation S-51, was the first helicopter to be operated commercially, commencing in 1946.

On 16 February 1946, the first flight took place of the modified S-51 featuring a greater rotor diameter, greater carrying capacity and gross weight, and a redesigned tricycle landing gear configuration, with room for three passengers plus the pilot. The S-51 was initially intended to appeal to civilian as well as military operators and was the first helicopter to be sold to a commercial user.

In December 1946, an agreement was signed between the British company Westland Aircraft and Sikorsky to produce a British version of the H-5, to be manufactured under license in Britain as the Westland-Sikorsky WS-51 Dragonfly. By the time production ceased in 1951, more than 300 examples of all types of the S-51 had been built.

Operationally, during its service life, the S-51 was used for utility, rescue, and mercy missions throughout the world, including in the Antarctic. It gained its greatest fame during the Korean War when it was called upon repeatedly to rescue United Nations pilots shot down behind enemy lines and to evacuate wounded personnel from frontline areas. Were any SAAF pilots rescued in Korea by a S-51? Maybe – see text box below.

USAF H-5F Departs with Wounded– Korea 1952.
Source: Sikorsky Archives

Were SAAF aircrew ever rescued by an S-51 in Korea?

Maj Blaauw was involved in another incident on 11 May for which he was awarded the American Silver Star decoration. While four aircraft were on an interdiction mission 11 km west of Singe, the leader’s aircraft was hit by ground fire and the wing collapsed. Lt V. R. Kruger successfully baled out but dislocated his right shoulder and had several second degree burns when he landed. Two of the other members of the flight, Maj Blaauw and Lt Mentz, capped the downed pilot while Capt Clulow tried without success to alert the rescue organisation. Shortage of fuel compelled Lt Mentz and Capt Clulow to return to K-16 but Maj Blaauw, in spite of fuel shortage, continued capping operations and when his aircraft ran out of fuel he crash-landed it next to Lt Kruger, sustaining abrasions and bruises to his nose and eyes. He immediately went to the assistance of Lt Kruger and at 19h15 a helicopter arrived and rescued them both. Was it a S-51?


The S-51 was eventually replaced in most roles by the H-19 Chickasaw. In 1957, the last S-51 helicopters were retired from active U.S. military service.

Source: Wikipedia

I was quite interested to see how many helicopters Sikorsky manufactured and except for some consolidation on types and I left out the prototypes that did not start with an “S”, herewith an image to give us an idea.

The S-51 in the South African Air Force (SAAF)

In October 1948, the first helicopter flight in Africa, took off from Stamford Hill Airfield, Durban, marking 75 years of rotary flight in South Africa, this year (2023)!  The pilot was Captain “Bunny” Pearce, who was unfortunately killed in the Korean conflict on 9 July 1951. 

The first helicopter flight in Africa, October 1948 from Stamford Hill Airfield, Durban
Source: SAAF Archives

Major General Robbs, who was the O.C. of 12 Squadron at Mtubatuba, Zululand, during the “anti-nagana” campaign, and Director, General Planning, of the South African Defence Force in 1975, was there from the beginning of 1948 until early 1950 when Colonel Geoff Tatham took over from him. This is what he told his audience at the third Van Ryneveld lecture to the Southern Africa division of the Royal Aeronautical Society in April 1975 on the operations of the S-51 during the campaign.

To deal with the inaccessible breeding regions (and on the insistence of Dr. Rene Du Toit), it was agreed to acquire some helicopters. Three Sikorsky S-5ls (A1, A2 & A3) were obtained, and our late colleague Bunny Pearce (who was killed in Korea) went to the United States to be briefed on them. The aircraft duly arrived in late 1948 and as far as I can remember they went into operation in about January or February of 1949.

Fighting the Tsetse flies, “the modus operandi was very similar to that with fixed wing aircraft. Two 30-gallon tanks were slung on the fuselage, one on each side, also fed under gravity into the exhaust, the DDT/ diesel line coming out as heavy white smoke. With the S-51 you could traverse steep slopes and anywhere the fly went you could go also (except into the bush). The S51 was quite a beast, I remember that the centre of gravity range was very critical, about 3.5″, and you had little bags of shot which had to be placed at various points.

In 1950, the name of the Squadron changed from 12 to 28 Squadron – spray flight.
28 Squadron – Spray Flight carried on until the end of 1951 when Geoff Tatham and his boys handed the “choppers” over to civilian contractors (who carried on for another year until the contract ended in late 1952). When the civilian contract expired, there was only one “chopper” left – the original A1.”

S-51s spraying and turnaround
Source: SAAF Archives

How some viewed the helicopter campaign
Source: Wings over Africa. April 1975. p20.

After the campaign A1 lay around for quite a while, with everybody trying to decide what to do with it. It was treated with some suspicion or regarded as a fancy toy. Nobody appeared in the least concerned about the magnificent job it had done in giving the coup d’etat to the nagana campaign in Zululand.”
“In July. l954, they had Geoff Tatham flying it down to Langebaan to support crash boats on the air-sea rescue programme. Very quickly people started realising that there was a lot more to these rotary wing aircraft than they had thought. It quickly became involved in all those risky jobs, like pulling people of mountains; or the police would want to get somewhere quickly chasing criminals. They were ideal for this. Thus, the prejudice against this “toy” gradually grew less, and. in about August 1956, the SAAF acquired some S-55s, its bigger brother.

S-51 in the SAAF
Source: Piet van Schalkwyk, Golden Eagle Artwork

“The S51 was quite a beast”

The S51 was quite a beast”. This is how Maj Genl. Robbs described the S-51 in his speech and he mentioned that there was only one left at the end of the nagana campaign. Here is a summary on how this “beast” tamed its riders:


A1 was a survivor, now resident in the SAAF Museum at AFB Swartkop, it had the following “mishaps” during its time in service. 1950 was especially a difficult year for this airframe:

  • On 14 July 1950 at 12 Squadron, it had an engine failure due to mechanical failure while flown by Lt Vosloo.
  • On 15 September of that same year, Lt Strunch’s vision was obscured by spray, and he hit a tree.
  • In October 1950, Capt Barlow made an error of judgement and crashed at Mtubathuba.
  • On 9 September 1955, at AFS Langebaan, Lt GWM de Jager, demonstrating on how to taxy downwind to 2/Lt WC Smal, a gust of wind overturned the aircraft.
  • It seems as if Lt GWM de Jager failed in his attempt to teach 2/Lt Smal to taxi in high-wind conditions as A1 was blown over again on 26 July 1956, when he attempted to taxi in such unfavourable conditions.
  • On April 1959, 2/Lt CA Morgan at 17 Sqn, had an engine failure, followed by a forced landing.
  • A1 transferred to 17 Squadron at Ysterplaat in December 1957. It was sold in 1964 as ZS-HBT and scrapped some years later. A scrap yard in Cape Town offered the aircraft to the SAAF Museum in 1976, whereupon it was restored to static display.
A1 in the SAAF Museum at AFB Swartkop
Photo taken by Christo Crous


A2 had two incidents:

  • On 27 February 1950, at 12 Sqn, Lt van Zyl, touched the tail rotor in a forced landing in limited space.
  • On 23 May 1951, a week after I was born, Lt Fortuin’s aircraft ascended due to a sudden wind gust, which came up from behind as he took off.


A3 also had two incidents:

  • On 1 September 1950 at 12 Squadron, Capt. Barlow’s, tail cone was damaged by the rotor.
  • On 20 April 1951 at 28 Sqn Spray Flight, Lt Wheeldon, flew up a donga and crashed into trees whilst spraying.

Some accident photographs
Source: SAAF Archives

Operation Nagana – Tsetse Fly Campaign in Zululand

From Game Culling to DDT

Tsetse flies carry the African trypanosomiases, deadly diseases that include sleeping sickness in people and nagana (from the Zulu word unakane) in cattle. In the 19th and early 20th century, it was thought that the disease was associated with wild grazing animals such as antelopes, buffalo and wildebeest and that these wild animals left a sickening residue of saliva on grass as they grazed, that infected domestic animals. Farmers saw nagana as a serious block to the development of commercial agriculture in the area and demanded its elimination, by killing off or removing wild game from agricultural land. The government was therefore under pressure from all sides to “deal with” nagana.

In 1894 Surgeon-Major Sir David Bruce arrived in the settlement of Ubombo near the land that was to become the uMkhuze Game Reserve in 1912. The Governor of Natal and Zululand, Sir Hely-Hutchinson, had invited Bruce to investigate the causes of nagana. From his research post at Ubombo Bruce reported that the whole of the Ubombo and Ingwavuma Districts were tsetse “fly belt” areas. Towards the end of 1894, by analyzing the blood of diseased animals, he had identified the tsetse fly as the carrier of nagana.

Tsetse Fly
Source: Sci News. Oct 11, 2013

The allocation of a third of Zululand for white settlement in 1906 worsened the nagana problem. Many of the new settlements were close to the new game reserves, and nagana continued to spread to domestic cattle. In 1921 the Union government appointed Captain R.H. Harris to carry out further investigations into the tsetse fly problem. (Harris devised the famous Harris Fly Trap to capture tsetse flies and establish the areas of greatest tsetse intensity).

Harris fly trap in the field.
Source: PHOTOGRAPH’ E.R. HAIUUSON. PIONEER MUSEUM. MTI.1BA11JBA. V. Minnaar. Institute for Historical Research, Human Sciences Research Council. Contree Contree 25/1989

Game reserves, particularly Umfolozi and uMkhuze, became central to experimentation in trypanosomiasis control. When farms in the uMkhuze area were allotted to white settlers in the late 1920 s, bush clearing and burning (the only measures thought to work against the tsetse fly) were intensified. The authorities of the day believed that if sufficient animals were destroyed the fly would be deprived of its host and nagana would disappear. A wholesale slaughter of wild animals began.

A campaign was conducted from 1929 through to 1931, where 35 000 head of game were destroyed in Zululand and a second major campaign was undertaken from March 1943 to February 1950 during which 38 552 animals were destroyed in the uMkhuze Reserve, adjoining Crown Lands and unoccupied farms close to Mkhuze. A summary of this slaughter is shown in the graph below.

By 1945 laboratory tests had proved that the newly manufactured organochlorine pesticide DDT was effective against tsetse and other species of flies. uMkhuze was chosen for the first experimental aerial spraying because the flat terrain presented less danger to the pilots, who had to fly low over the control area in tight formation.

Two more aerial spraying flights were carried out in August and September 1946. The number of flies caught in 230 Harris Fly Traps, used to gauge the success of aerial spraying, dropped from 22 007 in November 1945 to 3 705 in March 1946. By September 1946, 291 Harris traps caught only 405 flies.

The SAAF and the Tsetse Fly

Again, I am going to ask Maj. Genl. Jack Robbs to tell us the story as taken from his speech to the British Aeronautical Society in April 1975. The S-51 part you may have already read above, so here is the remainder of his story, or more correctly stated, the first part of his story.

The most suitable aircraft available in the South African Air Force at that time for spraying was the trusty old Anson. The Avro Anson was a very useful animal, good for almost anything except the role for which it was designed, namely as a bomber, and for which role it was totally useless, due to it being absolutely vulnerable with a very limited payload.

Having chosen the Anson, we started experimental work, which was by adding two fuselage tanks, each of 90 gallons capacity holding a total of 180 gallons of DDT in liquid form, which was gravity-fed to two, venturi tubes at the rate of 5 gallons per minute on each side, giving the aircraft 18 minutes’ spraying duration.
The big snag was that when the liquid hit the airflow it was immediately rendered invisible, so a most laborious method had to be followed using flags on the ground, indicating a 17-yard swathe width, and with smoke signals for turning points. The flagged areas were sprayed a few times each, but, when the markers extended over hills or across undulating ground, you couldn’t always see the intermediate flags, and it was a case of flying accurately on gyro. With the first run completed, the next lot of flags had to be charted out, and one can easily see what a frightful operation it all was. It was fine if there was a road along which you could dash in a vehicle to set up the next lane, but because of the terrain, it was a time-consuming and most laborious proces

Finally, a new method was adopted and this-was to mix the DDT with diesel oil, also fed under gravity and connected via extension pipes to the aircraft exhaust stacks. It still worked at 10 gallons per minute, the diesel line being ignited by the exhaust, with the whole lot coming out as a very dense white smoke which was easily visible, and the modus operandi was as follows:

Spraying pattern used by the Ansons

Airspeed had to be about 105 knots to obtain a proper spread and you were supposed to fly at an altitude of 50 feet in order to obtain a swathe width of about 70 yards. Nobody ever flew at 50 ft. Every pilot knows it is much easier to follow contours at about 20 ft! We would fly in a loose echelon formation, always on the downwind side to ensure the smoke was clear of the following aircraft, six aircraft in total, with 100 yds separation between them and at 70 yds spacing spanwise. The sixth aircraft was 200 yds behind the fifth in order to direct position or attitude. When a particular run or area had been covered, the lead aircraft, having come to the edge of the zone, would pull-up, do a turn-about and re-formate on the sixth aircraft who was still completing his previous run.

The chaps knew the zones perfectly. Nobody had to put any markers or beacons out, each area being named after some local topographical feature, or some such.

One shortcoming I would mention was that with the aerosol flowing under gravity. When descending you would get negative “g” and the flow would decrease, whilst the converse was true when pulling up with positive “g”. A decent balance could not be obtained. Some areas were under-sprayed, and some areas were over­ sprayed, and this was one of the factors which ultimately accelerated the introduction of the helicopter.

We had to do the spraying in the early morning, before the thermals arose, otherwise the smoke dissipated too quickly. On occasion we tried evening spraying, but this wasn’t too successful due to persistent thermals. We were thus confined to early mornings and the chaps became quite used to getting up in the dark and finishing their job by breakfast time. The heavy breeding areas were in steep, inaccessible, regions, which again contributed to the problem with fixed-wing aircraft.

