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 History and final phasing-out of the Impala MK I & MK II

By CO Maryke Lynn

After four decades of hard work the South African Air Force’s (SAAF’s) Impala MK I & MK IIs finally turned in their wings at their decommissioning parade at Air Force Base Hoedspruit. This occasion, on 30 November 2005, brought together those crews who, since the Impala’s inception in 1966, had the privilege of flying and maintaining this graceful aircraft.

Seven Impalas, consisting of four MK I and three MK II aircraft, made full use of this last opportunity to show off their abilities. The seven pilots who had the privilege of flying this display were the Officer Commanding 85 Combat Flying School, Lt Col Koos “Rapier” Kieck, Maj Jaco “Weasel” Labuschagne, Maj Paul “Cruiser” Coetser, Capt Collin “Stingray” Sparke, Capt Catherine “Siren” Labuschagne, Capt Jacques “Panther” Mouton and Lt Lance “Lancelot” Mathebula.

The display started with a Delta formation fly-past and continued with a sequence of low-level aerobatic displays, a four-ship pitch and fan air-to-ground mock attack, two solo displays by “Weasel” and “Cruiser”, and a last Vic formation fly-past before breaking away to do their final landing on South African soil. After completing a combined shut-down of the Impala’s Bristol Siddeley Viper Turbojet engines, the pilots with their respective ground crew paid their last respects to this faithful aircraft and marched away.

Earlier on the same day, Class 2 of 1968, including Lt Gen Gagiano (CAF), Maj Gen Labuschagne (GOC), Brig Gen Barker (OC AFB Makhado), Brig Gen Hartogh (Inspector General), Lt Col Kieck and Col du Toit (Navigator), who did their pupil pilot’s training on the Impala, also bid farewell to this aircraft with a last backseat sortie.

During the early nineteen-sixties the Air Force embarked on a long-awaited programme of modernisation of its main equipment. It also saw the re-establishment of a South African aircraft industry – the Atlas Aircraft Corporation. The Italian Macchi MB-326 was the first aircraft to be manufactured under licence by this Corporation in Kempton Park. The Corporation recruited skilled aircraft workers from all over the world, including French, Dutch and British technicians, as well as Italians, Greeks, Germans, Poles, Yugoslavs, Czechs, Belgians, Americans, Canadians and South Africans. The 1968 October edition of the South African Panorama magazine described the factory metaphorically as a linguistic Tower of Babel, but without the confusion which characterised the Biblical story. “Notwithstanding the many nationalities, a spirit of cooperation is evident throughout the factory. The factory with all its manifold departments and sections, ranging from air-conditioned instrument laboratories to sizeable metal-pressing units runs as a single well-oiled combination.”

Sixteen Impalas were imported from Italy, ready for assembly at AFB Ysterplaat. Delivery of the first of these (with tail number 476 and now known as an Impala MK I) was taken in November 1966. The official symbolic handing-over to the SAAF took place on 3 June 1966, with the dual-seater MK I (tail number 460). Since that day, 151 MK I (MB-326M) dual-seater and 100 MK II (MB-326KC) single-seater Impala aircraft have been manufactured, the last delivery being that of an MK II with tail number 1099 in 1982.

The Impala aircraft has seen service as an ab initio trainer, a primary jet trainer and an operational light attack fighter. It also served from 1968 for almost three decades as the aircraft of the SAAF’s aerobatic team, the Silver Falcons. In all, the Impalas operated from 10 SAAF bases and both Regular Force and Reserve Force pilots flew this aircraft with great distinction in times of war and peace.

Fourteen Impala MK IIs previously belonging to the SAAF will soon grace Brazilian skies. The Brazilian Air Force recently bought these aircraft together with their support components and are in the process of rebuilding the aircraft with the SAAF’s assistance.

Even though the Impala will always be remembered with nostalgia and affection, this is the dawning of a new era in the SAAF, and the Hawk, which will now have very big shoes to fill, is awaited with great expectation and enthusiasm.


Mr A. Goncalves, aircraft worker from Portugal busy with a cocpit assembly


Mr R. May from England works on a new Impala's landing gear


The official opening of the factory on 24 Nov 1967

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