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 AFB Waterkloof runway construction …. nothing new!

The current upgrade and repair to the runways at AFB Waterkloof is big news around the SAAF these days. But it is nothing new!

The base, which will celebrate its 70th year of existence this year, was established in 1938, initially as a practiced forced landing field, secondary to Swartkop. During those years, the airfield measured 1775 x 1550 yards of grass landing strip, which was typical and adequate for aircraft types of the 1930’s and 1940’s.

With the introduction of jet-powered aircraft such as the Vampire, a new problem arose. With its typical low-slung tail pipe, the jet efflux destroyed earth and grass runways in close proximity. Plans to lay tarmac runways with concrete hard standings were accelerated and it was decided to construct tarred runways at AFS Waterkloof for the new generation of jet fighters.

In July 1951 the newly delivered Vampires of 1 Squadron were moved to AFS Swartkop in preparation for the construction work to commence. In August 1951 the last aircraft moved out of Waterkloof. These were the Auster MkV’s of 42 Squadron, which had operated from there for a while.

Work was scheduled to start on 7 January 1952 and it was estimated that it would take 2½ years at a cost of 434 000 pounds.
When completed it was planned that 1, 2, 3, 4 and 42 Squadrons would operate from there together with 1 and 15 Air Depots. However little of those plans came to pass and it was only in 1956 that flying units were able to move back to Waterkloof. The construction of the runways and other associated tasks therefore took nearly five years to completion.

The period thereafter however saw the vast expansion of the South African Air Force of the 1960’s and 1970’s. A host of new equipment were introduced, units reformed, personnel expertise increased and AFB Waterkloof became the foremost SAAF airbase that it is today.

“History repeats itself! Which part of history?
The future is in our hands.”

Written by Capt L. Steyn
Research Officer, SAAF Museum


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