The first phase was carried out in the M’kusi Reserve in the northern part of Zululand, and eight sprays were conducted between August and November, 1946, 12 Squadron being employed for this task. It was so successful that they decided to tackle the H’luhluwe and Umfolozi areas, which were very seriously affected, the Pongola area of south eastern Swaziland, and also at Golie!, east of Pongola. Later, in 1947, it was extended to Mtubatuba.

The success of these operations had to be gauged by some method, and the veterinary means of control was the so-called Harris trap designed by Captain Harris. When the operation started in M’kusi, there were hundreds of these traps, and the average take was about 40 to 50 flies per month per trap. After the eighth application in the reserve, the catch had dropped to 0.2 flies per trap.

By mid-1948 the same situation pertained in the Mtubatuba, H’luhluwe, L’mfolozi and Pongola areas, the flies being very difficult to catch, compared with the many thousands which had previously been netted in the Harris traps. So, the scientists introduced “bait cattle”, which were animals in beautiful condition, accompanied by a few natives, who had to follow along catching the flies. Everything had to be collected, and so in addition to the tsetse you got quite a mixture of things which settle on cattle. The tsetse catch was still higher than that being experienced in the Harris traps and everybody was disappointed

To deal with the inaccessible breeding regions it was agreed to acquire three Sikorsky S-5ls and their role in the nagana campaign is described in The S-51 in the South African Air Force (SAAF) above.

The application of DDT by aircraft in the Mkuzi Game Reserve in 1946
Source: The application of DDT by aircraft in the Mkuzi Game Reserve in 1946. Journal of the South African Veterinary Association, Vol 71, Issue 4, Dec


Buccaneer 422 – 13 October 1987 TOT 06:10

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The Story

This painting, commissioned by Alan Holloway, South African industrialist and former Head of EW Systems at Armscor, tells a story of a single 24 Squadron, SAAF mission flown on 13 October 1985 against the Angolan forces, in the area of Mavinga, where Jonas Savimbi, leader of UNITA, had his headquarters.  TOT 06:10. This mission was one of many flown by 24 Squadron during Ops Modular. The aircraft was Buccaneer 422, piloted by Major Giel van den Berg and his navigator, Captain Peter Kirkpatrick – see photograph below.  They were number three in a three-ship formation, attacking a FAPLA convoy from Cuito Cuanavale, on its way south between the Cuzizi and Cunzumbia rivers to replenish 59 Brigade.  

Maj. Giel vd Bergh (pilot) and Capt. Peter Kirkpatrick (nav)

This summary is based on a piece Peter wrote and sent to me as well as interviews I had with Riem Mouton, who was the Navigation Leader on this mission.  Piet van Schalkwyk, of Golden Eagle Artworks, as usual was the one who supported me technically and artistically.  As Piet had flown many operational sorties over Angola, while at 12 Squadron on Canberras, he also, along with Riem, gave me some valuable input on the terrain of where these missions took place.  Riem produced a 1-hour feedback video that convinced me that I had to start all over as my first attempt had too many technical inaccuracies, with specific focus on the intakes.  The painting was also too cluttered.  Input and photographs were also provided by Johan Conradie, the author of four books on the Buccaneer, where this and many other stories are told of the Buccaneer and 24 Squadron.  The reference photographs were sourced from the picture gallery of the 24 Squadron Facebook page.

The target area. The convoy was somewhere between the red pin and the point of the 59 Brig red arrow. The painting background is based on where the red pin is. Both the dawn nd dusk missions were aimed at this area.

The battlefield situation at the time, as told by Peter Kirkpatrick

The situation in Angola was changing rapidly and the SAAF was increasingly going up against an enemy that was acquiring much more sophisticated weapons such as the SA-8, SA-9, SA-13 SA-and SA-14. The Angolan airspace of 1987 was some of the most heavily defended airspaces in the world and the USSR had supplied the Angolans with air defense weaponry that had not been seen outside the USSR/East Bloc before then. The USSR had also provided FAPLA with the AA-7 air-to-air missile that had a head-on capability (that the SAAF only discovered in combat during Ops Modular). In addition, the USSR had provided FAPLA with dozens of long-range search radars that could be used to track the incoming SAAF aircraft and be used to direct the FAPLA Mig 23’s to engage the SAAF aircraft. This necessitated the SAAF aircraft to operate at low level to remain below the radar horizon of the enemy radars for as long as possible, due to the fact that FAPLA could provide radar coverage down to 7500’ (altitude) over Cuito Cuanavale from their radars at Menongue. In contrast, the SAAF only had two long range search radars available that could not provide air coverage below 10 500’ at Mavinga at the beginning of Ops Modular and 19 500’ at Cuito Cuanavale during Ops Hooper and Ops Packer. This effectively meant that the SAAF ground attack aircraft were operating without any form of external air surveillance systems while flying in the target areas.

Still Peter on the Buc’s capability

The problem of not being able to carry the Mk81 and Mk82 bombs was solved in early 1986, when Pikkie Siebrits and Giel van den Berg raised an Operations Urgent Requirement to retrofit the Buccaneer with bomb carriers for the MK81 and Mk82 bombs. Given the urgency of the requirement, the problem was solved very quickly and qualified even more rapidly. From raising the requirement to qualifying the design for operational use took less than six months, which was a record by any standards.

The SAAF engineers came up with a very elegant design for the bomb bay that allowed the aircraft to carry eight Mk81 or Mk82 bombs internally, which was a fantastic option. For the wing stations, they “borrowed” from the triple carrier bomb rack design that was used on the Mirage III’s and placed a triple bomb carrier on each wing station. Give the standard loading of 500kg per wing station, it was now possible to carry three Mk81’s or two Mk82’s per wing station. This gave a total carrying capability of twenty Mk81’s or 16 Mk 82’s per aircraft.

The Buc with 16 Mk 82 bombs. Source: 24 Sqn Facebook Image Gallery.

In reality the aircraft would have generally been fitted with one or two ACS (EW jamming pods) on the outer stations, which meant that either 10 or 12 Mk82’s or 14 Mk81’s would be carried, while carrying a full set of EW jamming pods and a full complement of chaff and flares. Considering that a stick of 10 Mk82’s (pre-fragmented with airburst) effectively covers an area of 250m by 1000m in a TOSS attack and that four aircraft cover an area of 1000m by 1000m, this became a formidable area weapon in the 1987/8 conflict. Giel and Pikkie deservedly won the Operational efficiency award for this amazing piece of engineering and effectively brought the aircraft back into contention as a front-line attack aircraft.

The 10-bomb and Bikini Pod configuration flown on the mission of 13 October 1987. Source: Golden Eagle Artworks.

On the EW system

From an EW perspective, most of the building blocks were available by end 1985 i.e. Active Counter Measure Systems (ACS) jamming pods, chaff, flare and Radar Warning Receivers (RWR). Nothing was however integrated, very little doctrine was defined and these individual sub-systems required considerable integration by the man in the loop i.e. the navigator. There was a lot of training and testing done in 1986 and early 1987 and by the time the major conflict started in September 1987, the operating doctrine was well defined for the EW systems and the Buccaneer crews were qualified to use these individual EW sub-systems as an integrated EW system, albeit with the navigator being the integrator. The ACS deception jamming system (Bikini Pod) was also modified in mid-1987 to specifically address the threat of the SA-8, the main threat mentioned in this story. The first time that the SAAF had ever utilised such a comprehensive EW package was during Ops Modular and it certainly paid off handsomely.

According to Riem, the Radar Warning System (RWS), under project Damsel, was also being installed on the aircraft. At the time of this mission, only Buccaneer 416 had this system installed and Riem put it to good use, as this is the aircraft that was allocated to him and Lappies Labuschagne, the OC of the squadron.  This system did not only show the type of threat on its screen but also provide a download functionality, which enabled them to analyse the data and to gain valuable information on where these threats were positioned.  Below is an extract of a summary Riem made after each mission.  The second column shows the threat type along with the time it showed on the RWS indicator.  This was the information that the Intelligence Officer was interested in.  However, the crews had the precise attack heading and when the threat came on air, the navigator, in this case Riem, wrote down where it came from based on clock position.  The fourth column identifies the unique threat ID based on the Pulse Repetition Interval (PRF).  The sixth column shows the azimuth, provided by Damsel in relation to the attack heading.  Through triangulation they could then plot the position of the threat exactly.  This was used to destroy the SAM 8 on 20 October, as described in the paragraph 20 October 1987 – SA-8 knock-out below.

Riem’s threat plotting sheet

Alan Holloway played a very important role in the development of all EW systems used on SAAF aircraft.  He was instrumental in acquiring the Bikini pod (ACS) and the upgrades associated with them. With reference to the RWS or Damsel system, Alan was hired from the SABC by Armscor to run Project Damsel.  Here he started as “Engineer-in-Training”, in his words “the lowest of the low” but rapidly climbed the seniority ladder in Armscor and in 9 years was 5 managements higher than when he started – a real achievement!  However, more importantly as this story and many others will attest to, his leadership, dedication, expertise and passion, saved many aircrew lives during that time.

The First operational sortie of the Buccaneer

Although the story is about the dawn mission on 13 October 1987, the first mission, as told by Peter, gives us an excellent introduction of the flight profile of the mission and cockpit atmosphere, during Ops Modular and the others that they partook in.

The squadron deployed to AFB Grootfontein on 8th September 1987, with four Buccaneers and full ground support crew. The general expectation was that we would be up in the bush for two weeks and be back at home by the end of September, how wrong we were!

The first strike scheduled for 15 September 1987 was cancelled and rescheduled for the next day. The airstrike was a combined strike on 47 Brigade on the Lomba river by nine Mirage F1AZ’s and four Buccaneers. Giel and I got airborne in Buccaneer 422 at 05:40 carrying 10 Mk 82’s and an ACS jamming pod, flying in number four position in the formation. The transition to the Mavinga area was done in the near dark conditions at 1000’ AGL and we descended to low level, sub 200’, near Mavinga as the daylight increased. The IP was a point near Mavinga, where we initiated the weapons system and accelerated to 540 knots towards the target area to the west. As can be expected we were both rather tense and nervous at this stage, relying heavily on training and “muscle memory” to get everything done prior to and during the attack. There was also a considerable amount of radio chatter coming from the ground on the Ops frequency and the RWR was getting very noisy as we started to pick up the various radars deployed with 47 Brigade. The SA-8’s acquisition radar made a very distinctive sound on the RWR audio and you realised that this was the real thing and not a training exercise, pushing up the pressure even further. The workload in the cockpit became really intense at this stage.

Flying in number four position gives you a unique perspective on the strike, due to the fact that you can actually see the other three aircraft in front of you, offset to the side and flying at 540kts at 100’ AGL and then watch as they sequentially pitch up half a second before your aircraft does. As done during EW training, we started releasing the chaff at low level about five seconds before the pitch point, went live on the weapons system and at the commanded pitch point the pilot started to pitch the aircraft at 4g, following the commanded signals in the HUD. As the weapons released at six seconds, you would feel the now familiar staggered thuds of 10 Mk 82’s coming off the aircraft and then Giel commenced the break off at 5g, to arrest the climb, turn hard left to get away from the target/threat area and then descend back to low-level as soon as possible. At the highest point of this break off manoeuvre I started the infra-red flares and confirmed that both the flares and chaff were still being dispensed and that the flares were being released from the other three aircraft in front of us. I was scanning the threat area to see if there were any missiles in the air and even sneaked a look at the RWR and was horrified to see that it was reporting masses of air-defence radars in the target area. Fortunately, there were no missile launches at the time and we seemed to have carried out the strike unopposed, this time. I also confirmed that the four sticks of bombs had impacted in the target area. We were back at low level within 30 seconds of the pitch-up and running out towards the south-east at 580kts.[1] Giel re-joined the formation, which had slowed down to 480kts once outside the threat area and we returned back to Grootfontein at 480kts, happy to be alive and unscathed. The whole strike phase of the attack was really a manic blur and the general feeling was that the workload during this phase was incredibly high, even for a two-man crew. Fortunately, this intensity would become more manageable over time as we became accustomed to the workload, but it would take quite a few sorties to get to this point, such is combat.

At the debrief all of the navigators reported seeing and hearing multiple SA-8’s on the RWR’s or RWS’s (some of the aircraft were fitted with the newer digital RWS systems) and reported this back as part of the mission debrief. When the 1 Squadron pilots heard this, they indicated that they had heard nothing, only to admit later that they had turned the audio warning of the RWS’s off, due to very high workload, and never looked at the RWS displays during the attack and break off phases. The RWS playback system was only brought to Grootfontein a week later and the F1AZ pilots were mortified to see that during each subsequent strike the F1AZ RWS’s would be reporting on average three to four SA-8’s on each strike! The workload on the single crew fighters was insanely high and it was really by God’s grace that they did not lose any aircraft during Ops Modular.

That night we all headed for the Officers pub and had a solid party, celebrating being alive. Little did we realise that we would still be there for another five months!

[1] The bomb bay door is left open during this break manoeuvre and closed after level-off on the run-out.

13 October 1987 – SA-8 lock-on

By October 1987 the conflict had turned into a full-blooded conventional war with tank battles ensuing in the bush. Most people do not realise that this was one of the major tank battles after World War 2. FAPLA lost in the order of 100 T54 Main Battle Tanks in this conflict. The Army was starting to push the brigades back to the north-west by this phase of the conflict. Together with 1 Squadron, 24 Squadron had been carrying out daily strikes against the FAPLA ground forces. We were always aware of the threat of the SA-8’s on the run-in to the target. The RWR’s provided the early warning and chaff was deployed from prior to the pitch until we had returned to low-level after the attack. We would deploy the flares at the apex of the release to deal with the infra-red missiles. This is where I learnt that a SA-7 and SA-9 love flares! Giel van der Berg and I were normally number three (in a three ship) or number four in the formation, which meant that we were always last off the target. It would always fascinate me to watch the multiple SA-7s that were launched from the target area, tracking our aircraft and then veering off to track the flares as soon as they were deployed. Thank the Lord that the flares always worked!

