SAAF Museum Flying Training Day

and Spitfire Project Hangar Roof Wetting

Russell Dixon Paver


Once again, weather predictions seemed to plot against the first SAAF Museum Flying Training Day going ahead for the first time in two years of the Covid-19 lockdown. Thankfully the rain stopped although it was overcast. But the cloud-base was high, so it was a GO!

An ex-Silver Falcons Impala Mk I and the Mi-24 Hind helicopter on static display catch some sun-rays trying to break through.

The Sabre peeps out of Hangar #2 as Marc Quesnel of the Military Collectors & Re-enactment Society with two ladies as they pose with their flag as the await the arrival of more of their members.

It wasn't long and the operational aircraft were towed from Hangar 14 to the crowd-line. There were two helicopters: An Alouette II and Alouette III, three Harvards, a Kudu and two C185's. The Museum is in the unique position that it has more serviceable aircraft than pilots available to fly them. This resulted in the Harvards only being ground-run for the crowd, while the other aircraft on the line flew.

The "luxury bus" arrives at the flight line, towed by the Yanmar tractor, which has served many SAAF units, bringing ground crew and flight engineers. Among the ground crew were some young chaps from the Harvard Club who assisted with ground operations.

The Harvard engines were turned over by hand to distribute the oil from the lower cylinders and reduce the risk of hydraulic lock on start-up.

The air was soon alive with the sounds of aviation commencing and Major General (ret) Piet Burger air-taxis the Alouette II #15 to the main taxiway for take-off, while Colonel Ruan Potgieter takes off in one of the C185's. General Burger performed his training routines in Snake Valley and then landed near Hangar 14. He then returned for round 2 in the Alouette III…

Lt Colonel (ret) Abri Stoman flies past in the Kudu while doing his currency exercises and then taxis in. Normally the Kudu would be used to drop the Special Forces parachutists, but the cloud-base was too low for that.

Col Stoman and the ground crew busy with the post flight inspection, returning with a satisfied smile after a good morning's aviating.

General Burger coming back for more helicopter action and Col Potgieter returns after some C 185 "pedalling".

Colonel (ret) Billy Port chats to Warrant Alan Taylor about how he had to carefully "shake the rust off" and get the "muscle memory" stirred, to get back into practice before he took Alouette III #624 into Snake Valley for emergency training drills with Colonel Basie Jansen as Flight Engineer. Congratulations to Basie on promotion to full Colonel!

Harvard ground runs - heavy metal, beautiful noise!

General Burger and Warrant Sarel Beukes as Flight Engineer, put on some aerial ballet with the Alouette III #624. Sarel is getting his currency on the Alouette II, so it's great to have some "new blood" in the Museum Historic Flight.

General Burger taxis in Alouette III #624, marshalled by Warrant Groenewald as Warrant Beukes does the post flight inspection while General Burger shuts the machine down.

Warrant Groenewald and Colonel Jansen putting their best feet forward… and Warrant Beukes reflects on a great day of helicopter flying.

Colonel Gerrie Pretorius banks the C185 left onto downwind leg and then lands whuch was followed by a chat to old colleagues and family.

Open air static displays - Mi-24 Hind, Impala Mk I, Casa 235, Transall C160 and Boeing 707.

The Buccaneer in Hangar #3 was set up, with volunteers on hand, for project awareness - cockpit viewing and even a sit-in experience while memorabilia sales for the restoration project of Buccaneer #421 were underway on Swartkop base.

Karen Heydenrych and Dave Evans setup in front of Mustang Sally in Hangar #3 to sell donated items and memorabilia in order to raise funds for the Spitfire Restoration project.

The Friends of the Museum had their kiosk operating, with delicious boerewors rolls, hot dogs and cold drinks. Basil Kriel also had his gazebo with memorabilia, aviation toys, books and kits on sale.

Spitfire Restoration Project New Hangar Roof-Wetting Celebration

The special project was commenced some years ago under the auspices of the Friends of the SAAF Museum. A non-profit organization was set up to enable fund-raising and other activities to further the project aims. The project is being done in such a way that the Spitfire could be returned to flying condition in future, so all necessary documentation, drawings, various parts restorations or re-manufacture are done according to the necessary requirements to ensure this possibility is not hindered.

Ian Grace has been the driving force around getting this project going and has had great support from Colonel (ret) Tony Smit and his wife Shirlee. Tony was a former Officer Commanding of the SAAF Museum who was involved in the previous restoration and actually flew this particular Spitfire.

Reunions of Spitfire pilots have been held, although the Covid-19 lockdown has prevented this in the last two years. Many donations have been made by various people and organisations to support the project. Many people have also contributed valuable information as well as their time and effort. The SAAF Museum made a workshop available, but there will come a time when a hangar is necessary. There is still a very long way to go, but a vital step is having a hangar to work in and house the various parts and equipment and of course later, the complete aircraft.

A substantial donation has allowed for the basic framework materials and labour to erect it, along with half the roofing. The erection progress was delayed due to the floods in early February 2022, so at this point, the 32 x 16.5 metre hangar frame has been erected with half the roof still to be added.

To commemorate this milestone, a roof wetting ceremony was held on March the 5th with many prominent aviation personalities, organisations and enthusiastic project team members present.

The framework structure on the day, with the workshop as a backdrop. Phambili Construction had been working up until the guests arrived.

The gazebo with drinks table and some of the invited guests.

Ian Grace welcomed the guests and introduced Phil Scallan, Chairman of the SAAFM Friends NEC, who provided a brief overview of the project and introduced Col Tony Smit…

Tony Smit described some of the aspects of the project and mentioned Ian Grace's tenacity in getting the necessary things done. The poster on the workshop wall in the background features a picture of Spitfire AX-K in flight that I took at a SAAF Museum Air Show at Swartkop in 1999, the year prior to the crash of this Spitfire.

More of the invited guests, including Friends of the SAAF Museum, Museum staff and Harvard Club of SA.

Karl Jensen, representing the RAF Officers Club and the EAA, presented a poster depicting a Spitfire "office" and a picture of Jack Mallock's Spitfire.

Bryan Bailey, long-term SAAFM Friends member, past chairman and driving force behind many restoration projects, reminded guests that this day, the 5th March, was the 86th anniversary of the first flight of the prototype Spitfire K5054 from Eastleigh Airfield (later Southampton Airport) by Captain Joseph "Mutt" Summers, chief test pilot for Vickers. Summers is famously quoted as saying "Don't touch anything", on landing.

Tony Smit did the honours of popping the bubbly and Ian Grace was first to taste it.

The SAA Museum presented the project with an album of first-day covers.

Group photographs of guests and interested parties that attended.

Details of the project and news updates of activities and milestones can be followed at

Pilots Post was honoured to be invited to the Spitfire Project Hangar roof wetting celebration and wishes the team great successes in the project continuation and success of getting Spitfire S/N 5518 (5553) airworthy again.

Events 2022
SAAF Museum

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