Date: 12 October 2017 By: Andries van Zyl
Air Force Base (AFB) Makhado outside Louis Trichardt will be commemorating 30 years of fighter excellence on 14 October.
A special gala evening will be held on Friday, 13 October, with the arrival of the Chief of the South African Air Force and his spouse, followed by a formation flypast consisting of one Gripen and three Hawk fighter aircraft. Thereafter, 2 Squadron’s Air Display Pilot will carry out a Gripen air display. During the event, AFB Makhado management will also recognise and award airmen and defence civilians who distinguished themselves for their commitment, professionalism, service and dedication towards fighter excellence during the past year.
AFB Makhado, located some 40 km from the town of Louis Trichardt, is the fighter base of the South African Air Force (SAAF), the home of the country’s fighter force of SAAB Gripen advanced fighters and BAE Systems Hawk fighter trainers.
The history of the base dates back 30 years. In 1982, construction of the runway systems was started, and the base was built by 400 Airfield Maintenance Unit, which is the construction unit of the SAAF.
AFB Makhado, then known as AFB Louis Trichardt, was officially opened in October 1987. Originally, it operated a mix of Denel Cheetah jet fighters, Aerospatiale Alouette III and Denel Oryx helicopters. In 2005, it began the transition into being a fighter-jet base. 85 Combat Flying School was moved from AFB Hoedspruit to AFB Makhado and 19 Squadron was moved to AFB Hoedspruit
Today, in addition to essential support units, such as hospitably services, radar surveillance, air traffic control, the fire brigade, health services, support services and the base administration, the base is the home for other major units. These are 2 Squadron with the SAAB Gripen fighter, 85 Combat Flying School, equipped with the BAE Systems Hawk fighter trainer, 3 Air Service Unit, 102 Reserve Squadron, and 515 Squadron.
2 Squadron is one of the most distinguished units in the SAAF and the world. It served during the Second World War in East Africa, North Africa and Italy, and fought in the Korean War. The squadron has flown some of the most renowned fighters that have seen active service, such as the Supermarine Spitfire, the North American P-51 (later F-51) Mustang, the North American F-86 Sabre, and the Dassault Mirage III. It received its first Gripen in March 2008.
The history of 85 Combat Flying School dates back to the 1960s to an Air Operational School based at AFB Langebaanweg. In 1967, this was moved to AFB Pietersburg, which closed in 1993, and was renamed the Advanced Flying School. In 1972, this designation was altered to 85 Advanced Flying School and changed again in 1982 to 85 Combat Flying School. The squadron moved to AFB Hoedspruit in 1993 and then to AFB Makhado in 2005. The first Hawk joined the unit there in September 2005.
As a flying unit, 102 Squadron is composed of volunteer reservists who commit not only themselves but their own privately owned light aircraft to the service of the country. Camps are held regularly, during which they execute liaison, observation, reconnaissance and disaster reaction missions. They have flown missions in support of the national elections, and provide targets in exercises, playing the role of smugglers or terrorists, who have to be detected and intercepted.
Being the second oldest air force in the world, the SAAF celebrated its 97th anniversary in 2017. The personnel of AFB Makhado are part of the unique culture of the air force and are proud of the history and various air operations that have been undertaken by the SAAF. The year 2004 marked the 10th anniversary of South Africa’s democracy, which was observed by the renaming of the base from AFB Louis Trichardt to AFB Makhado.
Due to the remoteness of the base, it is imperative that good relationships are kept with neighbouring farmers and towns in the vicinity of the base. AFB Makhado personnel are fully integrated in the local areas and are contributing to the economy of these areas. On-the-ground support is also essential to maintain good relationships with its neighbours, and AFB Makhado continuously aims to support, such as during the recent spate of veld fires where the assistance of the base kept a lot of people and their belongings safe. (Source: AFB Makhado)
Andries joined the Zoutpansberger and Limpopo Mirror in April 1993 as a darkroom assistant. Within a couple of months he moved over to the production side of the newspaper and eventually doubled as a reporter. In 1995 he left the newspaper group and travelled overseas for a couple of months. In 1996, Andries rejoined the Zoutpansberger as a reporter. In August 2002, he was appointed as News Editor of the Zoutpansberger, a position he holds until today.