During this phase we were tasked to carry out a strike against a convoy that was re-supplying one of the retreating FAPLA brigades on the 13th October 1987. This must have been about our 10th combat sortie for this operation so we were over our initial nervousness of operating in such a hostile environment (not that we were ever calm during an attack!) and could better handle the prodigious workload of carrying out the attack. We were flying in Bucc 422 and were number three of a three-ship formation and as we commenced the pitch up to perform the weapons release, I became aware that the RWR was making a lot more noise than I was used to! By the time we had commenced the break off, I realised that the SA-8 had locked on to us, the RWR was screaming and the jamming pod was lit up like a Christmas tree! The SA-8 was locked onto us directly in our six o’clock and I screamed at Giel to break. Like an idiot, I omitted to tell him which way to break, which he immediately queried. My response was to tell him to break downwards to get back to low level to get the trees between us and the SA-8 radar’s line of sight. We were safely back at low level very quickly! Fortunately, between our attack profile, the chaff, the flares, RWR, jamming pod and some very hard manoeuvring we survived to fight another day.

Giel and I would normally chat on the way back (45-minute transit at low level) after a strike. On that day we did not say too much to each other until we landed. We had both realised how lucky we had been to survive the sortie and that all the training and EW systems had earned their keep in those ten seconds.

We subsequently found out that some kindly intelligence officer had mis-plotted the position of the SA-8 to the north by some 2 nm. This meant that we had virtually pitched over the SA-8, which explained why it had managed to acquire the aircraft so early in its profile. Needless to say, the intelligence officer was not very popular with Giel and me!

20 October 1987 – SA-8 knock-out

One week later, on the 20 October 1987, we had our opportunity to settle the score. We were tasked as part of a four-ship to go and destroy the SA-8, since it was located on top of a ridge and was becoming a serious threat to operations in the area. We were flying in Bucc 414 and used the same IP as the rest of the formation but separated from them on the run-in. We used the RWR to assist with the direction of the run-in and Giel confirmed it visually. We pitched, released our bombs and broke off back to low-level. As we reached low level, I watched the string of 10 Mk 82’s start to detonate (as air-burst) short of the ridge. The SA-8 was starting to go into acquisition, and I could clearly hear it getting louder on the RWR audio. The stick continued to the top of the ridge and then the audio disappeared, a sure sign that the SA-8 was not working anymore! The ground forces confirmed a few days later that the SA-8 had been destroyed.

SA-8 that was destroyed in the Ops Modular. It could not be confirmed as the same system that 822 destroyed on 20 October 1987.

Several of these SA-8’s were recovered by the SADF and they even managed to build one system up out of these recovered SA-8s. This system was still in use with the SAAF up to the early 2000’s. We actually flew to AFB Rundu to do an inspection of the SA-8’s and to “touch the beast” that plagued us in the bush. Take note of the “pre-frag” holes in the side of the vehicle. These vehicles were recovered by Cmdt Mossie Basson and his merry mad men in Angola. That is a story that he must tell in his own words because it is almost too crazy to be true!

Recovered SA-8 at AFB Rundu (Capt Dawid Kleynhans inspects)

As mentioned, a two-week deployment extended to five months, with many missions being flown by 24 Squadron.  Below is an extract of Riem Mouton’s logbook, showing the operational sorties in red.  Him and the then squadron OC, Cmdt. Lappies Labuschagne flew as a crew, starting with a photographic mission on 3 September 1987.  They led the first Buc mission on 16 September, did nine more missions before the dawn strike on 13 October 1987, followed by another one at dusk on the same target.  The last mission shown here on the 20th is where they destroyed the SA-8 that is described above.

A busy time – an extract of Riem’s logbook

Johan Conradie’s books on the Buccaneer and 24 Squadron pays tribute to this wonderful aircraft and the courageous crews that flew them.  Having said that, none of this would have been possible if it was not for the exceptional ground crew, engineers and other support and development people who were all responsible for keeping the aircraft flying. There were those that took an aircraft with a flat belly and converted it to include a bomb bay that could house 8 bombs (600 mod) with minimum drag added, giving it the capability to carry 20 Mk81 bombs.  There were those who converted bomb racks, developed new state of the art weaponry and EW equipment, that I am sure saved many aircraft and pilot lives.  Salute and a great thanks to them!


  • Riem Mouton. Nav Lead of the mission. Video and live feedback.
  • Peter Kirkpatrick. Navigator Buccaneer 422.
  • Giel van den Berg. Pilot Buccaneer 422.
  • Piet van Schalkwyk. Golden Eagle Artwork. Technical and artistic advisor.
  • Johan Conradie. Author of four books on the Buccaneer.

  • Watercolour on Saunders Waterford professional watercolour paper 640g cold press paper
  • Daniel Smith watercolour paint
  • 560mm x 760mm
  • Not available
  • Sold

While on the Easel

Spitfire 5518 Will Fly Again

Spitfire 5518
SAAF Museum Collection

If you would like to get involved or contribute to the project please contact the Project Director, Ian Grace at or myself.

All profits of print sales will go to the Spitfire Restoration Project of the Friends of the SAAF Museum, Pretoria.

The Story

As I am sitting here writing a summary of the life of Spitfire 5518, exactly 87 years ago on 5 March 1936 the first Spitfire flight took place. There have been very few aircraft flown since the Wright Brothers, Orval and Wilbur, did the first successful flight on December 17, 1903, that have stirred the emotions of both pilots and communities alike, than the British built fighter, the Spitfire.  The prototype Spitfire first flew in 1936 and 20 351 of the aircraft, in 24 marks, were manufactured with production ending in 1948. It is indeed one of the most beautiful aircraft ever produced and in addition to its use by Britain, the Spitfire served in the air forces of almost all the allied countries during the Second World War, including the Soviet Union and the US, as well as in the South African Air Force, the second oldest air force in the world.

So much has been written about the Spitfire and wonderful stories of its history have been published and shared that is readily available on-line and in print.  This is the story about a specific Spitfire, TE 213, the 5556th Mk IX built, that came off the Castle Bromwich production line in May 1945; at the very end of the Second World War. It was placed in storage and was selected for sale to the SAAF for £2,000 as part of a package deal. It was flown to Egypt on 18 July 1947, and along with 52 other Spitfires was flown across Africa as part of a batch delivery, escorted by PV-1 Venturas from 60 Squadron, SAAF.

TE 213 was a Spitfire Mk IXe, with a broad-chord rudder, a tear-drop canopy, ‘E’ type clipped wings, and powered by a Merlin 70 powerplant. It has two 20mm Hispano cannons and two 0.50 in (12.7 mm) Browning machine-guns in its wings, with provision for ‘zero-length’ rocket rails or 1,000 lb (454 kg) bombs underneath its wings.

On arrival in South Africa, it was allocated the SAAF number 5518 in August 1947.

Figure 1: Timeline of Spitfire 5518

5518’s Eventful Early Career – 1948 – 1954

Figure 2: Possibly 5518 when first at 1 SQN

Source: Proposed Colour Schemes for S/N 5518. Article written by Willie (Buskruit) Burger – Velddrif, 1st June 2016.

On arrival in South Africa, 5518 was sent to 1 Air Depot, Voortrekkerhoogte where it spent eight months and was then transferred via 15 AD to 1 Squadron at Waterkloof in December 1948. In June 1949, it was involved in a collision with another Spitfire, and was sent back to 1 Air Depot and 15 AD – Snake Valley for repairs. After which 5518 was transferred to 2 Squadron in January 1950, where it operated until April 1951. It was probably, during this period at 2 Squadron, that 5518 was repainted and received the DB-H identification, and the Type “D” roundel and fin flash as shown in Figure 3.

Figure 3: The only available photograph of 5518 when at 2 Squadron, Waterkloof

Source: SAAF Fighter Squadrons and the Spitfire Legacy – 1940 TO 1954 – and The History of Spitfire 5518. Article written by Willie (Buskruit) Burger – Velddrif, June 2018.

In September 1950, 5518 hit a drogue cable and sustained category 1 damage. It was returned to Snake Valley, where it remained until January 1951.  Once repaired and serviced it was transferred to Air Operations School at Langebaanweg, in April 1951.

At AOS Langebaanweg, 5518 was painted in the same colour scheme as the other (AOS) Spitfires, ie, Dark sea-grey uppers and Medium sea-grey underside. There the spinners were black, blue, yellow or red, depending on which flight they belonged to. It continued as a line aircraft at AOS Langebaanweg until June 1953 and was then sent to 15 AD at Snake Valley. 

Research done by Steven McLean in April 2018 on 5518 and its time at 2 Squadron, shows an extract of Lt Genl. Bob Rogers’s, former Chief of the SAAF, logbook where he flew 5518 on 26 January 1950 (See Figure 4).  He also flew the aircraft at Air Operations School, Langebaanweg, before he went to Korea.  I was very fortunate to serve at 2 Squadron when Lt, Genl. Rogers was the Chief of the SAAF.

Figure 4: Extract from Lt Genl. Bob Rogers SSA SM MMM DSO DFC & Bar (7 November 1921 – 3 June 2000) – Chief of the South African Air Force log book, dated 26 January 1950

Source: Research paper The Spitfire MK IX. Friends of the SAAF Museum, Spitfire Restoration Project. Willie (Buskruit) Burger, Col. Tony Smit, Brent Best, Don Sutton.

It was officially retired from service in April 1954 and then preserved in nonflying condition for some 35 years, mounted on a plinth at AFB Waterkloof. Here it was presented as 5518, W5851, and W5518 – see Figure 5.

Figure 5: 5518 in Front of the AFB Waterkloof Admin Building

Source: Restoring the Spitfire – World War II fighter plane. by Dave Evans, The Spitfire Restoration Project – Friends of the SAAF Museum.

Back – Not only in Spirit, but Flying Fit

Following the controversial and much regretted export of South Africa’s previous preserved flying Spitfire, ‘Evelyn’, 5518 was lifted off its plinth, completely stripped down to its basic frame and component parts and then evaluated. Based on the results of the evaluation, the parts were either restored and reused, or remanufactured. A Merlin engine was rebuilt in the USA and the airframe was restored at 1 Air Depot and completed at Atlas (later Denel Aviation) in Kempton Park, under the watchful eyes and valuable input of the very capable and professional SAAF Museum.  Much of the funding for the rebuild came from Reutech which is why the completed aircraft carried the name “Spirit of Reutech” when it took to the air again in 1995.

According to Colonel Tony Smit, former officer commanding of the SAAF Museum and Project Steering Committee member, “It was actually completed to better-than-original factory standard …”  

This restoration process was completed in 1995 and the first flight was conducted in October 1995, painted as 5553 / AX-K.

Figure 6: The Spirit if Reutech – 5518 Registered as 5553

Source: Flightline Weekly. 4 December 2019.

Since this first flight it entertained many aviation enthusiasts both in the air and on the ground until tragedy struck!  At the SAAF Museum Flying Day at Swartkop, Pretoria on 15 April 2000, she suffered an engine malfunction. The pilot, Lt-Col Neil Thomas (OC SAAF Museum), escaped with minor injuries during an emergency forced landing, but the aircraft sustained major damage as can be seen from the photographs shown below.

Figure 7: 5518 After the Crash on 15 April 2000

Source: SAAF Fighter Squadrons and the Spitfire Legacy – 1940 TO 1954 – and The History of Spitfire 5518. Article written by Willie (Buskruit) Burger – Velddrif, June 2018.

South Africa will have a Flying Spitfire Again

In November 2017 John Illsley attended an event at the SA Air Force Museum, after which he wrote an article in Pilots Post, Will South Africa have a Flying Spitfire Again?  It was an optimistic article and already communicated that the Friends of the SAAF Museum in association with the SAAF Museum, have been actively pursuing initiatives to get the restoration project off the ground since 2015 when the SAAF Museum Council decided that 5518 must be restored again.  Proof of this can be found in an article written by Rebecca Campbell on 25 January 2019, in Engineering News, titled, Flying Condition, where she reported on a crowd funding project started by the Friends of the SAAF Museum to solicit funds for the building of a hangar where the Spitfire will be renovated.  The all-silver Mk VIII at the Military Museum in Saxonwold, will therefore again have a “wingman” in the skies of South Africa.

In February 2023, the Spitfire Hangar Project, through their various initiatives managed to get enough money to do the roof of the hangar and it is expected that this building, at AFB Swartkop, will soon be able to accommodate all the various components of 5518 being stored in various locations on the air force base. The auctioning of this painting contributed to this initiative, helping to reach the R90 000 target in a very short time due to the active participation of the friends and Felix Gosher’s incredible ability to motivate people to open their purses and Ian Grace’s able leadership as Project Director.

The current workshop holds the fuselage, the empennage (comprising the total tail section) and various key components such as the fuel tanks, undercarriage oleo legs, instruments, and so on. The wings are stored in a second location, and the engine – a Rolls-Royce Merlin Mark 66 – in a third location.

However, work has not stopped as the canopy, not at the museum, has nearly been totally restored, with the help of Associated Chemical Enterprises (ACE) and its subsidiary Oceanautics Acrylic Factory. Only the side windows of the front windscreen still need to be restored which will be done in Cape Town.

Rebecca, in her article gives and excellent account of what is to be done and how.  Here are some interesting facts and highlights that indicate the extent of the task ahead and at todays Rand/British Pound exchange rate, what the funding challenges are.

