15 Squadron


The Squadron is unique both in its location as well as its aircraft types. The Squadron’s area of responsibility includes a maritime obligation to the Kwazulu-Natal coast as well as a high altitude rescue capability serving the Drakensberg mountain range. In between is a vast expanse of rural settlement almost constantly in a state of unrest. 15 Squadron, along with the SAPS and SA Army are involved in maintaining control over this volatile situation by continuously doing drug and weapon raids in the affected areas. As a result of this 15 Sqn is considered to be the most operationally utilized helicopter Squadron in the SAAF. It is not uncommon for aircraft to return after one of these week-long trips having done in excess of 100 landings. The hilly terrain and hot conditions in these areas provide 15 Sqn’s crews with highly valued experience. The Squadron is committed to operational readiness, and as such conducts regular training exercises with various civilian rescue and medical organizations. These include the NSRI, MCSA, EMRS KZN, and Netcare 911.


 15 Squadron "C" flight

15 Squadron is the only squadron currently serving to have a detached flight. 15 Sqn “C” flight is based at the Port Elizabeth Airport and is equipped with BK117 helicopters. This flight provides a vital capability to the region as both 15 Squadron (Durban) and 22 Squadron (Cape Town) are more than 3 hours away. The flight is currently under the command of Maj Wayne Sharp.



Aquila Petit Ardua. The motto is latin and means “The Eagle Seeks the Heights”. The unofficial motto of the Squadron is “First XV: the Rest are Reserves”. This stems from the rich rugby traditions found in our province (even though this has not been evident in the performances of our local team of late!) and has a certain air of arrogance that is almost necessary as a military helicopter unit.


 Mission & Vision


15 Squadron provides efficient military helicopter air capabilities to our clients in our allocated regions, in service of our country

15 Squadron will be recognized as an indispensable asset to our clients.



C - Co-Operation
H - High Standards
O - Objectivity
P - Positive Attitude
P - Professionalism
E - Effective Communication
R - Responsibility
S - Social Involvement



Now stationed at Durban International Airport this chopper Squadron is synonymous in Kwa-Zulu Natal with daring feats of bravery in the air. The record books are filled with numerous newspaper cuttings of dangerous rescues of people from raging seas and wild wind-swept mountain peaks.

The story starts in 1939 when the Squadron was hastily formed after the outbreak of World War II, active service started with patrols being flown in co-operation with the Royal Navy. Early missions included the unsuccessful search for the German pocket battle ship Graf Spee and later the discovery and interception of the liner Watussi whose crew, on seeing the planes, immediately scuttled the ship to prevent her from falling into allied hands.

As the war progressed the Squadron was moved to Italian East Africa, Aden and then Egypt where Blenheim Mk IV bombers were flown. In April 1942 a detachment of the Squadron flying reconnaissance operations from the famous Kufra Oasis in Western Desert saw tragedy strike. Three Blenheims out on a mission lost their bearings over the featureless desert ran out of fuel and eventually force landed in the sea of sand; only one man made it back to civilisation.

The Squadron continued to change bases, roles and aircraft throughout the war and in October 1942 while flying Bisleys joined forces with RAF Beauforts and Beaufighters on a shipping strike against an Axis convoy, desperately trying to get supplies to the Afrika Korps, which were engaged in the battle of El Alamein. The allied aircraft locked into battle with the Luftwaffe fighters and enemy ships. Only a few of 15 Sqn Bisleys survived, however in the process they did succeed in destroying the strategic 9000 ton fuel tanker Praserpina carrying sorely needed fuel for the Axis forces. Later a number of South African pilots were decorated for their part in the assault.

Another thrilling period of service was the time spent on anti-submarine patrols off Cyprus. Besides anti-submarine patrols the Squadron went on reconnaissance and bombing raids against Crete and targets on the Aegean Sea. Often while on these sorties the small Baltimore formations crossed swords with the aggressive Luftwaffe fighters. Eventually the Squadron ended up over Italy in support of the 84th Army.

After being disbanded in 1945 the Squadron was not seen again until 1968 when in February of that year it was reformed at Swartkop air base flying the newly acquired French built Super Frelons, the air force’s largest helicopter. After being split up, “A” Flight at AFB Swartkop and “B” Flight at AFB Bloemspruit, the Squadron moved to Louis Botha, Durban Airport in 1981, where the pilots also started flying the Aerospatiale Alouette III. To deal with the wide variety of tasks assigned to the Squadron the two types of helicopters were necessary.

