By Willie Bodenstein

16 Squadron has a long and rich history dating back to 18 September 1939 when the Squadron was formed as a Coastal Command squadron based at Walvis Bay equipped with three ex South African Airways Junkers Ju 86Z aircraft in the role of a maritime patrol squadron. In order to get the new Squadron operational all air services of the South African Railways and Harbours were placed under military control as the Airways Wing of the SAAF.

Throughout the Second Word War, the Squadron fulfilled many roles during its active participation in the various campaigns that ranged from the Aegean Sea to Yugoslavia and from the Balkans to Madagascar. In all the campaigns it's served with distinction in the execution of its various tasks that included the destruction of the Vichy Air Force in Madagascar, a pinpoint raid on the German Naval Headquarters that was housed in the Excelsior Hotel in Dubrovnik, an attack on Kriz, headquarters of the first Cossack Mounted Division, where considerable casualties were inflicted by the destruction of three full troops trains as well as forming part of the support and escort force for the Allied invasion of Sicily.

Such was the Squadron's successes during WWII that no less than thirteen members were awarded the DFC and one, L Air/Mec. R.D. Botes the Kings Medal for Bravery (Silver). In May 1945 the Squadron was withdrawn from operations and disbanded on 15 June 1945 in Italy. It was reformed on 1 February 1968 around a nucleus of 17 Squadron "C" Flight equipped with Alouette III's and was temporarily based at Ysterplaat until 6 January 1969 when it was officially re-opened in Durban. The squadron also served in Bloemfontein and Port Elizabeth.In January 1986 four Puma helicopters were taken on strength increasing the operational capability of the unit that was then permanently based in Port Elizabeth. The unit then consisted of "A" Flight equipped with Alouette III s and "B" Flight with Pumas.

The main duties of the Squadron then were search and rescue, both and land and at sea, basic and advanced helicopter training, army co-operation and liaison, command and control and close air support. During these rescue operations hundreds of people saved. Invariably these operations were flown in difficult circumstances, such as at night, heavy seas and in extremely poor weather conditions, where both crews and helicopters were at risk. The Squadron's successes did not remain unnoticed and in March 1979 in was awarded the Sword of Peace Award and in April 1984 it shared the award with other Southern Air Command units. In December 1990 the Squadron was again closed and it's colours laid to rest in the City Hall of Port Elizabeth.

In 1998 16 Squadron was again revived, this time to operate South Africa's newest weapons system, the locally designed and manufactured Rooivalk Attack Helicopter. The initial establishment of 16 Squadron brought about a squadron with a unique composure with the primary purpose of fully integrating the Rooivalk system into the SANDFs inventory.

Faced with the increasingly conventional nature of the South African Border War the need for an attack helicopter became apparent and development started early in 1980 with the first prototype and capability demonstrator, the Atlas XH-1 Alpha having its first flight in February 1985.

The XH-7 was developed from an Alouette III airframe and dynamic components but with the cockpit replaced with a stepped tandem one and with the airframe converted to tail-dragger configuration and the addition of a XXX mm nose mounted canon. The concept was feasible opening the door for the development of Rooivalk. Rooivalk as we know it today is based on the dynamic components of the Super Puma which were already used in the Atlas Oryx resulting in an aircraft that is nothing like its rather humble predecessor the XH-1.Rooivalk has been designed to operate for prolonged periods without sophisticated support. All that is needed to keep it operational is a medium transport helicopter equipped with a basic spares supply plus four ground crew.

Three prototypes were constructed, the first being the XDM for basic platform testing which first flew in 1990 followed by the ADM version which included advanced avionics and weapons that flew in 1992. The final version was the EDM that flew in 1999 and that included all lessons learned.

The design philosophy behind Rooivalk is quite simply not be seen and if seen, not be hit, if hit to be able to sustain flight and if not able to sustain flight to survive the crash. Rooivalk's small frontal area with parallel and near flat cockpit glazing, nap of the earth flying capabilities (NOE), camouflage designed by the CSIR and bad weather and night flying capabilities, shielded compressor faces and unique engine exhausts suppressors makes it a rather difficult target to see and acquire. If seen its electronic counter measures, agility and maneuverability, stand off weapons and high excess power in hot and high conditions make it an elusive target to hit. If hit its 12.7 mm API ballistic tolerance, wide spacing of the engines, dual redundancy systems, fire protection system and dry run gearbox capability makes it a difficult target to down. If downed its over designed undercarriage, single engine capability, survivable sink rate of 10.5 meters per second, crash sensor and coupling in the electrical and fuel systems, shock absorbing seats as well as the placement of the engines ensures the safety and changes of survival of the occupants.

Rooivalk seats two with the pilot occupying the rear cockpit and the navigator/ weapons systems officer (WSO) in the front. It can however be flown from either cockpit and in most cases the WSO will also be a pilot. More or less the same size as the Oryx Rooivalk has a maximum take off weight of 8450 kg, never to exceed speed (Vne) of 167 kts (309 km/h), cruise at 120 kts (216 Km/h) and has a range without ferry tanks of approximately 600 km and with ferry tanks of 1,100 km. Armament will depend on the type of mission and can include besides the look and shoot chin mounted 20 mm canon, a cluster of nineteen 70 mm standoff rockets with a range of 6 Km per launcher, two per stub wing as well as fire and forget heat seeking air to air missiles and anti armour air to ground long range missiles.

On the world stage Rooivalk has won critical acclaim for itself and South Alicia's aerospace industry. Its performance and level of integrated technology have pushed the helicopter into a league with its rivals, the McDonnell Douglas Apache and Eurocopter Tiger.

January 1999 saw the first 16 Squadron members arrive at AFB Bloemspruit. Air Force Base Bloemspruit is co-located with Bloemfontein Airport (FABL) and shares its runways. Their temporary home would be the buildings of the relocated 8 Squadron. In April 1999 the permanent move to their "Domicile Citandi" took place into the revamped 86 Multi-engine Flying School hangars. This year also saw the first Rooivalk Conversion Course getting underway on 4 October 1999. Although the course was delayed to 10 January 2000, it did not dampen the spirit of all the new 16 Squadron members. The Squadron currently operates 11 Rooivalk Mk 1's, twelve were ordered and one was lost in a hard landing incident.

South African forces are currently deployed in United Nations peace keeping missions to various hot spots on the African continent where in the past they relied on their foreign counterparts that were mostly not suitably equipped for assistance and reinforcement when already volatile situations get out of hand. The deployment of Rooivalk has been a game changer and South Africa's own has already proved its mettle in a number of engagements that, was it not for its presence, might have resulted in the loss of life of our soldiers on the ground.

SA Air Force

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