  • The restoration project will be headed by aeronautical engineer Robert Cathro, a structural engineer. He will bring a technical team consisting of designers, draughtsmen, process planners and inspectors together to execute the project.
  • There are already 2600 drawing available that were made available by several donors, however, these drawings represent less than 50% of the drawings needed to carry out the rebuilding. Material processing instructions are however in short supply, and they are essential to form the material correctly, maintain the appropriate tolerances, perform the right steps in assembly and to perform the correct inspections.
  • The project has benefited from other donations in kind, including some machinery, tools, and original Spitfire components, but not nearly enough to accomplish this mammoth task.  Here are some of the main requirements:
    • Specialised jigs, which will have to be acquired for the restoration of the fuselage and wings. These could be bought from a British company that restores Spitfires, who will containerise the jigs and send them to SA.  The Project has received offers from two local aeronautical engineers to manufacture these jigs. Work on these jigs will commence once the new restoration hangar and workshop has been completed. Reverse engineering of the Spitfire at Ditsong National Museum of Military History (formerly the South African National Museum of Military History), in Johannesburg is also an option, which, if possible, will have additional local spin-offs for the aviation industry.
    • New copies of key parts of the airframe are also required, which can be sourced from at least three companies around the world (two of them in the UK) that manufacture Spitfire parts to support the global fleet of preserved aircraft.
    • Fuselage frames 5, 10, 19, all need to be replaced as they have been damaged beyond repair. 
    • The four fuselage longerons will also have to be replaced.
  • The restoration will be undertaken as sets of work packages of which two have already been identified:
    • The first work package is focused on the aircraft’s empennage (or tail unit, as original manufacturer Supermarine called it) and Solenta Aviation is looking at the possibility of restoring it, as its contribution to the project.
    • The oleo undercarriage legs will form a second work package and a local aviation hydraulics servicing company has expressed interest in restoring the oleo legs.
  • The project also focuses on skills transfer and teaching young people about the earlier methods of aeroplane design and construction. Here they are working with universities and with Aerosud, a local aerostructures manufacturing company, who has supported the SAAF Museum on numerous other restoration projects in the past.

The above shows that it will not be an easy road to get 5518 airborne again. Yet, South Africans have shown that if they put their mind to it, the job will always get done.  The Spitfire Restoration Project, through all its various initiatives, will contribute by creating awareness not only of the project, but of the SAAF Museum and its other projects as well.  This will increase the number of “Friends” and surely also the outside support required to ensure that the technical and financial support required to make this happen is realised.

The Painting – Choosing the right colours

One of the greatest challenges renovators of historic aircraft have, is to ensure authenticity.  They endeavour to get or refurbish original components and when not available, machine the components based on the original specification.  If all else fails, then only will another replacement component be used.  An easier challenge is normally the paint scheme as the drawings will show and specify the exact hues that are to be used for a specific aircraft of a specific era. In the case of 5518 I was asked to do the painting in its 2 Squadron colours and to use Brent Bests drawings done in 2018 as reference along with Willie Burger’s two articles as guidelines.  Prior to its accident, 5518 was painted in the 1 Squadron colour scheme, which is well-documented based on numerous reference photographs of the era.

Before its previous renovation, the SAAF Museum at Swartkop formed a thinktank to finalise the colour scheme, with Willie Burger, Don Sutton, Steven McLean, Brent Best and some others being part of the team.  Willie summarised their findings in an article, Proposed Colour Schemes for S/N 5518 in 2016, and this was updated again in another article he wrote, SAAF Fighter Squadrons and the Spitfire Legacy – 1940 TO 1954 – and The History of Spitfire 5518 in 2018.

I was also given some other reference drawings done by Piet van Schalkwyk as I needed a plan view as well to see how the camo patterns flow across the aircraft.  I also needed the colour codes and here I believe that Piet van Schalkwyk of Golden Eagle Artwork, is the most informed person on colour schemes on SAAF and other aircraft in the country, so I asked him if he could provide those so that I can start painting.  I received the colour codes, plan view and right-hand side view, done by Piet.  The colour codes are based on the Federal Standards and are:

  • Dark Green – Above: FS 34079 | RGB 86/86/75 | Hex #56564B
  • RAF Ocean Grey – Above: FS None | RGB 86/104/114 | Hex #566872
  • Medium Sea Grey – Below: FS 16473 | RGB 157/159/158 | Hex #9D9F9E

Figure 8: The Colour “Pack”

Figure 8, shows Brent’s scheme at the left top and Piet’s plan and right-hand views.

With this full set of “drawings”, I started painting.  I started with the dark green areas as shown on Brent’s schematic.  Fortunately, it was only one layer and I realised that the right-hand side and left-hand side patterns did not match.  What is shown as dark green on the left-hand side should be RAF Ocean Grey according to Piet’s drawing.  Now who is right?  I contacted Ian Grace the Project Director as he asked me to do the 2 Squadron colour scheme, and more importantly, the whole renovation was going to be done using this scheme.  He referred me to Don Sutton, who was part of the thinktank and there the conversation about what the right paint scheme for 2 Squadron was, started again.  Fortunately, Don and Piet are both detail oriented, mature in their approach, and are serious to have the aircraft represented in the correct colour scheme.

The root cause of the confusion is that there is only one picture of 5518 in 2 Squadron colours available and it is of very poor quality as reflected in Figure 3.  Piet used technology to enhance contrasts in the photo and created two more views until all of us were satisfied that with all the earlier work that went into the colour definition and what was done between the three of us during the current process, a final view can now be presented, which was approved.  This is shown in Figure 9 and this is what I used to do the painting.

Figure 9: Final Left-hand view of 5518 as created by Piet van Schalkwyk of Golden Eagle Artwork

This painting did not only give me great satisfaction to do but also resulted in a usable product, the final colour definition, to be used for the renovation of 5518.


  • Watercolour on Saunders Waterford professional watercolour paper 640g cold press paper
  • Daniel Smith watercolour paint
  • 560mm x 760mm
  • Prints are available – Profit will be paid to SAAF Museum Spitfire 5518 Restoration Project
  • Donated to the Friends of the SAAF Museum Spitfire 5518 Restoration Project

While on the Easel

FOX1! Cheetah C, 2 Squadron, SAAF

The Story

This painting of a 2 Squadron, South African Air Force, Cheetah C, in a combat profile, firing and dodging missiles, is a commission from Alan Holloway, a retired South African industrialist.  Alan, an engineer who majored in Physics, Electronics and Heavy Current, played a major role in the development of Electronics Warfare systems during his time at ARMSCOR, and in industry after his tenure there.  I have known Alan since the early 80’s when he was Manager Electronic Warfare at ARMSCOR, and I was the project officer for the first Cheetah project, Brahman.  Alan’s words to me were “Rynier I don’t want a replica of a photograph – I want to see some action.  If possible, I would also like to see some of the EW equipment that I and my company were involved with in developing, that were part of the Cheetah C’s EW suite”. 

It was a commission that excited me, but very soon I realised that this would be a team effort.  Off I went and did some research and searched the archives for reference photographs, but I could not find something suitable.  The photographs were excellent, but none were aggressive enough.  For what I had in mind, I needed a frontal view that showed most of the antennas, and the aircraft needed to be in a combat situation.  I contacted Kobus Toerien, a former OC of 2 squadron and Daan Conradie a former Cheetah pilot, during my time and afterwards on Cheetah C’s, who is an exceptional photographer and who’s photograph I used for the first Cheetah E I painted.  I also contacted Chisto Crous a SAAF Air photographer who has a very large archive of SAAF aircraft.  They all sent photographs and Christo gave me access to his extensive library.  However, with all of this wonderful support, there was no frontal view that would do the trick.

I then went through a selection of Daan’s photos that showed all of the Cheetahs on the flightline at Louis Trichardt on the day of the aircraft’s decommissioning.  I wanted to see if I could use one of them and create a flying Cheetah using Photoshop.  I initially selected one which showed less of the nose and Alan asked me to show a longer nose.  The next photograph did the job, and the result can be seen in the two photos below.

I then created a combat scenario on Photoshop and presented it to Alan for approval. This was the result. The first attempt he did not like as he wanted the nose to be more prominent and I then did the second one.  Daan also helped with the definition of the scenario and the flares were his idea and Piet van Schalkwyk convinced me to do some more work on the flares so that they are more realistic and do not become the primary focus of the painting.  Real friends, excellent teamwork, and mutual support! This is what I can remember the SAAF was all about!

The painting progressed, did a mid-project feedback, and had some more good input from Alan, whereafter I completed the painting – what a wonderful creative journey it was. Now something about the aircraft.

Cheetah C

The Cheetah C was the ultimate development of the Cheetah series and was the only fighter aircraft, after the decommissioning of the F1, in service with the SAAF until replaced by the Saab JAS 39 Gripen in 2008.  The Cheetah C was allocated to 2 Squadron, stationed at Air Force Base Louis Trichardt, now Makhado, the same squadron that prepared the Operation Requirement in 1981.  It was also this squadron, the Flying Cheetahs, that suggested the name “Cheetah” to be allocated to the aircraft during that time.  In the crew room pilots all were very excited with the idea that the Flying Cheetahs would fly an aircraft called the Cheetah – at that stage a decision had not been made that 5 Squadron would have the privilege of being equipped with the Cheetahs first.

A lot has been written on the Cheetah since the early 1980’s so here is a short summary taken from Wikipedia, with some other references below.  Winston Brent, wrote a wonderful book on the Cheetah, CHEETAH – Guardians of the Nation, where everything worthwhile on the aircraft is covered, plus many beautiful and interesting photos and illustrations.

The Cheetah upgrade consisted of a complete refurbishment of the airframe down to zero flight hours condition. To achieve this, the wings and other parts of the original airframe had to be replaced. Aerodynamic changes included the installation of non-moving canards just aft of the engine intakes, The Cheetah D and E models were fitted with slightly smaller (70%) canards than that of the Cheetah C.  Other airframe alterations included two additional stores pylons at the wing roots, an aerial refuelling probe, new ejection seats, a new main wing spar along with a new “drooping” leading edge and a dog-tooth incision on each wing, modern elevons controlled by a twin computer-based flight control system, and strakes on the nose to improve the Cheetah’s high-angle of attack (AoA) performance.  The Cheetah could carry three times as much ordinance (in terms of weight) than the Mirage III, while possessing superior agility.

In terms of its electronics and systems, the Cheetah was provisioned with new avionics, radar set, electronic warfare (EW) and self-protection suites.  As many of these were accommodated within the nose, this necessitated its lengthening to provide more internal space. The EW suite incorporated a missile approach warning system and radar warning receivers, while the aircraft’s self-protection system, consisted of electronic jammers and chaff/flare dispensers that were automatically activated. An indigenously developed helmet-mounted sight (HMS) and an oversized head-up display (HUD) were also installed in the cockpit, along with other sophisticated cockpit instrumentation.  The upgrade involved the fitting of a new and capable Pulse-Doppler radar system. While both the Cheetah D and the Cheetah E were still equipped with the SNECMA Atar 9C turbojet engine, the Cheetah C used the more powerful Atar 9K50.

The Cheetah C incorporated more sophisticated avionics and navigation suite and an improved pulse-doppler multi-mode radar (ELTA). The aircraft was also fitted with a data link and updated versions of the helmet-mounted sight, HUD and improved HOTAS controls.

Other improvements on the Cheetah C included the fitting of a single-piece wrap-around windshield in place of the previous three-piece version, a revised in-flight refuelling probe with less external piping, new undercarriage and suspension, the deletion of the wing fences, an Atar 9K50 engine and a new nose to incorporate the more sophisticated electronics and radar. Like the Cheetah D, the Cheetah C could deliver precision-guided munitions (PGMs), ranging from laser-guided bombs (LGBs) to GPS-guided weapons and TV-guided bombs. It also had the capability of using stand-off air-to-ground weapons such as the MUPSOW and TORGOS. In addition, it was able to carry a wide range of air-to-air weapons including the V4 R-Darter radar-guided missile and the A-Darter infrared (IR)-guided missile.

The Cheetah series was retired from frontline service on 2 April 2008 when it was replaced by the Swedish SAAB JAS J39 Gripen.  Some Cheetah airframes saw an extended service life when they were purchased by the Chilian and Ecuadorian air forces.  Ecuador purchased 10 Cheetah C models and 2 Cheetah D models that were delivered in 2011.  Chile purchased Cheetah E models.  In December 2017 Draken, a company that supplies “adversary services” to air forces, purchased 12 Cheetahs, 9 C models and 2 D models. 

The final goodbye – 2 April 2008

Photos by Daan Conradie


Compiled and supplied by Daan Conradie

The Many Faces of The Cheetah – 22 Years of Style

All images displayed here were created and supplied by Piet van Schalkwyk, Golden Eagle Artwork


  • Watercolour on Saunders Waterford professional watercolour paper 640g cold press paper
  • Daniel Smith watercolour paint
  • 560mm x 760mm
  • Not available
  • SOLD

While on the Easel

CH-147F Chinook: Manoeuvres in the Canadian Rockies

The Story

The inspiration for this painting came when Gord Roberts, a retired SAAF helicopter pilot, now living in Canada, sent me some beautiful photographs he took of the Rockies in Canada – thanks Gord!!  This shot of the mountain range is between Banff and Canmore (Alberta) as viewed from the highway, which runs coast to coast across Canada.  As a landscape it would have made a wonderful watercolour challenge, but as an aspiring aviation artist, I decided to include an aircraft, with the mountain range as a backdrop – a two-in-one challenge.  I thought that a Canadian Air Force (CAF) CF-18 Hornet would be just the aircraft to include, but then Gord is a chopper pilot and I searched for some CAF choppers and decided on the CH-147F Chinook and decided that aircraft 304 of 450 Tactical Helicopter Squadron in Petawawa, Ontario, is on a tactical exercise in the Rockies at the time that Gord took the photograph.  The source photo originated from the Canadian Forces Website from which I did the outline drawing.

