On Tuesday 18 September the South African Airforce hosted an Air Power Capability Demonstration at the Roodewal Weapons Range, North of Polokwane in the Limpopo Province. All the attendees were requested to meet at Airforce Base Waterkloof Movements before being flown to Polokwane International Airport. AFB Waterkloof was a hive of activity as the Biennial Africa Aerospace and Defence Expo was to start the following day. After a quick lunch invited guest and the media contingent boarded on of 28 Squadrons Hercules C-130 BZ’s for a fourteen minute flight to Polokwane. On our arrival in Polokwane we were loaded on busses for the second stage of our journey to the Roodewal Weapons Range.
Roodewal Weapons Range
Roodewal Weapons Range situated just to the East of the N1 Highway between Polokwane and Louis Trichardt, the management of the range and the nature reserve in which it is located falls under the command of the officer commanding AFB Makhado. Roodewal is one of the only weapon ranges that Jet fighters can drop live ordinance within seven minutes of getting airborne at their home base.
The SAAF have decided to move the APCD from the heat of the day to late afternoon and evening demonstrations, even in the evening it is extremely hot in the bushveld. Every branch of SAAF has an opportunity to host an APCD and this time the responsibility fell on the shoulders of the “chopper boys”. BrigGen. De Bod, Director Helicopter Services welcomed everyone and introduced the Chief of the South African Air Force, LtGen. Msimang, who gave a short address outlining the vision of the SAAF.
BrigGen. De Bod
After a range safety briefing the range was declared live and the demonstration got underway. The first participants in the “war” were a team of Special Forces Pathfinders who dropped by an Oryx Helicopter. Pathfinders are trained to assess the situation and relay the information to the command centre, so an appropriate action plan can be instituted.
Special Forces Pathfinders exiting the Oryx
Special Forces Pathfinders
Two Oryx helicopters demonstrated the fire-fighting ability of the SAAF, the “Bambi” buckets used by the Oryx can carry 2500 litres of water or fire retardant. The SAAF are often called upon to assist with fire-fighting operations especially in the Western Cape where excessive droughts were experienced the last few years.
As the Oryx’s left the theatre a C-130 BZ followed closely by a CASA 212 approached for air supply drops, many tons of provisions can be delivered very quickly using this method. The C-130 was from 28 Squadron and the Casa 212 is from 44 Squadron, both residents at AFB Waterkloof.
As the last canopy landed things got very loud with a simulated “dog-flight” between a BAE Hawk Mk.120 and two SAAB JAS39 Gripens. The Hawk was very quickly defeated by the very superior 2 Squadron Gripen which is the SAAF’s primary fighter, 2 Squadron is based at the close by AFB Makhado. The Hawk is also based at Makhado where it is used as a trainer and lead-in fighter by 85 Combat Flying School.
Gripens and Hawk
The “battle” then started to heat up and the chopper boys were called in to deploy troops in a variety of aircraft. A BK-117 twin engine utility/transport Helicopter was the first to enter the battle. Under the watchful eye of the mighty Rooivalk Attack helicopter. The BK-117 currently serves with 15 Squadron based at AFB Port Elizabeth.
An Agusta A109 was close behind immediately deploying members of 500 Squadron, The A109 is operated by 15, 17 and 19 Squadron as well as 87 Helicopter Flying School. 500 Squadron are the elite SAAF combat forces and are responsible for the security at all SAAF bases and installations.
While the action on the ground was heating up the “Pride of the SAAF”, the Denel Rooivalk was providing top-cover. The Rooivalk is a locally designed and manufactured attack helicopter and is currently operated by 16 Squadron based at AFB Bloemspruit and has been actively involved in peacekeeping operation in Africa where it proved to be very capable.
The most extensively used helicopter in the SAAF was the next to join the war, the Denel Oryx. The Oryx was a result of the SAAF deciding to upgrade their large Puma fleet to Super Puma standards. The Oryx is operated by 15, 17, 19 and 22 Squadrons as well as being used as an advanced trainer at 87 Helicopter Flying School.
In a very unfortunate incident one of 19 Squadrons Oryx’s made a very hard landing during a troop deployment resulting in severe damage to the aircraft, the crew all managed to escape with only minor injuries. After the incident the CAF LtGen Msimang, himself a Helicopter pilot commended the commander of the ill-fated aircraft for his handling of the situation, remarking it could have been a lot worse if it were not for his flying abilities. The troops on-board immediately disembarked took up defensive positions, this is exactly what they are trained to do.
After the incident it was decided to cancel the remainder of the live fire operations, we were however treated to flypasts by a Casa 212 and C-130 who deployed his flares known as “Angel-wings”. The Demonstration was closed off with a Gripen display.
Everyone was then treated to a wonderful dinner before returning to Polokwane Airport for our flight back AFB Waterkloof.
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