The Super Frelon was a short/medium range tactical helicopter, which was capable of carrying 27 fully equipped soldiers and had the power to lift a variety of equipment such as landrovers and smaller helicopters. Its large interior made it an ideal “casevac” aircraft. Affectionately referred to as “Putco” by those who flew it, the helicopter has been involved in numerous unusual missions in Natal, such as dragging whales back into the ocean, attempting to lift a downed Sikorsky helicopter from the ocean and rescuing moribund crocodiles from Lake St Lucia when the water became too saline. Its rescue missions included the plucking of 58 stranded Basutos who faced certain death in the snow-covered mountains of Lesotho. The gargantuan helicopter was retired in 1990, but the Squadron continued to operate Alouette III and Puma helicopters.

The Alouette III, probably one of the best known helicopters, is extremely versatile and reliable. This is borne out by the fact that is involved in active service with more than 40 air forces throughout the world. The likeable little chopper played an incalculable role in the Rhodesian War. Able to accommodate five passengers besides the engineer and pilot the aircraft has a maximum range of 540km and top speed of 210km/h. In Kwa-Zulu Natal the “Alo” was involved with the police, forestry department, anti-shark measures board and mountain club to name a few.

After the integration of the homeland defence forces into the SAAF in 1994, the LTS 650 powered BK117 aircraft, formerly in service with the TBVC states, replaced 15 Squadrons Alouette IIIs. These aircraft are employed for search and rescue, command and control, communications, ambulance and many other utility tasks. In their standard configuration for single pilot operation these helicopters can carry up to seven passengers or two stretcher patients and two paramedics. They can also be configured to carry nine fully kitted troops, but are seldom used in this configuration due to operating close to the weight restrictions of the aircraft. Two big clamshell doors which open at the back of the fuselage allow for easy loading of stretchers or cargo. Since 2003 these aircraft have been upgraded and are now equipped with 750hp engines.

In 1995 the unit began replacing it’s Pumas with the locally designed and built Oryx MLH. The Oryx is a multi-role helicopter, which was designed to handle the harsh conditions and varied topography of Sub-Saharan Africa. These aircraft are used for medium to heavy transport and communications flights, task force rapid deployment operations, fire fighting, and search and rescue missions.


 Honours and Achievements

  • Flood relief in Kwa-Zulu Natal during the 1987 floods.
  • Oceanos sea rescue in August 1991.
  • Shin-Kakogwa Maru sea rescue off the Mozambique coast in June 1994.
  • Ocean Plume sea rescue in August 1995.
  • Drakensberg snow rescues in July 1996.
  • Calarassi sea rescue in June 1997.
  • Aster sea rescue near Port St Johns in November 1997.
  • High Rise building rescue in Commercial street in February 1998.
  • Golden Union sea rescue off the Wild Coast in March 1998.
  • Operation Boleas (Lesotho) in 1998.
  • Mozambique floods in 1997, 2000 and 2001.
  • During the 2000 Mozambique floods 14 300 people were rescued of which 15 Squadron rescued 7210 people and moved 2800 tons of food.
  • The Squadron was also awarded the William J Kossler award in Washington DC. This award is given for, “the greatest achievement in the practical application or operation of rotary wing aircraft, the value of which has been demonstrated by actual service in the preceding year.”
  • The sea rescue of the Sagittarius and the Nino near East London in July 2002. These 2 rescues were performed on the same day!
  • The mountain rescue of stranded hikers at Sani Top in the Drakensberg in July 2002. The rescue got much publicity over the fact that the stranded hikers used tomato sauce to mark out a LZ for the Oryx. All Gold even used it in an advertisement that ran shortly afterward.
  • These are only a few of the rescues carried out by the Squadron in latter years. The full list, especially of sea rescues, is too numerous to mention.


 Community Involvement

The Squadron is commited to being involved with the community and promoting a positive impression of the SAAF to our area of responsibility. We have been involved in various “mercy mission” and rural outreach type programs, including:

“Mission to the Mountains” – distributing stationery with East Coast Radio and Pick ‘n Pay to rural natal schools.

“Toy Story” - distributing toys with East Coast Radio to rural children.

“Exodus Children’s Program” – distributing Christmas gifts to under-priveledged children in rural Kwa-Zulu Natal.

Vulture counting in the Drakensberg.

Siyandiza outreach – SAAF outreach program. The squadron uses any opportunity to promote the SAAF to the previously disadvantaged youth of the country.


 Officer Commanding

Lt Col Chris R. Opperman ( 01 January 2003 – present)


 Aircraft Types

The Squadron currently operates the Oryx and BK-117 helicopter types. The BK-117 fleet is unique to 15 Sqn. These aircraft were integrated into the Defence Force from the previous homeland states. 15 Sqn is currently the only Squadron in the SAAF equipped with these aircraft and the SAAF is one of only 2 Air Forces in the world utilizing this helicopter in a military role. The other, ironically, is Iraq who utilize the aircraft for VIP transportation.



 Photo Gallery


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