The Chinook is slightly larger than the Alouette III helicopter in which Gord took his last flight with Carl Alberts in Durban, South Africa in 1992.  He did however also fly the largest helicopter in the SAAF’s inventory the Super Frelon, which has one engine more that the Chinook.  Herewith some comparison between the two – this is a tongue in cheek comparison so don’t take it too seriously – figures should however be correct if the sources are correct:

 Alouette Light utility helicopter / gunship (SAAF)Chinook CH-147F Advanced, multi-mission helicopter
ManufacturerSud AviationBoeing Vertol
Powerplant1 x 570 shp Turbomeca Artouste IIIB turboshaft2 Honeywell 55-GA-714A engines, 3,529 kilowatts (4,733 shp)
Length10.03 m15.9 m, 30.18 metres (rotor tip to rotor tip)
Wingspan11.02 m18.28 m
Height3 m5.77 m
Empty Weight1 108 kg12,925 kg
Max Gross Weight2 200 kg24,494 kg
Max Sling PayloadExternal sling for loads up to 750kg or a rescue hoist which can lift 175kg.12,700 kg
Max Speed210 kph315 kph
Range540 km1,200 km
Seats2+54+33 fully equipped troops
Service1962 – 2007 (SAAF)1974 – 1991 CH-147 C/D June 2013 – CH-147F – Current
First Flight28 February 195921 September 1961

Herewith a summary of the CH-147F Chinook procurement project followed by some interesting facts of the aircraft and its environment taken from an article titled, Not Your Grandfathers’ Chinook by Ken Pole and published on May 23, 2014 in SKIES.

Project Summary

The Government of Canada acquired 15 CH-147F Chinook aircraft. The total estimated cost in 2009 for the project was $5 billion, with $2.3 billion for project acquisition costs, and $2.7 billion for the 20-year in-service support program.

The primary mission of the CH-147F Chinook is the tactical transport of equipment and personnel during domestic or deployed operations. The new Chinooks have been modified to operate with maximum effectiveness in Canada and on Canadian operations, including an increased internal fuel capacity that allows it to fly twice as far as previous models. With this new fleet, the Canadian Armed Forces increase their ability to deploy rapidly, and to perform complex operations both at home and abroad.

The Canadian version of the model-F Chinook is recognized by allies as the most advanced version available, due in part to specific technology developed as a component of this project. Several countries have signalled their interest in purchasing Canada’s Chinook configuration. Canada will receive royalties from Boeing for every aircraft sold to international customers following the technology developed as part of this project.

Project Timeline

Not Your Grandfathers’ Chinook

15 CH-147F models are in service with 450 Tactical Helicopter Squadron in Petawawa, Ont.

A 20-year in-service support contract was signed with Boeing, as part of this $6.7-billion investment by the Department of National Defence (DND).  This is one of the first fleets under the in-service support contracting framework with Boeing the support provider, being responsible for providing parts as a service, which requires a different mindset than the traditional maintenance concepts followed by the air force.

At the time of entering service, the CH-147F was the most advanced international Chinook in the world. It offers not only better reliability and longer-range capabilities, but also a significantly improved electrical system with a Canada-specific wiring harness that’s much easier to diagnose and repair, as well as enhanced defensive and other systems.

Their mission is troop assaults; transport of artillery, troops, ammunition, fuel and supplies within military theatres of operation; and, inevitably, supporting humanitarian aid missions. 

In opting for the latest Chinooks, Canada had to take into account that it is a demographically-small country with a small air force and a huge land mass. That necessitated some fundamental modifications to what was supposed to be an off-the-shelf aircraft. For example, bigger fuel tanks doubled the big helicopter’s range over a standard CH-47F model—to as much as 1,200 kilometres. 

According to Stephen Parker, Boeing’s vice president of cargo helicopters and H-47 program manager, over one million non-recurring engineering hours were required for Boeing to design, develop and test Canada’s CH-147F.

With a crew of four, Chinooks can transport 32 seated troops or 24 casualty litters. They can also carry cargo pallets or externally slung loads with ease. Moreover, the ability to adjust lift in either rotor makes the Chinook less sensitive to shifts in a slung load’s centre-of-gravity, and the transmission linkage is such that if one Honeywell T55-GA-714A engine— fitted with full authority digital engine control (FADEC) and putting out 4,733 shaft horsepower (3,529 kilowatts)—fails, the other can power both of its counter-rotating rotors. 

When compared to the classic F model Chinook, the CH-147F has a new machined airframe to accommodate the large long-range fuel tanks, a new electrical system designed to be more easily diagnosed and maintained, and a new aircraft power unit.

The “steam-driven” analog panels of earlier models have been replaced by a Rockwell Collins digital cockpit fitted with a common avionics architecture system with improved electrical, avionics and communication systems. There are five multi-function displays, a moving map display, a digital modem, a BAE Systems digital advanced flight control system, and a data transfer system for pre-flight and mission data.

A chin-mounted turret houses an electro-optical system based on L3 Wescam’s MX-15 high-definition system, enabling flight in low illumination scenarios. Through data fusion, the L3 Wescam hardware produces a high-definition blend of thermal and image-intensification into one display. Any of the customizable Rockwell Collins displays can be used to display thermal images, which can then be overlaid with a tactical display. 

Integrated with the cockpit, crew protection is enhanced by a state-of-the-art electronic warfare suite comparable with what’s on the RCAF’s four CC-177 Globemasters and fleet of Lockheed Martin CC-130J Hercules aircraft. When the Northrop-Grumman AN/AAQ-24 Nemesis directional infrared countermeasures turret detects a missile launch, it determines whether it’s a threat, warns the aircrew, and activates countermeasures to track and defeat the threat.

The South African Connection

After the first post on Facebook of this painting, Kobus de Villiers, aeronautical engineer and author of many books on his time on special projects in South Africa, posted the following:

“Interessant dat jy data van die Chinook op jou webblad geplaas het en ‘n ex-SALM chopper vlieenier nou in Kanada woon. Suid-Afrikaners is deesdae ooral in die wereld en werk aan nuwe goed. Tussen 2008 en 2010 het ek vir Avcorp Aerostructures gewerk. Die CEO was ‘n oud Krygkor man en daar was 12 van ons Suid-Afrikaners wat vir die plek gewerk het. Ons het die kontrak gewen vir die Nuwe CH-47 se neus en kajuit struktuur en die grootste gedeelte van die saamgestelde materiaal (Composites) onderdele. Foto is van die funksie waar die eerste nuwe CH-47 vir Kanada in diens geneem was. Jou skildery het nou nog meer waarde!”

Loosely translated.  “South Africans are now spread all over the world and are busy working on new things.  Between 2008 and 2010. I worked for Avcorp Aerostructures.  The CEO was an old Armscor person and there were 12 other South Africans working for the company at the time.  They won the contract for the New CH-47 nose and cockpit structure and most of the composite materials parts.  The photo is the unveiling of the first CH-47 for Canada.”


  • Watercolour on Arches 640g cold press paper
  • Daniel Smith watercolour paint
  • 560mm x 760mm
  • Prints are available on watercolour paper or canvas at various sizes – Max 250 are available. Price based on option selected
  • R17 500

While on the Easel

Short Sunderland Mk V SAAF

The Story

Each of our four grandchildren now have a painting from Oupa Ryn.  If there is not another pandemic or long-term lockdown, the chances are slim that we will be blessed with another four grandchildren in the spate of less than a year.  If so, then the painting process will start again. 

Keeping with the heritage link, I had to do some homework for Louis, Anneke, my eldest daughter and her Irish husband, Cormac’s son.  My granny was a Brody and according to Google that is Scottish, so I could not follow that route.  I then searched for Irish aircraft manufacturers to see if I could find an aircraft that is Irish that I could paint, and low and behold Wikipedia had the answer:

“Short Brothers plc, usually referred to as Shorts or Short, is an aerospace company based in BelfastNorthern Ireland. Shorts was founded in 1908 in London, and was the first company in the world to make production aeroplanes.[1] It was particularly notable for its flying boat designs manufactured into the 1950s.” 

One of their aircraft is the Short Sunderland of which the Mk5 flew actively in 35 Squadron, SAAF from April 1945 till its last flight on 8 November 1957.

I then started the painting and after finishing it, researching for this summary, I read the above paragraph again and saw the “founded in London” part of the sentence.  “In 1943, Shorts was nationalised and later denationalised, and in 1948 moved from its main base at Rochester, Kent to Belfast.” The first S.25, named the Sunderland Mark I, flew from the River Medway on 16 October 1937 with Shorts’ Chief Test PilotJohn Lankester Parker at the controls.  It was therefore a British aircraft and not an Irish one – must still break this news to my son-in-law, who is from Belfast.  Some, however, were manufactured in Belfast.

The Wikipedia link above describes the wonderful history of this classic aircraft and I would suggest that you read that if you would like the whole story.  Following is what I found interesting and would like to share, sourced from Wikipedia and some other sources.

About the Aircraft – Variants

Sunderland Mk I

The aircraft took its service name from the town and port of Sunderland in North East England.

The RAF received its first Sunderland Mark I in June 1938 when the second production aircraft (L2159) was flown to 230 Squadron at RAF SeletarSingapore. By the outbreak of war in Europe, in September 1939, RAF Coastal Command was operating 40 Sunderlands.

The Sunderland had difficulty in landing and taking off from rough water, but, other than in the open sea, it could be handled onto and off a short chop, by a skilled pilot.  Steep ocean swells were never attempted; however, a calm ocean could be suitable for landing and take-off. 

Many rescues were made by Sunderlands, early in the war, of crews that were in the Channel having abandoned or ditched their aircraft or abandoned their ship. During May 1941, during the Battle of Crete, Sunderlands transported as many as 82 armed men from place to place in one load.

A total of 75 Sunderland Mark Is were built: 60 at Shorts’ factories at Rochester and BelfastNorthern Ireland, and 15 by Blackburn Aircraft at Dumbarton.[23]

Sunderland Mk II

In August 1941, production moved on to the Sunderland Mark II which used Pegasus XVIII engines with two-speed superchargers, producing 1,065 hp (794 kW) each.[23]

The tail turret was changed to an FN.4A turret that retained the four .303 guns of its predecessor but provided twice the ammunition capacity with 1,000 rounds per gun. Late production Mark IIs also had an FN.7 dorsal turret, mounted offset to the right just behind the wings and fitted with twin .303 machine guns. The handheld guns behind the wing were removed in these versions.[23]

Only 43 Mark IIs were built, five of these by Blackburn.

Sunderland Mk III

Production quickly changed in December 1941 to the Sunderland Mark III,[36] which featured a revised hull configuration.  This modification improved seaworthiness, which had suffered as the weight of the Sunderland increased with new marks and field changes.[37]  In earlier Sunderlands, the hull “step” that allows a flying boat to “unstick” from the surface of the sea was an abrupt one, but in the Mk III it was a curve upwards from the forward hull line.

The Mark III turned out to be the definitive Sunderland variant, with 461 built. The Sunderland Mark III proved to be one of the RAF Coastal Command’s major weapons against the U-boats, along with the Consolidated Catalina.

As the U-boats began to use Metox passive receivers the ASV Mk II radar gave away the presence of aircraft and the number of sightings diminished drastically. The RAF response was to upgrade to the ASV Mk III, which operated in the 50 cm band, with antennas that could be paired into fewer more streamlined blisters.

As radar detection became more effective there were more night patrols to catch U-boats on the surface charging their batteries. Attacking in the dark was a problem that was solved by carrying one inch (25.4 mm), electrically initiated flares and dropping them out of the rear chute of the aircraft as it got close to the surface vessel. Like some other Coastal Command patrol bombers, Sunderlands were never fitted with Leigh lights.

Sunderland Mk IV

The Sunderland Mark IV was an outgrowth of the 1942 Air Ministry Specification R.8/42, for a generally improved Sunderland with more powerful Bristol Hercules engines, better defensive armament and other enhancements. The new Sunderland was intended for service in the Pacific. Although initially developed and two prototypes built as the “Sunderland Mark IV” it was different enough from the Sunderland line to be given a different name, the S.45 “Seaford”.[25]

Relative to the Mark III, the Mark IV had a stronger wing, larger tailplanes and a longer fuselage with some changes in hull form for better performance in the water. The armament was heavier with .50-inch (12.7 mm) machine guns and a 20 mm Hispano cannon.

Sunderland Mk V

The Sunderland Mark V, evolved out of crew concerns over the lack of power of the Pegasus engines. The weight creep (partly due to the addition of radar) that afflicted the Sunderland had resulted in running the Pegasus engines at combat power as a normal procedure and the overburdened engines had to be replaced regularly.

Australian Sunderland crews suggested that the Pegasus engines be replaced by Pratt & Whitney R-1830 Twin Wasp engines.[7]   Two Mark IIIs were taken off the production lines in early 1944 and fitted with the American engines. Trials were conducted in early 1944 and the conversion proved all that was expected.

The new engines with new Hamilton Hydromatic constant-speed fully feathering propellers provided greater performance with no real penalty in range. In particular, a Twin Wasp Sunderland could stay airborne if two engines were knocked out on the same wing while, in similar circumstances, a standard Mark III would steadily lose altitude.

A total of 155 Sunderland Mark Vs were built with another 33 Mark IIIs converted to Mark V specification. With the end of the war, large contracts for the Sunderland were cancelled and the last of these flying boats was delivered in June 1946, with a total production of 777 aircraft completed.

Sixteen of them were delivered to the SAAF, with the first three arriving in April 1945.

Sunderland MK V in the SAAF

262 Squadron RAF used Catalina Bay at the southern end of Lake St Lucia as a forward operational base in 1943 and 1944, flying Catalina flying boats.  These were gradually replaced by Short Sunderland Mark 5 flying boats.  Drawing over five foot of water, St Lucia was too shallow for the Sunderlands and the squadron was forced to look for an alternative landing site with deeper water.

They chose Lake Umsingazi at Richards Bay and the squadron relocated in November 1944. In 1945, the squadron was transferred to the SAAF as most of the squadron members were South African and 35 Squadron SAAF, with the Zulu motto Shiya Amanzi (We Rise From The Water) and later changed to Shaya Amanzi (We Strike The Water), came into being on 2 February 1945. The squadron base was at Congella in Durban and the aircraft landed in the harbour.  However, they were forbidden to land there at night, due to various after dark hazards and therefore used Lake Umsingazi as an after-dark base.

