Tag Archives: saaf

Military Aircraft: South African Atlas Impala (Macchi MB-326) Military Aircraft 13 MAY 2015

My introduction to the Impala as a boy growing up in the 80’s was of course through promotional images of the Silver Falcons proudly flying these distinctive jet airplanes throughout the country. In other words, it is about time I featured the Impala on this site then!

south african airforce SAAF Atlas Impala Mk II

Introduced in 1962, the Aermacchi or Macchi MB-326 is a light military jet aircraft designed in Italy. Originally conceived as a two-seat trainer, there have also been single and two-seat light attack versions produced. It is one of the most commercially successful aircraft of its type, being bought by more than 10 countries and produced under licence in Australia, Brazil and South Africa. It set many category records, including an altitude record of 56,807 ft (17,315 m) on 18 March 1966. More than 600 were built.

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South Africa obtained a license to produce the MB-326M (similar to the ‘G’ model), as the Impala Mk I in 1964 with production starting in 1966. It received 40 Italian-built aircraft followed by about 125 built locally by the Atlas Aircraft Corporation, using them both as trainers and in an armed configuration. Seven examples of the MB-326K were also bought as light attack aircraft, with a further 15 assembled from kits, while around 78 were license-produced and known as the Impala Mk II. Licence production of the single seat version began in 1974. The Impala Mk II, locally manufactured and equipped with French armament, was also advanced with a South African ECM suite.

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The South African Defence Force employed Impalas during campaigns against the Armed Forces for the Liberation of Angola (FAPLA) and Cuban expeditionary troops in Angola between 1975 and 1989. Impala pilots typically flew at 550–650 km/h at a height of 15 m to avoid Angolan air defences. Over the course of the South African Border War, one was downed by an SA-7; another returned with an unexploded missile in its exhaust.

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The aircraft had many advantages over expensive supersonic jets. Although slower, it could operate take off from relatively primitive airfields and strike swiftly. The South African Air Force (SAAF) used up to 6 x 120 kg or 4 x 250 kg bombs. The main armament consisted of 68 mm SNEB rocket-launchers (four x 6 or two x 18), and two 30 mm autocannon (with 300 rounds). These cannons were the real bonus for the Impala Mk II, helping to give a superior performance compared to earlier two-seat versions. The latter could also carry a pair of 30 mm DEFA guns in under-wing pods. However, dual capability as trainer-attackers was better appreciated, as was the availability of six hard points and so dual-seat versions were far more common. Six squadrons were equipped with the Impala Mk II in the SAAF during the 1970s and 1980s. Prior to Operation Moduler, most Impalas were withdrawn from their operating bases in South-West Africa, leaving the work to Mirage IIIs and Blackburn Buccaneers.

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Impala Mk IIs were also opportunistically used as interceptors. In several encounters in 1985 with Mi-8 and Mi-24 helicopters, they shot down a total of six. This happened during a crucial phase of the ground war, when Angolan and Cuban troops were checked in an offensive against UNITA bases. This ended in disaster for the Angolan/Cuban alliance when their supplies were cut off by UNITA and the SAAF and front line troops ran out of ammunition. Helicopters were being used to supply the besieged troops and the SAAF cut off this link. Two Mi-24s were shot down in the first encounter while escorting Mi-17s. The MiG-21s that escorted them flew too high to react in time. Two days later the Impala Mk IIs struck again, downing two Mi-24s and two Mi-17s. Attacks on unsuspecting helicopters were carried out with only two guns per aircraft. The single seat Impala Mk IIs were also sometimes armed with Matra R550 Magic air-to-air missiles for self-defense. The Impala Mk II operated at extreme ranges and had to fly very low, climbing only when helicopters were seen at medium altitude. After each attack they returned to low level to avoid interception by enemy MiGs.

And as I started this whole passage off, the Silver Falcons, the SAAF aerobatic team, were of course equipped with Impala Mk Is for a long period of time as well.

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Related Link: Wikipedia | SAAF

Military Aircraft: British Avro Shackleton Military Aircraft 02 MAY 2015

The Avro Shackleton was a British long-range maritime patrol aircraft for use by the Royal Air Force (RAF) and the South African Air Force (SAAF). It was developed by Avro from the Avro Lincoln bomber, itself being a development of the famous wartime Avro Lancaster bomber. The type is named after the polar explorer Sir Ernest Shackleton.

Avro Shakleton maritime patrol aircraft in flight 1

Entering service with the RAF in 1951, the Shackleton was used primarily in the anti-submarine warfare and maritime patrol aircraft roles; it also became used as a search and rescue platform and for performing several other secondary roles such as being a troop-transport. In later life, a small number of the RAF’s Shackletons were subsequently adapted for airborne early warning duties, performing in this capacity until the type’s retirement in 1991. The Shackleton was also procured by South Africa, and would be operated by the SAAF between 1957 and 1984.

Avro Shakleton maritime patrol aircraft in flight 2

The Shackleton was a purpose-built aircraft for the maritime patrol role; however, the legacy of Avro’s preceding aircraft is present in many aspects of the overall design. The center section of the Shackleton’s wing originates from the Lincoln, while the outer wing and undercarriage were sourced from the Tudor outer wings; at one stage during development, the tail plane had closely resembled the Lincoln’s, but were enlarged and changed soon after. An entirely new fuselage was adopted, being wider and deeper to provide a large space in which to accommodate the crew, their equipment, and a large bomb-bay. Later variants of the Shackleton were substantially redesigned, adopting a new nose-wheel undercarriage, redesigned wings and center-section, and a larger fuel capacity for more range.

