The Air Wing was formed in 1977 and is organisationally part of the Botswana Defence Force and has a staff compliment of approximately five hundred people.
All squadrons are designated with a Z, which is used as a designation for "squadron". The main base is near Molepolole and was built by mostly foreign contractors between 1992 and 1996. The base is a multi-stage project that included runways, taxiways, extensive shelter and ordnance storage facilities, a headquarters facility and a large complex of living quarters and support buildings. Sometimes referred to as the "Eagle" project, the base has received continual improvements since its inception.
Maparangwane Air Base near Molepolole
Other airports used by the Botswana Air Wing include Sir Seretse Khama International Airport at Gaborone and Francistown Airport. The airfield near Maun is used as a forward operating location by propeller aircraft as well as their fighters.
Maparangwane Air Base is the only full airbases in Botswana, Sir Seretse Khama International Airport is a civilian airport and Francistown Airport is a joint civilian/military airfield with ownership by the BDF since 2011.
The backbone of the Air Wing consists of a squadron of former Canadian CF-116s which are locally designated as BF-5 “Freedom Fighters”. Thirteen ex-Canadian CF-116 were ordered in 1996 to replace the ageing Strikemasters, another three single-seaters and two dual-seaters delivered in 2000.
BF-5 “Freedom Fighter"
The transport section of the Air Wing uses Britten-Norman Defenders and Islanders, CASA C-212 Aviocars, CASA CN-235s and C-130B Hercules. The latest addition to the transport fleet was an ex-AMARC C-130 Hercules to complement the two existing aircraft.
CASA C-212 Aviocar
The rotorwing conponant is made up of a combination of Bell 412, Aerospatiale AS-350B Ecureuil’s and a Eurocopter EC.225 helicopters and are operated by Z21 .They perform a variety of functions, including search and rescue, medivac, anti-poaching and troop/VIP transport.
Bell 412 VIP Configuration
Aerospatiale AS-350B Ecureuil
In 1993, nine ex-US Army/AMARC Cessna O-2As were delivered for use against poaching.
AMARC Cessna O-2A
The Air wing has recently acquired 14 Bat Hawk Surveillance Aircraft. 6 of which will be used by the BDF for border patrols and day to day reconnaissance. 4 will be used by the Botswana Police Services and 4 by the department of wildlife and parks, the main role being anti-poaching.
Bat Hawk Surveillance Aircraft
In 2011, Pilatus Aircraft Ltd announced that the Botswana Defence Force had selected the PC-7 MkII turboprop trainer aircraft to replace their Pilatus PC-7 fleet which has been in service since 1990as their principle trainer. The contract value is approximately 40 million Swiss francs to procure a fleet of five PC-7 MkII turboprop trainer aircraft, with ground-based training system including computer-based training, spares, support equipment, as well as pilot and technician conversion training elements. The contract was signed in Gaborone on 13 April 2011 they are yet to be delivered. The Falcons BDF’s Display team also make use of the PC-7 and regularly display at State occasions
VIP transportation is taken care of by Z1 squadron utilising a Beech 200 Super King Air, a BD-700 Global Express, a Grumman Gulfstream IV and a Dornier Do-328-110
Beech 200 Super King Air (Photo Frikkie Bekker)
BD-700 Global Express
Grumman Gulfstream IV
The BDF Air Wing is in control of an advanced air defence command and control system consisting of nine Indra Radar installations.
In 2005 Botswana Defence Force (BDF) awarded the Spanish company Indra a €7.1 million contract for the development and implementation of a full air defence command and control system. The project included the development and implementation of an operational control centre, composed of a total of nine air traffic tracking and control posts to process and concentrate the information regarding the country's air space being provided by air surveillance radars, radio communication links with the airships, and air traffic management civil systems.
Botswana defence Force Air Wing is also believed to operate Elbit Systems Silver Arrow and Elbit Hermes 450 UAVs in a surveillance role along their vast borderline.
Elbit Hermes 450 UAV
In recent years the BDF Air Wing suffered a few losses due accidents on 18 April 2002, an F-5 jet crashed at Thebephatshwa Air Base during a routine for the Botswana defence force day. The pilot was sadly killed.
On 20 October 2011, two PC-7s of the Botswana Defence Force were involved in a mid-air collision over Letlhakeng 100 km west of Gaborone, two of the four aircrew involved were killed in the accident.
On 27 June 2014, The Botswana Defence Force Air Wing lost a AS350 Ecureuil helicopter which crashed on during a routine training at Thebephatshwa Air Base. Two pilots who were on board the aircraft, were taken to hospital in a stable condition.
On 9 February 2017, a BDF CASA C-212 crashed in the general area of Thebephatshwa village minutes after leaving the Thebephatshwa Air Base, killing all 3 people on board. The aircraft was on its way to the capital, Gaborone, which is 90 km away.
On 27 April 2018, a day before BDF Day, a BF-5 fighter aircraft crashed at the Gaborone Golf Club during aerobatic rehearsals. The pilot was the only recorded casualty.