Due to the increasing amount of shipping around Durban, which restricted flying boat movements, detachments were sent to Langebaan and St Lucia. Langebaan was used by combined RAF and SAAF crews as an operational base for forays against U-boats. St Lucia became the Indian Ocean operational base.

From Lake Umsingazi, Sunderlands regularly flew 18-hour patrols, tracking hostile vessels both above and below the water. The main tasks of this newly formed maritime squadron were anti-submarine patrols, coastal reconnaissance, and acting as convoy escorts.

When the war ended, five Sunderlands from Lake Umsingazi were used to ferry repatriated troops back to the Union. Three flights a week were made to Fayid until the task had been completed. They transported 1786 troops and 655 tons of equipment.

In April 1952, three RAF Shackleton MR2s, from 42 Squadron, had visited South Africa. As a result of this visit a decision was taken to purchase eight AV Roe (Avro) Shackleton MR3s to re-equip the squadron.  The last Sunderland flight was on 8 November 1957.


  • Wikipedia on Short Brothers
  • Wikipedia on Flying Boats
  • Wikipedia – Short Sunderland
  • The Sunderlands of Lake Umsingazi, by Jeff Gaisford
  • 35 Squadron, SAAF by Global Security
  • Military Flying Boats in Durban, Main Flying Boat Page, Allan Jackson – 3 March 2004
  • Lebbeus Laybutt’s Photo Album, Main Flying Boat Page, Allan Jackson – 29 May 2006

This painting is watercolour on canvas, A3 and as reference photo I used a black and white photograph, which was a copy from a postcard, of a Sunderland taking off from the Durban harbour.  I however changed it to represent a take-off from any lake where they landed during their period of operation in the SAAF.

  • Watercolour on canvas prepared with Schminke watercolour ground
  • Daniel Smith watercolour paint
  • A3
  • Not available
  • SOLD

While on the Easel

Donatella Ricci’s World Record in Gyroplane Magni M16

The Story

As “Oupa Ryn”, I painted for each of our four grandchildren an aircraft, using watercolour on canvas.  Three of them are boys, and one girl.  The first painting was for Ruan, which became two paintings.  His mother, Izaan, my youngest daughter, ordered “vintage” planes and Ruan got a Spitfire and a Fokker triplane, soon after his birth, which also pleased his dad Roelof greatly.  The second, or in this case the third one painted was for Matteo, Lida, Dainty’s daughter’s son, who is the oldest of the four, got one of the Silver Falcons flying the Impala or Macchi MB326 M, an Italian aircraft.  This choice was made by me, as Matteo’s father Stefano, is Italian, and I wanted to create a “heritage” link.  Now the fourth painting is for our granddaughter Alma, the daughter of my son Ryno and his Italian wife Alice.  Again, I decided to use heritage as a link, but another Impala would not have been the answer as a subtle “non-military” message was conveyed through the grapevine.  I then did some research on Italian women in aviation and was surprised of how many wonderful role models were and are there that may inspire Alma to greater things; passion for what she wants to do in her life; and, a joy of life, once she understands the message contained in the painting. 

I decided on Donatella Ricci who is described as:

“Scientist by education, pilot and flight instructor for passion, author and keynote speaker. Donatella Ricci is a professional in the aeronautical industry.”

Donatella, according to photographs I have seen, as I haven’t met her in person, is a small woman, who with a small aircraft, standard Gyroplane Magni M16, broke nine World Records in a single flight – what an achievement!!! 

The photograph which I used for the painting, is on the cover page of her book World Record for a Gyroplane: 27,556 feet above the ground, which is available on Amazon.  The photo was taken by Michelle Lucia and Erich Kustatscher.  It is a striking little aircraft, painted for effect.  Her Magni gyroplane is dressed up with celebratory liverage by renowned aircraft designer,  Mirco Pecorari.

Donatella was born and grew up in Rome, Italy and qualified as an astrophysicist at La Sapienza University. She did her PhD on black holes at La Sapienza and was awarded an internship at NASA Goddard Space Flight Centre, California, USA.

After her time in California, she returned to Italy and started working as a program manager in the aerospace industry.  During this time, she discovered the beauty of hot-air balloon flight.  After receiving her license as a balloonist and soaring the skies of Europe, Donatella became the first female President of the Italian Hot-Air Balloon Federation in 2006.  In the same year, as co-pilot and member of the Italian national team, she takes part in the hot-air balloon world championship in Motegi, Japan.  She further qualified as a helicopter pilot and ultra-light aircrafts instructor, at Flight School Club Papere Vagabonde,  with a specialization in gyroplanes, the type of aircraft she used for the solo flight, which gave her the world altitude record on 8 November 2015. 

Nine Records in One Flight

In 1931 Amelia Earhart was the first woman to fly an autogiro and in that same year she set the autogiro altitude record of 18 415 feet.  Donaltella, exceeded this altitude on 7 November 2015 during one of her preparation flights for the attempt to break the world record set by American pilot Andrew Keech in 2004.

On 8 November, near Venice, Donatella takes off from Caposile in her standard Gyroplane Magni M16 in her quest to break several World records:

  • At 13 min 40 sec she broke three records for her time to climb to a height of 3000 m for Microlights and Paramotors (RGL1) and for Rotorcraft (E-3a).
  • She reached a height of 6000 m in a time of 25 min 40 sec, breaking another three records for the same three classes and sub-classes.
  • When she reached an altitude of 8 399 m she broke another three records, totalling nine records in a single flight!

Donatella tells of her unique experience in her book “World Record For A Gyroplane”.  The foreword is written by Samantha Cristoforetti, who holds the record for the longest uninterrupted spaceflight by a European astronaut (199 days, 16 hours) and she held the record for the longest single space flight by a woman until this was broken by Peggy Whitson in June 2017 and later by Christina Koch.  She is also the first Italian woman in space.  In conclusion, here are some extracts from this foreword by Samantha Christoforetti, that tell us more about the flight and Donatella Ricci – “Scientist by education, pilot and flight instructor for passion. Donatella Ricci is a professional in the aeronautical industry.”:

“This is a story of friendship, courage, stubbornness, and a bit of madness. …”

“Donatella Ricci succeeded in drawing condensation trails in the skies of the Veneto Region at a height of 27 556 feet, equivalent to 8 399 metres”

“Up there, there is not enough oxygen for a person to remain conscious and temperatures reach less than 40 degrees centigrade below zero. Up there, there are invisible highways for commercial air traffic; pressurised aircraft propelled by powerful jet engines, equipped with complex and redundant instruments, flown by teams of multiple pilots and crews trained in consolidated procedures.  Donatella, however, is alone on board of a gyroplane, a small open-air aircraft that usually never flies over 12 000 feet.

“Yes, because when she decides to break the record, Donatella gives it her all: she prepares meticulously, knowing full well that even one small, neglected detail could cost her the mission and even her life; she feels she must go beyond her own limits, but also knows she will need help and does not hesitate to call upon the many friends who care about her.”

“A venture such as this is always the fruit of teamwork, but in the end, up there, Donatella is alone, with her strength and her fragility, her fears and her courage.”

“What is the true meaning of Donatella’s record – an idea that was born almost by chance and was transformed tenaciously into reality in less than nine months? Was it a game? A whim? Good fun? Proof of her ability? A challenge to herself? Perhaps all of these things together, in their most noble meaning: the human spirit of one who dares, beyond any utilitarian benefit: the expertise and the ingenuity of men and women who please themselves at the service of a common goal; feelings and thoughts dedicated to a challenging feasible project.  All this is a potent antidote to the boredom and the pettiness that sometimes entraps our hearts and minds.”

“Thank you, Donatella, for showing us, with the story of your record flight, the noble side of the human spirit.”

Sources:; Donatella Ricci, World Record For A Gyroplane: 27,556 feet above the ground. Ugo Mursia Editore (November 26, 2017); Wikipedia;

  • Watercolour on canvas prepared with Schminke watercolour ground
  • Daniel Smith watercolour paint
  • A3
  • Not available
  • SOLD

While on the Easel

F-15 Strike Eagle

The Story

The F-15 Eagle made its first flight exactly 50 years ago on 27 July 1972.  At the time, it was an aircraft that along with the F-16, created great excitement among fighter aircraft enthusiasts and pilots.  It is an aircraft I would have loved to fly.

According to the USAF website’s Fact Sheet, the F-15 Eagle is an all-weather, extremely manoeuvrable, tactical fighter designed to permit the Air Force to gain and maintain air supremacy over the battlefield.  Its air superiority is achieved through a mixture of unprecedented manoeuvrability and acceleration, range, weapons, and avionics.  

The Fact Sheet provides an excellent summary of the aircraft and its capabilities, so I will not elaborate further.  However, here are some facts about the aircraft that I found very interesting:

  • It has nearly 60 000 pounds of thrust and can fly at Mach 2.5 with a power to weight ratio of 1.17:1 at normal weight.
  • With this performance, it established a world record in 1975 by going from brakes-off to an altitude of nearly 100,000 feet in under three and a half minutes.
  • It has beyond visual range capability with its radar able to track multiple targets in excess of 100 miles range.
  • According to various sources, its kill rate is 104 to 0, with the first, and most of the others by the Israeli Air Force.
  • More than 100 of them were manufactured in Japan.
  • An IAF pilot, Zivi Nedivi, landed his F-15 with only one wing after a mid-air collision.  This is his recollection of the incident.

The reference photographs I used were taken by Christopher Lohff, a hobbyist photographer, who takes the most wonderful aviation pictures and whom I follow on Instagram @lohffingfoto.  The photographs I used to create this painting, were taken by him at Oshkosh 2021 and are of Strike Eagles of the 336th Fighter Squadron (336th FS), nicknamed the Rocketeers, of the USAF. The squadron is assigned to the 4th Operations Group and stationed at Seymour Johnson Air Force Base, North Carolina. The “Rocketeers” fly the McDonnell-Douglas (now Boeing) F-15E Strike Eagle. It was the first operational F-15E squadron in the Air Force. Its aircraft are identified by the “SJ” tail code and yellow fin flash.

What I found interesting is that the squadron was also part of the 18th Fighter-Bomber Wing in Korea, and they also flew Mustang P51’s and F86’s, the same as one of my previous SAAF squadrons, 2 Squadron, the Flying Cheetahs, a squadron who flew with distinction during WWII and the Korean War.

The painting depicts two aircraft on a training mission, rolling in for an attack at sunset.

  • Watercolour on Arches 640g cold press paper
  • Daniel Smith watercolour paint
  • 560mm x 760mm
  • Prints are available on watercolour paper or canvas at various sizes – Max 250 are available. Price based on option selected
  • R17 500

While on the Easel

SAAF Silver Falcons

The Story

This painting is of the Silver Falcons practicing over the Langebaan lagoon during the springtide – a personal reflection of the past. 

The Silver Falcons are the formation aerobatic display team of the South African Air Force (SAAF) and currently operates Pilatus PC-7 MKII aircraft in a 5-ship display. Unlike most military aerobatic display teams, the Silver Falcons team is not a dedicated full-time unit. All aircrew members of the team are flying instructors at the Central Flying School (CFS) and spend most of their working days training new pilots for the SAAF.

This year, the team celebrates its 55th birthday, 120 Silver Falcon pilots in 84 different teams have performed almost one thousand formation aerobatic displays during this time. The Silver Falcons’ motto of ‘Pride, Passion, Precision’ has become the essence of the success of the team, guiding every member to constantly strive towards perfection.

When I was instructing at AFB Langbaanweg during the 70’s, I was fortunate to be part of the Silver Falcons, flying in the #4 position, under two very capable and wonderful team leaders, Commandants Speedy de Wet and Micky Brand (RIP) respectively.  My other two team members were Major Thys du Toit at #2 and Captain Gavin Foxroft the #3.  The team was very well-supported by a professional technical team that we were all very proud of, led by Oom Kiep.  Capt Martin Silberbauer (RIP), a fellow instructor and my best friend at the time, had the difficult job of mentoring us and providing feedback on where we could improve and what new manoeuvres we should try.  He was invaluable and some of our successes can be directly attributed to his input.  He was also my mentor when I was the solo display pilot of the base, which resulted in the first mostly negative “g” display to be done on Impalas.

The Impala was a wonderful aircraft to fly it was a very forgiving aircraft, which made it a perfect trainer.  However, it also proved itself as a very capable weapons platform for both training and operational purposes.  The Impala MK 2, was a single seater and the variant used extensively during the border war in the 80’s.

Now back to the Silver Falcons, herewith a short extract from the Silver Falcons website, focussing mostly on the team’s origin and the colour schemes used during its lifetime.  For more interesting reading go to

It all started in 1953 when the first jet-aerobatic display team of the SAAF was formed and was known as the ‘Bumbling Bees’, flying De Havilland Vampire jets. The team was disbanded at the end of 1958 but was later revived in 1966 with the defence force’s acquisition of the Aermacchi MB-326 Impala Mk I. These aircraft were built in South Africa (under licence from Italy) by Atlas Aircraft Corporation, which is now known as Denel Aviation.

As The Bumbling Bees, they continued to give performances in their new aircraft. However, a problem arose concerning the translation of the team’s name into Afrikaans. Thus, it was at the official opening of the Atlas Aircraft Corporation on 24 November 1967 that the team performed their first show under their new name ‘The Silver Falcons’, which could be easily translated into the Afrikaans version of ‘Silwer Valke’. The team was based at Air Force Base (AFB) Langebaanweg in the Western Cape under the leadership of Commandant Chris Prins.

