By Garth Calitz with Phots by Dian Townsend and Trevor Cohen
The Pretoria skies came alive last week with the South African Airforce preparing for the Prestige Week that concluded with, what used to be called Airforce Day but is now known as the SAA Prestige Parade. It was great to hear Gripens and Hawks gracing the sky over the capital, with the ongoing decline in the Military budget it is a sight we seldom get to experience get to experience.
On 1 February 1920 Colonel Pierre van Ryneveld was appointed as the Director of Air Service with the task of forming an “air” force, the date is used to mark the founding of the South African Air Force. Which is widely accepted as the second oldest independent Airforce in the world. For many years the SAA have hosted a parade to celebrate their birthday, sadly four years ago a political decision was made not to celebrate or even mention this amazing milestone, fortunately, the following year the powers that be decided to acknowledge the SAAF real age.
Mobile Deployment Wing (formerly Air Force Base Swartkop) was once again chosen as the host for the parade which started exactly on time. The parade marched on to the parade ground accompanied by the SAAF band led as always by the Colour Squadron, which this year had one extra colour as AFB Langebaanweg received theirs at the end of last year.
The Chief of the South Africa Airforce LtGen Wiseman Mbambo arrived at the podium to acknowledge the general salute, while a lone Gripen from 2 Squadron flew directly over the podium from the East.
As is customary at all military parades the code of conduct for unformed members was read out by Cpl Gqweta followed by scripture reading and prayer officiated by Col Ndala.
LtGen Mbambo then inspected the ranks with the review party, once back at the podium the parade marched past, led once again by the colour squadron.
Airforce Base Overberg was declared the SAAF Base/Unit of the year and the coveted Trophy was presented to the Officer Commanding, LtCol Gomez, AFB Overberg managed to edge out AFB Langebaanweg and AFB Bloemspruit for the top honours.
In his address LtGen Mbambo touched on the lack of military funding, stating “With the lack of SAAF strategic lift capability – our people around the world still remain a sitting duck if disasters off global nature occur. All these confirm that the defence mandate funding should not be at the bottom of the basket of priorities of the different governments around the world. This year the RSA will be celebrating 30 years of democracy, simultaneously going into national elections and AAD 2024 is around the corner. The region is unstable and requires our attention in many ways whilst our economy is not at its best performance currently. This is what’s called a wicked problem facing all of us.”
Gen Mbambo concluded his address with a plea to all members, ”As we continue with our change phase through 2024-2025 let us all be guided by this principle:
BE BRAVE ENOUGH TO CHANGE. STRONG ENOUGH TO ENDURE. FEARLESS ENOUGH TO RECOGNIZE EVERY OPPORTUNITY.
After the address it was time for the SAAF assets to entertain the guests, the flypast was kicked off by a formation of helicopters made up of both past and present helicopters. The formation was led by an MBB/Kawasaki BK 117 followed by an Alouette II, Alouette III and an Aérospatiale SA 330 Puma these three aircraft are from the SAAF Museum. A Denel Rooivalk AH-2 was the final helicopter in the formation.
Next up was a five-ship formation of Pilatus PC-7 MK II Astra’s, closely behind the Astra’s was the rarely seen Presidential Aircraft, Boeing 737-700 BBJ with a 21 Squadron Dassault Falcon 900 in close formation.
Four BAE Systems Hawk MK 120s followed in a very impressive tight formation. The final flypast was a three-ship SAAB Gripen formation it was great to see so many of the SAAF assets in the air as the situation has been rather dire the last few years.
The review party then left the podium and the Parade marched off once again accompanied by the SAAF Band. While the parade marched off the guests were treated to a solo aerobatics display by LtCol Scott "Prowler" Logie in a Hawk MK120.