Early Thursday morning on the 7th February the Patchen Explorer TSC-2 was pushed out of Hangar 14 ready to make its first flight in 13 years, Lt Gen. Des Baker and Col. Rama Iyer ran through the pre-flight inspection amid an atmosphere of electric anticipation. WO1 “Toitjie” du Toit and his team have spent many man hours restoring this little aircraft to the point that it was ready to be handed to the pilots for the first of many test flights. The aircraft was last flown by Maj James “Jimmy Jet” Feuilherade on the 2nd March 2001.
The Patchen Explorer, the Brainchild of David Thurston of Thurston Aircraft Corporation in the USA, is powered by a Single Lycoming 200hp motor with a variable pitch propeller mounted above the wing on a pylon. Aerofab Corporation of Sanford, Maine, USA constructed the prototype in 1972, and it first flew on 13th October 1972 piloted by test pilot Win Young.
The Explorer never went into production and only one was ever built. It was designed as a land version of the TSC-1 Teal amphibian, the project was bankrolled by the late Marvin Patchen, owner of Marvin Patchen Incorporated. He envisioned it to be a “cheaper, faster, more maintenance-free alternative to the helicopter for such tasks as pipeline and fire patrol, fish spotting, aerial photography platform and police missions.” The project was later acquired by Maitland Reed's National Dynamics (Pty) Ltd of Durban, based at Virginia Airport. After successful test flights by test pilot Pikkie Rautenbach in August 1975, Mr Reed offered the aircraft to the SAAF for evaluation with the aim of the aircraft being produced for, and used by, the SAAF as a spotter in the “Bush War “but the SAAF decided on the Aermacchi AM-3 “Bosbok” instead.
The Patchen was sent to TFDC (Test Flight Development Centre) at AFB Waterkloof where it was used as a communications platform carrying the serial number 2000. It made its first flight as a SAAF aircraft on the 23rd September 1975 and at the time the Patchen had a mere 206 flying hours. Between 1976 and 1979 she flew no more than 49 hours, of which 18 hours were spent flying the aircraft to Rhodesia, now Zimbabwe, by Capt Dean and Capt Rawston. It was there evaluated by Peter J. H. Petter-Bowyer of the Rhodesian Air Force.
The Patchen Explorer was reported to have a very high CFG which had to be well managed especially in gusty winds. It was also noted the large deflections of ailerons required large stick inputs due to the “barn door” design of the aircraft. With a very low cabin seat position in the aircraft the new pilots often flared out too high on landing and ran out of airspeed causing very hard landings. The nose gear had to be repaired on more than one occasion as it was prone to damage in the case of such hard landings.
The SA Air Force decided it was not viable to continually repair the aircraft. The Patchen was subsequently left in a hangar to deteriorate slowly between 1979 and 1986. TFDC moved from Waterkloof to Overberg at which time it was decided to dispose of the Aircraft. Fortunately the Museum staff lobbied that they take possession of the Patchen and relocate it to the South African Air Force Museum which was based at Lanseria Airport at the time. The motivation behind this request was that it was one of a kind and should be preserved. The nose gear was repaired and she was ferried across to Lanseria in 1994. In the following years the Patchen became a regular participant at air shows across the country and was flown as far afield as Margate, Port Elizabeth and Cape Town. The aircraft was now sporting a civilian registration number ZS-UGF and quickly built hours taking it up 440 hours.
After almost thirteen years the Patchen Explorer has been resurrected, thanks to the determination and drive of the Director Flight Training, Col Rama Iyer, Officer Commanding SAAF Museum Lt Col Mike O'Connor and the enthusiasm of the Museum technical staff led by WO1 “Toitjie” du Toit. On landing, all the flying and technical crew celebrated with a glass of champers and grape juice for those on duty. The South African Air Force Museum “200 Squadron” are very proud to add yet another serviceable aircraft to their impressive stable.