To provide a more vibrant appearance at air shows, the aircraft were re-painted in 1985 in an orange, white and blue livery – the colours of the South African flag at that time. The original team consisted of only four members, with a fifth member being included in 1988 to provide the crowds with solo aerobatic displays. In 1994 the team colours were changed to white, navy and arctic blue (the colours of the SAAF). The Silver Falcons flew for the first time in this new livery over the Union Buildings in Pretoria on 10 May 1994 for the presidential inauguration, whilst trailing multi-coloured smoke in the colours of the new South African flag.

In 1992, it was decided that 85 Combat Flying School would move to AFB Hoedspruit and take over the duties of the Silver Falcons. The team continued to operate out of AFB Hoedspruit until the last Impala display on 20 September 1997, after which the team became dormant for two years. However, due to the phasing out of the Harvard and the subsequent disbandment of the Harvard Aerobatic Team during 1995, the need for a new military aerobatic display team had been identified.

In 1998, the Silver Falcons relocated once again to AFB Langebaanweg, this time to the Central Flying School (CFS), flying the Pilatus PC 7 Mk II aircraft (Astra). This was the ideal method to display the new SAAF trainer to the South African public and the first display by the Astra team was flown on 30 October 1999, led by Lieutenant Colonel Dave Knoesen.

In 2008, an exciting new livery for the Silver Falcons was designed which is still in use today.

Photo credits: For the background I used a photo published on and the formation was my version of a black and white photograph published by

  • Watercolour on canvas
  • Daniel Smith watercolour paint
  • 420mm x 594mm
  • Prints are not available
  • SOLD

While on the Easel

Mirage III CZ 800

The Story

This painting is based on a photograph taken by the late Herman Potgieter, a wonderful friend of the SAAF and one of the best aviation photographers that I have personally had the pleasure of meeting. 

Mirage IIIC 800 is here piloted by Frans Vermaak and the chase plane was flown by Frikkie Knoetze,  both 2 Squadron pilots in the early eighties, when I was also a member of the squadron.  John Boardman, one of the first Mirage pilots in the SAAF,  mentioned in a post that 800 and 801 were the first two that they flew in France, before delivery to the SAAF. A quick look in my logbook showed that I was strapped into its cockpit 31 times, what a pleasure and privilege!

Photo credit #hermanpotgieter!!

The Details

  • Watercolour on Arches 640g cold press paper
  • Daniel Smith watercolour paint
  • 560mm x 760mm
  • Prints are available on watercolour paper or canvas at various sizes – Max 250 are available. Price based on option selected
  • R17 500

While on the Easel

F-16 Fighting Falcon

The Story

I was supposed to have been with my grandchildren in London today, but my visa was not ready in time so spent my time finishing this painting. It is based on a photograph of Santos Caceres, an aviation photographer in the USA. The F16 Fighting Falcon is an aircraft that I would have loved to fly!  Its hawkish profile is so beautiful and its agility for its time something to have wished for! But I am not complaining.

Watercolour on 640g Arches Cold Press paper
560mm x 760mm
DANIEL SMITH: Artists’ Materials

Photo credit #santoscaceres Thanks Santos!!

The Details

  • Watercolour on Arches 640g cold press paper
  • Daniel Smith watercolour paint
  • 560mm x 760mm
  • Prints are available on watercolour paper or canvas at various sizes – Max 250 are available. Price based on option selected
  • R17 500

While on the Easel

Puma Flying Lions Three-Ship

The Story

The Flying Lions regularly grab headlines with their daring feats and magnificent aerial displays at air shows around South Africa. The team consists of renowned pilots: Lead – Scully Levin; #2 – Arnie Meneghelli, the owner of the aircraft; #3 – Ellis Levin; and #4 Sean Thackwray, and have been in operation for more than 14 years.

Sean was in the South African Air Force with me and is also an artist when he is not flying. When I left the SAAF, I was presented with a farewell present, which was a painting of a Cheetah E, painted by Sean. It is still hanging in my office and reminds me of the good flying days I had and people I worked with. Thanks Sean!

The painting was done using a photograph by Andre Venter, an aviation photographer, whose work I really admire. I asked him if I have permission to paint his photographs, especially the Harvards and I immediately got a positive response plus “megaloads” of photographs to chose from. Thanks Andre! Andre helped me chose this one of a three-ship formation flypast of a Flying Lions display, at Rhino Park Airfield during a Steady Climb Event.

The Details

  • Watercolour on Arches 640g cold press paper
  • Daniel Smith watercolour paint
  • 560mm x 760mm
  • Prints are available on watercolour paper or canvas at various sizes – Max 20 are available. Price based on option selected
  • R17 500

While on the Easel

Caro’s Favourite – SAAF C130

The Story

This painting shows SAAF C130 406 at AFB Bloemspruit, just after the inauguration of President Ramaphosa.  It was captained by the late Lt Col Caro Duven, callsign “ Chucky”, the first female C130 commander in the SAAF.  The photo that I used was taken by Joey de Villiers a flight engineer on BK117 helicopters, based at Air Force Station Port Elizabeth, 15 Sqn, C-flight.  Joey took this photograph whilst taking refreshments out to the aircraft and saw the reflection in a puddle of water still there after the previous day’s rain and thought it would make an excellent photograph.  He was right, and when I saw it on FB, I knew I had to paint it – a bargain as I got to paint two aircraft at the same time “een onderstebo nogal ook”

Joey’s closing words to me were that Hercules 406 was Caro’s favourite.

The Details

  • Watercolour on Arches 640g cold press paper
  • Daniel Smith watercolour paint
  • 560mm x 760mm
  • Prints are available on watercolour paper or canvas at various sizes – Max 20 are available. Price based on option selected
  • R17 500

While on the Easel

SAAF Cheetah E’s on a Mission

The Story

I decided to start a series “The aircraft I once flew”. I did two paintings of a Harvard, which was the third aircraft I flew, and now this one of four, 5 Squadron, Cheetah E’s taxiing out on a long-range tactical bombing mission. It is based on a photograph one of the squadron pilots, Daan Conradie took. The Cheetah was the last aircraft I flew in the SAAF.  I was also fortunate in that I was also the first SAAF pilot to fly the aircraft on its maiden test flight on 12 May 1984 at 12h00.

Cheetah Extracts from My Mind

The Beginning

During the 70’s and 80’s the Mirage III’s were in most cases sitting on the spectators stand whilst the F1’s Buccaneers and Canberras were fighting the war from SA soil and the Impalas doing the day-day on-site work.  With its lack in strike range and outdated weapons systems the Mirage III’s were only used during special operations when a major fighter strike force was required.  During this period, small updates to its weapons system were done which revolved mostly around the delivery/sight system. 

Figure 1: Primary strike force
Source: Squadron and SAAF Facebook pages

During 1981, SSO Projects, Col Pierre Steyn contacted 2 Squadron with the request to write a User Requirement for the update of the Mirage III.  At that stage this seemed like yet another down-scaled effort to update the Mirage III which would in any case not be sufficient to meet the growing threat from the North.  The request was therefore received with scepticism, and no one volunteered for the job.  I was then reasonably junior on the squadron and did not think that I was the right person to draft such a requirement as there were pilots on the squadron who were already on their second tour on Mirages and who had many operational sorties on Mirages and Impalas.  Two weeks before the deadline for submission I went to Cmdt. Mac vd Merwe, the then OC of 2 Squadron, and volunteered for the job.  He authorized me to fly to Head Quarters to meet with Col Steyn to get more information and to start with the writing of the Staff Requirement.  This meeting took place on 24 June 1981.

SSO Projects briefed me and informed me that the SAAF was serious about this update as there were no other avenues to follow.  He emphasised that it was important that the Squadron specify their exact operational needs so as to ensure that the SAAF gets the best operational product possible under the embargo.  He extended the deadline for submission and introduced me to Mr. Eric Esterhuyse of Armscor, who was head of the Aircraft Division.  I set up a meeting with him for the following week where he introduced me to my Armscor counterpart Kevin Lawless.

Figure 2: Mirage IIIC in 4-bomb configuration
Source: Unknown
Figure 3: Mirage IIID2Z and EZ in formation – the upgrade candidates
Source: Unknown

The Staff Requirement Phase

The first two month were spent on talking to the various possible local stakeholders and to determine possible foreign suppliers.  Meetings were conducted with all possible local suppliers, and it was soon evident that the two main Armscor companies, Atlas and Kentron were not going to allow others to encroach on their turf.  Smaller companies were either marginalized or brought into the Armscor fold.  With regards to the overseas suppliers, only three were possible suppliers, them being: Thompson CSF, Marconi and Israel Aircraft Industries (IAI).  Fact finding visits were conducted and it soon became evident that only the Israeli solution met the total requirement of the Operational Requirement submitted by 2 Squadron.  The Israelis were also very aggressive in their marketing effort and the SAAF was invited to send a pilot to evaluate the then Kfir weapons system. 

In April 1982 I went to Israel and flew two sorties with Menachem Schmul, the chief test pilot of IAI.  These sorties consisted of mainly demonstration of the navigation system and no weapons were released.  Further weapons release demonstration flights were conducted with the Israeli Air Force in September 1982.  Three sorties were flown by me under the watchful eyes of the OC of the Kfir squadron Lt Col Ziblat, demonstrating the weapons release accuracy, weapons capability and manoeuvrability.  A fourth general flying sortie was also flown with an IAI test pilot, focussing mostly on the added manoeuvrability provided by the canards.  Visits were also conducted to England and France, but these only consisted of viewing of hardware and talking to subject experts.

The remainder of the pre-implementation period was spent on visits to all the local and international suppliers, but more importantly also to all the other fighter squadrons to get their inputs.  The Impala squadron pilots were all very excited as it was something to really look forward to.  However, the Mirage F1 pilots were very sceptical but having said that, their professionalism and pride being one of the only real operational air forces and squadrons in the World, resulted in them contributing tremendously with regards to operational inputs.  24 Squadron, flying Buccaneers, were able to share some of their strike experiences, and also presented their wish list for the update based on this experience.  When the first part, contributing to the operational requirement, was done, these same pilots were presented with the various options and they provided further input during the evaluation phase. 

Another important assignment that had to be done during this initial phase was to get a project team together consisting of both SAAF and Armscor personnel.  The project focussing mostly on the electronics had to be led by a person with both flying and technical experience and for this task Cmdt. Peter Vivier was seconded to the project as project engineer on a permanent basis, assisted by two other engineers, Capt Johan Pelser and Mr. Dereck Knoll from Atlas, all three of them electronic engineers.  Obviously other subject experts were seconded on a part time basis by Air Logistics Command, Atlas and Armscor.

At the end of 1983 (not sure of the date), the Staff Requirement phase was concluded, and the recommendations had to be made to the Staff Council.  Every General and Brigadier that the SAAF had was sitting in the main board room at AFHQ waiting to hear the recommendations that the project team had to put forward.  At that stage I would rather have been out on an operational sortie with the enemy shooting at me, than present our findings, it was a really intimidating audience.  The recommendations were quite easy to make; we started by showing the Staff Council the “depth” of the three short-listed foreign companies.  The British proposal consisted of one bound document hardly 5 cm thick.  The French proposal consisted of three documents approximately 20 cm thick; and, the IAI proposal consisted of 6 – 7 volumes standing close to a meter high.  There was no comparison between what the Israelis had to offer against those of the other two parties.  The decision was then made to go along with the IAI solution.

Contract negotiations, which are the domain of Armscor, were done during the first half of 1983.  Erich Esterhuyse played the leading role and was well-supported by Kevin Lawless, Chris Jacobs and their legal team.  The SAAF members were spectators and helped where we could.  It must be said that up to this stage and also for the remainder of the project, the SAAF and Armscor members operated as a strong cohesive team with only small “skirmishes” here and there.  Armscor also made it possible to circumvent the normal bureaucracy found in the Defence Force which helped to speed up the process and ease the life of the SAAF team members.  So, in June 1983, Kevin Lawless, Chris Jacobs, who was responsible for all the administration of the project, and I left for Israel.

Figure 4: Some of the Project Team Members After a Test Fight Done by Peter Vivier
Fltr: WO Chester Dicks (RIP) | Capt. Johan Pelser | Kobus de Villiers (Atlas) | Rynier Keet| Cmdt. Peter Vivier | Derick Knoll (Atlas)

It would be wrong to close this chapter without mentioning the tremendous support that was consistently forthcoming, not only through this phase but throughout the project, from Director Projects, Brigadier Zach Repsold and Col Jan Guyt, who took over from Col. Pierre Steyn as SSO Projects.  Colonel Guyt is the one who really “fought” for the name of the aircraft.  The pilots of 2 Squadron suggested that the aircraft be named “Cheetah”, but this name was already reserved for one of the SA Army’s new combat vehicles or tanks.  Col Guyt made it his priority to ensure that the name remains with the SAAF, as the name Cheetah is synonymous with 2 Squadron, who at that stage was to be the squadron to be equipped with the new aircraft.

Air Logistics Command had a strong support team and ensured that the right person with the right background was always at hand when required.  Cmdt Wollie Wolfaard, Cmdt Frans de Kock, Capt Johan Pelser and many others were part of the team, with Johan Pelser, Chester Dicks (RIP), Piet Louw and Spine van Heerden (RIP) all being part of the overseas team.  There were so many, and it would be wonderful if someone from their side can tell their story.

Figure 5: The Cheetah belongs to the saaf
Source: SAAF Archives

The Prototype Phase

In July 1983 the initial project team members left for Israel to set up the project office.  Soon afterwards, an El Al 747 freighter was sent to South Africa to transport the two prototypes, 820 a Mirage IIIEZ, and 845 a Mirage III D2Z, to Israel.  The aircraft were immediately dismantled, and work started with the first prototype flights to be conducted on 845.

