From the top of Bays Hill, I am looking down at the oldest SAAF base, Swartkop.
The iconic Air Force memorial was unveiled in 1963, a permanent cenotaph in memory of all members of the SA Air Force, who died in service. Symbolic of flight, the 3 wings embrace a chapel and a memorial hall.
This is also the final resting place of Sir Pierre Van Ryneveld, founder of the South African Air Force.
Born in 1891 in Senekal in the Orange Free State, he shot to fame, with his co-pilot Quentin Brand in 1920, when they won the prize offered by the London Times for the first flight to be completed from London to Cape Town. They were both knighted for this feat.
That epic flight took all of 109 hours and 30 minutes, and surviving 2 crashes, before they eventually completed the journey in the DH9 “Voortrekker”. A mere 17 years after the Wright brothers’ pioneering efforts.
Looking at the urgent hand written note written during the flight, it merely hints at the perilous nature of early aviation days.
In 1927 he made the first parachute jump in South Africa and 2 years later he flew the first non-stop flight from Cape Town to Pretoria.
Entering the South African Air Force Museum via an art gallery, I am struck by the work of Anne de Goede and Geo Van Rhyn.
I wander through the chronicles of the story of military aviation in South Africa. From earliest flights to our involvement in both World Wars, conflicts in Korea and Southern Africa as well as peace and humanitarian efforts.
Don’t miss the battered and worn suitcase with a faded “Union Castle” sticker and a clearly stencilled P VAN R, that bears silent witness to a bygone era.
I marvel at the Spitfire engine, ready and waiting for its first flying hours to be logged.
I pause at the Fieseler Fi156C-7 Storch, flown by the likes of Hanna Reitsch, famous Luftwaffe test pilot and Fuhrer favourite.
Again, two small items in a glass display case catch my eye. The hand written note from General JC Smuts to Winston Churchill, dated 1941, emphasises his stature during the Second World War.
And the Africa Service Medal with its somewhat faded ribbon, affectionately known as “Ouma’s Garter”…an homage to Ouma Isie, wife of Jan Smuts.
In the Autumn sunshine, I inspect the Lockheed PV-1 Ventura. It was used by General Smuts between July 1946 and May 1948. It became the museum’s first aircraft on display in November 1973. Albeit somewhat wingless these days !
The majestic Shackleton of many a sea search and rescue mission, towers over me.
On May 21 2011, the Airshow at Swartkop Airfield is not to be missed. For a mere R40 you will be entertained by those magnificent men and their flying machines.
Need to know more ? http://www.saafmuseum.org