Hidden Treasures of the SAAF Museum
By Juri Keyter
We all love to go to the South African Air Force Museum on training days or the annual air show to see the Mirages, Cheetahs, Vampires, Sabres, Impalas, Harvards, Dakota, Allouettes and many more on static display and in the air, but very few know about the other treasures and memorabilia in the museum's possession.
While visiting the museum and meeting with the commanding officer Lt. Col O'Connor, I was introduced to one of their technical staff members Alan Taylor who is also considered to be a historian at the museum. Although all the historical pieces in the museum's possession will be preserved for generations to come, the sad part is that one day the knowledge and passion for our military and aviation history will remain only in documents because Alan's knowledge was built over many years and can simply not be replicated overnight. Throughout the entire day I was amazed that Alan could provide the origin, background information, dates, pilot names and all historical information in sequence for almost every item on display or in archives.
Our first stop was in the technical reference library where researchers can find thousands of maintenance manuals, technical drawings and blue prints for thousands of different aircraft regardless if they served in the South African Air Force or even been in the country.
Holding one of Pierre van Ryneveld's logbooks in my own hands and reading the date of the first entry “Jan 3 1928” made me realise that there is way more to the Air Force Museum than the aircraft outside. The historical research centre (open to registered researchers by appointment) is full of documents, records, photographs and magazines, all categorically labelled and filed. Who knew that the first South African aviation magazine “Flight” was printed in the 1920s and that the Museum is in possession of many examples from 1922?
Have you been to the museum's art gallery yet? Did you know that they have one? This is another absolute must during your next visit. All these aviation themed paintings are framed and neatly displayed as with any other art gallery.
At the outbreak of World War I, the South African Air Force froze all civilian pilots' licenses and aircraft owners had the option to either remove their aircraft from public airfields or sell them to the air force. Most owners elected to sell and the air force used these aircraft mostly for training. One such an example, and also the oldest aircraft in flying condition in South Africa is this De Havilland DH87b Hornet Moth built in the early 1930s.
The Fieseler Storch on display holds another fascinating story and is sometimes referred to as a part of “Captain Meaker's Air Force”. In 1946 captain Jack Meaker was sent to England on a conversion course to fly the Meteor Jet Fighter. During the course he was invited to Royal Aircraft Establishment at Farnborough where a large collection of captured German aircraft was stored. Capt. Meaker was invited to select a few examples for military museums in South Africa and two Messerschmitt Me262s, two Focke-Wulf Fw190s and a Fieseler Fi156 Storch was shipped to South Africa. Some time after Capt. Meaker returned he was summoned by his superior officer and presented with an account of £6000 for the shipment of “his” aircraft from Britain and that the aircraft were awaiting collection at Cape Town harbour. After some explaining and convincing, the government agreed to cover the costs and the aircraft were transferred to different air force bases in South Africa and the Storch is proudly displayed at the museum in Swartkop.
If you have not been to the museum in a while, make a family outing of it and visit it again soon. Make sure that you visit every hall, hangar and centre with a quick lunchtime bite at the Windsock Coffee Shop right there on the base. Not only will the museum appreciate your support, you also owe it to yourself to experience, relive and enjoy this awesome part of our aviation history.
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