Figure 6: Cheetah D 845 first flight: Take-off (Top Left), landing and taxiing back

On 2 May 1984 at 1200 the IAI chief test pilot and I took off in 845 for the first test flight which lasted 40 minutes.  The second test flight captained by the project test pilot, Amir Yoelli was conducted on 17 May.  The normal test flight schedule followed and the weapons system testing phase was started in December 1985.  During this phase, the air refuelling system was also tested and due to some complications, during the refuelling test flight on 30 December 1985, Yoelli coupled during a “last ditch” manoeuvre without which we most probably would not have reached the airport.  This was the only close shave during the programme in Israel.  The professionalism of both the IAI Flight Test Centre staff and engineering/technical staff really impressed me throughout.  The results of the test flights were as claimed during the marketing phase with the only exception being the 68 mm rocket accuracy.  This was however expected as it was not a weapon which they used, and the accuracy therefore not as predicted.  Being able to understand Hebrew assisted us in them wanting to take a shortcut with regards to this in a post flight briefing, where after we insisted that all subsequent briefings be conducted in English only.

Mirage 820 was tested in parallel, but I do not have any dates of its test flight schedule.  These dates can be found in the project reports I submitted to D Projects which should be in the archive.

The aircraft were brought back to South Africa in February 1987 with the first test flight captained by Yoelli and Cmdt Des Barker (It may have been Otto Shur) after which our own test flight team led by Des Barker took over.  Pete Vivier can elaborate on this phase as he was managing the project from a technical and project management perspective.

Post Israel Pre Louis Trichardt

This is the time that the aircraft started coming off the production line at Atlas and were being taken into service at 89 AFS, AFB Pietersburg.  Peter Vivier summarised this phase as follows: “The Cheetah D production phase, or fleet embodiment phase to be more specific, took place at Atlas in 1987. There was no advanced fighter training taking place in the SAAF over this period and therefore no new pilots available for the Mirage, Buccaneer or Canberra squadrons as all the duals were taken out of service for the Cheetah conversions. The Angolan war was at its peak and Atlas was under huge pressure to complete the Cheetah D conversions in a short period of time.

They did a fantastic job in my opinion to get all the aircraft delivered within a year so that Otto Schur at 89 ADFS could present the first courses on the Cheetah in 1988. Des Barker did the aircraft airframe/engine test flights, and I did the Nav Weapons tests and most of the deliveries to Pietersburg.  Good times with the SAAF, Armscor, and Atlas teams.” 

Anton Kieck was the local project officer at SAAF HQ who coordinated everything in his usual calm and professional manner assisted by his excellent technical and admin support staff.

Figure 7: CMDT Peter Vivier and Cmdt Des Barker (RIP) after a test flight
Source: Peter Vivier

My first flight back in South Africa on the Cheetah was on 852 on 27 March 1987, receiving a dual from Major Geronkie Venter, which was immediately followed by a dive-bombing sortie on 845 with Geronkie in the back seat.  I was privileged to fly 820 directly from Atlas to the first air-air camp of the Cheetah at Langebaanweg on 7 May 1987, exactly three years and five days after the first test flight of 845.  Cheetah 827 was the second E off the line with its acceptance test on 15 May 1987. 

Figure 8: Cheetah E taxiing out for air-air sortie at AFB Langebaanweg
Source: Daan Conradie

For the remainder of the year, it was 89 AFS who were doing all the groundwork, under the capable leadership of Cmdt. Otto Shür.

Figure 9: The 89 CFS Instructors
Fltr: Cmdt Otto Shür | Maj. Johan Venter (Geronkie) | Maj. Frik Viljoen | Maj. IC du Plessis (RIP) | Maj. Ian Jones | Capt. Brian Daniels

The only incident that is worth mentioning was on 28 December 1987 on the second test flight of 829 at the then Jan Smuts airport.  A connection on the hydraulic line was not tightened after the first test flight conducted on 21 December, which resulted in a hydraulic failure on the right wheel brake.  The aircraft swung to the left and I was not able to correct the swing and pulled the emergency brake with the hope that the right tyre may burst and swing the aircraft back in line with the runway. This however did not work, and the left main undercarriage broke off when the wheel connected a landing light culvert a quarter down the runway.  This obviously resulted in one of the shortest landings in the short history of the Cheetah and which also kept the main runway closed for the next three to four hours to the annoyance of the airport authorities and airlines.

The Cheetah Es and D2s were all based at AFB Pietersburg during this time, and it was my privilege to lead the first Cheetahs in, flying 820, to AFB Louis Trichardt where they would be based under the colours of 5 Squadron until the deactivation of the squadron in 1992.

5 Squadron: March 1988 – December 1990

Figure 10: Taxiing Back after the First Landing in Cheetah E 820 at AFB Louis Trichardt
Source: Daan Conradie
Figure 11: Robbie Williams(Atlas) and Sgt. waiting for me to switch off
Source: Daan Conradie

There was some disappointment initially that the Cheetah Es were not being commissioned under the 2 Squadron colours, however this was very short-lived as 5 Squadron in itself has a very proud history indeed.  So it was with great pride that I landed 820 on 3 March 1988 at 17h30 at the Cheetah’s new home – AFB Louis Trichardt – where we were welcomed by the base OC, Col Derek Kirkland and our ground crew.  These were exciting times with the wonderful challenge to start a new squadron flying new aircraft.  I was also blessed with a wonderful team of pilots and ground crew, all eager to make 5 Squadron the best fighter squadron in the SAAF.  Here Majors Geoff Garret, Pine Pienaar and Capt. Daan Conradie played a major role to get the new pilots operational and Captain Jan Ros and his technical team the aircraft and maintenance facilities.  Our Honorary Colonel Grant Murray assisted us diligently during this period by handling most of the ceremonial and social duties which gave me more time to focus on the operational side.

Figure 12: 5 Squadron Cheetah Pilots
Fltr: Capt. Alan Lange | Maj. John Erasmus | Maj. Hannes Prinsloo | Capt. Wessel vd Merwe | Maj. Mike Weingartz | Me | Maj. Daan Conradie | Capt. Ivor Burgess | Maj. Dirk de Villiers | Maj. Anton Kieck

It was our challenge to get the aircraft operational as soon as possible so that we could join our fellow fighter squadrons on the border.  We knew that we had a wonderful weapons platform, especially from a weapons systems point of view.  The fact that the engine was not upgraded did however limit its capabilities in terms of weapons carrying capability as well as manoeuvrability.  There was however no other fighter in the SAAF that could turn better than the Cheetah at low speed, but the lack of power did curtail its turning performance at “fighting” speed.  The range of the aircraft was also not optimal for the strike ranges we were expected to cover.  However, weapons accuracy was exceptional, and everyone loved the navigation system, its accuracy was exceptional and if you punched in the right coordinates J, there was really no chance of not acquiring and hitting your target or getting to your destination on time.  The aircraft’s ECM capability was also capable of vying off most of the threats that we might encounter during operations, however having said that, all the other operational aircraft were similarly equipped.

This would however not have been possible without the dedication of the 5 Squadron ground crew.  They had the most modern maintenance facilities in the SAAF and under the capable leadership of Capt. Jan Ros, they really excelled.  The first year consisted of working nearly every weekend to ensure that there were sufficient aircraft ready for the following week.  They did not only have to get a grip on the new aircraft but had this new complex technical infrastructure to establish.  This was a daunting challenge as the logistics chain was complex with many players who all had their own priorities and deadlines.  The maintenance concepts were also new, and the squadron had to rely on Air Logistics Command, Atlas, the Depots, the AFB Louis Trichardt’s logistics staff just to mention a few to get the aircraft in the air and operational.  However, the focus throughout was good and step by step the number of aircraft on the squadron grew, so also did the pilots and the esprit de corps.

Figure 13: The 5 Squadron Technical Team Who Made it all Possible

Getting back to the Cheetah, the first couple of months were spent on getting to know and to evaluate the weapons system and handling capabilities of the aircraft.  Weapons release, navigation, agility and ACM sorties were flown.  Pilots were also getting their instrument ratings up to date and were learning how to best apply the systems in poor weather conditions.  This was followed in September 1988 with the first air refuelling sorties on the newly acquired Boeing 707 tanker aircraft.  In November the whole squadron, along with the other fighter squadrons packed for its first tactical camp in Upington which was the first opportunity for the squadron to benchmark itself against the other fighter aircraft.  Both the aircraft and aircrew proved that they could be reckoned among the best and the aircraft got the recognition it deserved from especially the F1 pilots.  This was followed by night flying training, air-to-air which included missile firing and EW trials which were concluded in November 1989.  The aircraft was now ready for operations, but due to the fortunate ending of the Angolan conflict, was never to be used operationally. 

Figure 14: The Cheetah E – Mission-Ready
Source: Daan Conradie

Having an operational two-seater Cheetah squadron 15 minutes flying from Louis Trichardt and also the fact that they were crewed by both a pilot and an attack navigator, created new operational opportunities for the SAAF.  Cmdt. Carlo Gagiano (later CAF) took over as OC of 89 AFS and the two Cheetah-equipped squadrons decided to work together as a unified tactical unit.  All tactical training exercises were done jointly with the two-seaters leading each sortie.  The extra person in the back seat reduced the workload of all the pilots to a great extent and also resulted in greater weapons accuracy.  In parallel the ground crew were devising systems to ensure that the deployment time could be greatly reduced.  Here special mention should be made of WO Bart Botha who “scrounged”, borrowed and possible “stole” containers and vehicles to ensure that the Cheetah could be maintained down to second line level away from its base.  He single-handedly constructed mobile workshops in these containers at no additional cost to the SAAF and which made deployment so much more efficient and effective.

Figure 15: Cheetah E and Cheetah D Deployment Photos with lower right being the unveiling of the Air Refuelling Capability to Parliament

My tour as OC of 5 Squadron and my relationship with this wonderful aircraft and the crew who flew and maintained them ended in December 1990 and I handed over command to Major Anton Kieck.  Anton was my 2IC who I was also privileged to have as South African project officer for the Cheetah, while I was in Israel.  He handed over to Cmdt. Ian Jones in March 1991.

Figure 16: My farewell and the present – a painting by Sean Thackwray of the Cheetah climbing at Cape Columbine

The Details

  • Watercolour on Arches 640g cold press paper
  • Daniel Smith watercolour paint
  • 560mm x 760mm
  • Prints are available on watercolour paper or canvas at various sizes – Max 20 are available. Price based on option selected
  • R17 500

While on the Easel

Oryx – Work Horse of the SAAF

The Story

Christo Crous took a photo of an Oryx, the work horse of the SAAF, which really spoke to me, and made me paint a chopper before even trying a fighter. Thanks Christo for allowing me the pleasure.

This is dedicated to all my ‘hovering’ friends and colleagues whom I spent many a good times with, and who taught me how to enjoy life!!

The Details

  • Watercolour on Arches 640g cold press paper
  • Daniel Smith watercolour paint
  • 560mm x 760mm
  • Prints are available on watercolour paper or canvas at various sizes – Max 20 are available. Price based on option selected
  • R17 500

While on the Easel

Harvard Start-Up

The Story

I saw a photograph of Etienne Coetzee posted on the Harvard Club’s FB page and thought it would make an interesting watercolour experiment.

What a joy it was to paint and what fantastic memories it inspired!

Thanks Etienne for letting me free to create this wonderful journey into the past!

Harvard start-up, the start of many a pilot’s dreams

The Details

  • Watercolour on Arches 640g cold press paper
  • Daniel Smith watercolour paint
  • 560mm x 760mm
  • Prints are available on watercolour paper or canvas at various sizes – Max 20 are available. Price based on option selected
  • R25 000

While on the Easel

Achtung Spitty!

The Story

My impression  of a magnificent photo of John Dibbs, posted on the Spitfires of WW2 Facebook page.

Always wanted to paint a Spitty as I could not fly one and it is my contribution to our grandson’s bedroom.

The Details

  • Watercolour on canvas
  • Daniel Smith watercolour paint
  • 510mm x 660mm
  • Prints are available on watercolour paper or canvas at various sizes – Max 50 are available. Price based on option selected
  • SOLD

Von Richthofen’s Circus

The Story

My daughter wanted two vintage aircraft for our grandson’s room.  I first completed a Spitfire, then the Fokker.

Manfred von Richthofen’s Fokker Dr 1 Triplane, using my interpretation of Claus Friedl Wuelfing’s famous Flying Circus painting as background and a photograph (photographer unknown) of the triplane as the main subject.

Both were found on Pintrest.

The Details

  • Watercolour on canvas
  • Daniel Smith watercolour paint
  • 510mm x 660mm
  • Prints are available on watercolour paper or canvas at various sizes – Max 50 are available. Price based on option selected
  • SOLD

Koos Kieck Working on Fire

The Story

The fires in the Western Cape and elsewhere have been devastating, destroying lives, properties and vegetation for decades, and Working on Fire have been keeping us safe for many of those years.

I started off by painting two scenes, with aircraft in them. This one shows Koos Kieck an ex SAAF colleague of mine fighting fires in an AT802 Air Tractor.

I do not know who the photographer was, but his/her photographic genious gave me inspiration. 

This painting was part of a collection of five that was auctioned off for a WoF charity event.

The Details

  • Watercolour on 300g paper
  • Schminke watercolour paint
  • Prints not available
  • SOLD

Huey Working on Fire

The Story

The fires in the Western Cape and elsewhere have been devastating, destroying lives, properties and vegetation for decades, and Working on Fire have been keeping us safe for many of those years.

I started off by painting two scenes, with aircraft in them. This one is the first one of the two and the photograph was taken by Denvor de Wee of a Huey fighting a fire in the Paarl area.

This painting was part of a collection of five that was auctioned off for a WoF charity event.

The Details

  • Watercolour on 300g paper
  • Schminke watercolour paint
  • Prints not available
  • SOLD

Harvard in Training

The Story

This was my first aircraft painting of a Harvard in the Dunnottar flying area. Photographer unknown.

The Details

  • Watercolour on 300g paper
  • Schminke watercolour paint
  • Prints not available
  • SOLD
Figure 9: Taxiing Back after the First Landing in Cheetah E 820 at AFB Louis Trichardt
Source: Daan Conradie

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