Avro Shakleton maritime patrol aircraft in flight 3

Various armaments and equipment was carried by the Shackleton in order to perform its missions. In ASW operations, the ASV Mk 13 radar was the primary detection tool; it could detect a destroyer at a range of 40 nautical miles, a surfaced submarine at 20 nautical miles, and a submarine’s conning tower at 8 nautical miles, although rough seas considerably reduced the radar’s effectiveness. Other equipment included droppable sonobuoys, electronic warfare support measures, an Autolycus diesel fume detection system and an magnetic anomaly detector (MAD) system. A special camera bay housed several reconnaissance cameras capable of medium altitude and night time vertical photography, and low-altitude oblique photography. The crew would also perform visual searches using various lookout positions that were provided for this purpose.

Weapons carried included up to nine bombs, three homing torpedoes or depth-charges; the aircraft also had two 20 mm cannon in a Bristol dorsal turret. An in-flight refueling receptacle could be accommodated, but was not fitted on production aircraft.

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During the Second World War, the importance of securing the sea routes around the Cape of Good Hope had been made apparent, with over a hundred vessels being sunk in South African waters by enemy vessels between 1942 and 1945. In the post-war situation, the South African Air Force sought a large and capable platform to perform the maritime patrol role. After evaluating four RAF MR 2s in 1953, an order was placed for eight Shackletons as a replacement for the SAAF’s aging Short Sunderland maritime patrol aircraft. Modifications were required to fulfill South African conditions and requirements, such as the ability to operate over the Indian Ocean, the resulting aircraft was designated as the Shackleton MR 3.

On 18 August 1957, the first two Shackletons were delivered to D.F. Malan Airport, Cape Town. Two more followed on 13 October 1957 and the remainder arrived in February 1958. Delivered to the same basic standard as the RAF’s MR 3s, they were assigned single letter codes between “J” and “Q” and operated by 35 Squadron SAAF. The type typically patrolled the sea lanes around the Cape of Good Hope, often monitoring Soviet vessels traversing between the Indian and Atlantic oceans. The Shackleton was briefly used in low-level overland patrols along the Southern Rhodesian border, but these duties ended following concerns of the disturbance of wildlife.

Often, the Shackleton would be called into perform search and rescue operations in the treacherous waters around the cape. In March 1971, Shackletons successfully intervened in the SS Wafra oil spill, deliberately sinking the stricken oil tanker with depth charges in order to prevent an ecological disaster. The only operational loss incurred was 1718 K, which crashed into the Wemmershoek mountains at night time on 8 August 1963 with the loss of all 13 crew.

Avro Shakleton maritime patrol aircraft in flight 5

Due to an embargo imposed by the United Nations over South Africa’s policy of apartheid, acquiring components for the Shackleton fleet became increasingly difficult and thus the aircraft’s serviceability suffered. The fleet had been modified to Phase III standards prior to the implementation of the arms embargo, albeit without the auxiliary Viper engine. Two of the aircraft were re-sparred, 1716 J in the United Kingdom and 1717 O in South Africa by the SAAF, but the lack of engine spares and tyres, together with airframe fatigue, took a gradual toll. By November 1984, the fatigue lives of all but the two re-sparred aircraft had expired and the fleet was retired into storage.

Avro Shakleton maritime patrol aircraft in flight over beach

Although the joke has been applied to several aircraft, the Shackleton was often described as “a hundred thousand rivets flying in close formation.”

Related Link: Wikipedia | SAAF

Military Aircraft: British de Havilland DH.115 Vampire Military Aircraft 21 APR 2015

The de Havilland DH.100 Vampire was a British jet fighter developed and manufactured by de Havilland. Having been developed during the Second World War to harness the newly developed jet engine, the Vampire entered service with the Royal Air Force (RAF) in 1945. It was the second jet fighter, after the Gloster Meteor, operated by the RAF and its first to be powered by a single jet engine.

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The RAF used the Vampire as a front line fighter until 1953 before it assumed secondary roles such as pilot training. It was retired by the RAF in 1966, replaced by the Hawker Hunter and Gloster Javelin. It achieved several aviation firsts and records, including being the first jet aircraft to cross the Atlantic Ocean. The Vampire had many export sales and was operated by various air forces. It participated in subsequent conflicts such as the 1948 Arab–Israeli War, the Malayan emergency and the Rhodesian Bush War.

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Almost 3,300 Vampires were manufactured, a quarter of them built under licence in other countries. The Royal Navy’s first jet fighter was the Sea Vampire, a navalised variant which was operated from its aircraft carriers. The Vampire was developed into the DH.115 dual-seat trainer and the more advanced DH.112 Venom ground-attack and night fighter.

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The South African Airforce (SAAF) operated the DH.115 Vampire as primarily a trainer, with a period of service stretching from 1953 to 1978.

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Related Link: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/De_Havilland_Vampire | SAAF