The Harvard Club of South Africa-custodians of the T6.
By Willie Bodenstein
The National Monuments Commission declared ten Harvard aircraft to be cultural treasures on account of the historical and technical importance thereof and the Harvard Club of South Africa undertook to maintain and fly the National Heritage Harvard's on behalf of the People of South Africa and will display these aircraft on the ground and in the air and will make the opportunity of a flight in a Harvard available to the public. In so doing the Club will preserve a proud part of the heritage of the South African Air Force and of the Nation.
The Harvard Clubs history pre-dates the withdrawal of service of the iconic Harvard, the School Master of the Sky. The idea of forming a club originated in SAAFA (The South African Air Force Association) and dates back to 1988-89. Originally the aim was to recruit members for SAAFA from those airmen that have been involved with the Harvard that had served in the SAAF (South African Air Force) since the early 1940's. Fittingly the Club was officially launched at Central Flying School, Dunnotter in 1990 the year in which the 50th anniversary of the Harvard's service in the SAAF were celebrated. During the weekend 86 members were enrolled of which 52 joined SAAFA as well. The plan was to get all these Harvadites together annually for a braai and camaraderie and story telling regarding the years of Harvard operations in the SAAF.
In 1991 the SAAF announced that the Harvard was to be phased out and replaced by the Pilatus PC9 and that this would also result in the closure of CFS Dunnotter as training was to be moved to AFB Langebaanweg in Cape Town. The implications of this on the future of the Harvard in South Africa was dire as it was realised that these wonderful aircraft with their distinctive sound that for so long had formed the backbone of training pilots for SAAF would be lost to foreign collectors and traders. Negotiations with the SAAF Command Council and the Department of Defence were initiated in order to preserve South Africa's Aviation Heritage. Motivations were formulated, bargaining ensued, threats were made and all the relevant parties were lobbied. Fortunately the Club had the then Chief of the Air Force, Lieutenant-General James Kriel on its side and he had the foresight to not only support the request but formulated the contract and altered the original request for four aircraft to ten including a certain amount of spares.
The contract placed certain obligations on the Club, one of which states that no less than six aircraft will always reflect SAAF paint and colour schemes whilst other states that should the SAAF Museum be unable to take part in a Airshow or Fly in the Club will be obliged to represent the Museum at these events. In higher circles and lobbying on behalf of the Club the then Deputy Minister of Defence, Wynand Breytenbach promoted the plan and with the full support of the National Museums Council in 1992/3 the Club was issued with a range of Harvard numbers from which it could make a selection.
The prospect of receiving and maintaining and keeping to the terms of the contract were daunting and members were approached for financial assistance and twenty each donated R1000 and the Clubs financial base and future was secured. Together with W.O. A. J. van der Walt a selection of aircraft for acceptance by the Club was made and the first three Harvards, 7028, 7515 and 7643 were officially handed over the then Chairman of the Club Mr. A. (Arrie) W. De Klerk by the then Chief of the Air Force during a ceremony held at AFB Swartkop in 1994. These were subsequently flown over to then Jan Smuts International Airport where SAA Technical carried out inspections and registered the three on the civilian register. Eleven registrations, ZZU-AOO to ZU-AOZ were reserved for the Clubs aircraft with the remaining seven being delivered in 1994/95.
Arrie de Klerk
In order to secure the aircraft for posterity it was necessary to first trace and record the history of each of the ten Harvards and this task was undertaken by Colonel Tony Smit, Warrant Officer A. J. van der Walt, Reg Rivers and Arrie de Klerk. An application with the full history of each aircraft was then made to the National Museums Council requesting that these Harvards be certified as National Heritage items. The main motivation being the preservation of our aviation heritage and assuring that these aircraft were never to leave the Republic of South Africa and be preserved for future generations. The application was successful and published in the Government Gazette which in part reads: “The National Monuments Commission hereby declares ten Harvard's aircraft to be cultural treasures on account of the historical and technical importance thereof…” The future of the iconic School Master of the Sky was secured.
After completion of the inspection and paperwork in 1994 at SAA the first three Harvards were flown to Springs where the Club leased a hangar. Member's contributions and introductory flights kept the operation going for a while but it soon became clear that an alternative would have to be found. The Club then approached the then CAF, Lt. Gen Willem Hechter who promised that Club could be housed at no cost at AFB Swartkop under the umbrella of the SAAF Museum. This was in conjunction with the development AFB Swartkop as a heritage site along the lines of the World famous Ducksford in the United Kingdom. Naturally the Club jumped at the offer and in 2000 moved in and with permanent premises secured it grew from strength to strength with membership figures peaking in 2000 when the Club's books showed 479 paid up members.
The Club is self funded and receives no support from either the SAAF or the SAAF Museum except for the free use of the Hangar and Club House and support in the maintenance of the aircraft. Routine maintenance is done by club members. Income is generated by member's fees, intro flights, public and company donations and corporate days.
The Club last year celebrated its twenty first birthday and can right fully boast that it flew more than 5,500 intro flights and accumulated more than 2,200 hours. Six of the original ten aircraft, SAAF numbers 7024, 7028, 7166, 7306, 7643 and 7059 are still airworthy. The remaining four need some work done. Fifteen volunteer pilots, Andrew Blackwood-Murray, Gavin Brown, Tony Smit, Derik Hopkins, Mike Lombard, Laurie Kay (RIP), Danie van der Walt, Anton Barnes-Webb, Ivan van der Schaar, Darrel Wright, Werner Schmikel, D Lourens, Andre Smit, Jock Cameron and Hayden Tunmer fly the intro flights which is the clubs main source of revenue.
Almost all Saturdays Pat Rivers, Gloria, Dave and Jonathan Taylor, Sarah van Rooyen, Robert and Stephen Linington, Arno Booyens, Lex Townsend, Fred Sewill, Collette Olivier, Vincent Francis, Katherine Viljoen, Grant Kingon, Ruan Blignaut, van Benn, 19. Sean O'Brien Snr and Jnr, Bern Jacobson, Maurits and Hugo Heus and Albert 't Hart can be found at the club, taking bookings cleaning and refuelling aircraft, strapping passengers in and attending to all those tasks necessary in the running of a successful organisations.
It its twenty one years the club has been managed by a elected committee, all of which had a love for aviation and the School Master of the Sky in particular and it is their unstinting devotion that has kept these precious relics flying. The current committee is: Paul Roberts - Chairman, Ivan van der Schaar - Operations Officer, Jock Cameron - Liaison officer - Air force, Gavin Brown - Finances, Helm van Rensburg - Technical officer. Geoff Timms - Ground crew / ground crew training and Sonica van der Schaar - Shop.
The lifeblood of the Club is its members and the enrolling of new members, especially from the younger generation, essential to secure the future of the Club and to keep the Harvard in the sky and one only need to visit the club at AFB Zwartkop to see the number of eager youngsters that are involved to know that we will for many more years see the Harvard flying.
For general enquiries or to book an introductory flight phone: 012 651 3852 or Pat on 082 746 5109 or visit the club's website at: www.theharvardclub.co.za
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