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DEFENCE CLUB OPENING TO OPPORTUNITIES

Information by Col Cloete and photos by WO2 David Nomtshongwana 
  
 

Legends tell of a magic bird called the Phoenix, which always rises from the ashes of its death. Such a Phoenix can be easily found at the South African Air Force base (AFB) Swartkop.

The Defence Flying Club was established in 1931, with the sole purpose of enabling more people in the South African Air Force (SAAF) that would have, otherwise, not have had the opportunity to fly, to acquire skill in that regard.

The club was recently re-constituted with the approval of the Chief of the Air Force, Lt Gen Carlo Gagiano. The first time it came into existence was on 27 March 1928, when officers and men of the SAAF agreed to a constitution for a club composed of officers and non-commissioned members of the SAAF.

The first aircraft acquired by the club was a Gypsy Moth that had been flown by lady Baily on a record-breaking attempt from London to Cape Town in the early 1930s. She abandoned her attempt after she was forced to crash land near Warmbaths, in the Limpopo province.  The damaged Moth was bought by the Defence Flying Club, and repaired by its members, consisting mostly of SAAF mechanics.

Details of aircraft owned and flown in the club during the 1930s, are sketchy, and could not even be known that a rare Aeronca two seater aircraft, powered by a 45 HP two cylinder continental engine, was part of the modest fleet for a while.

When the Second World War broke out in 1939 all civilian-flying activities ceased, while their aircraft were taken into military use.  However, immediately after the hostilities ceased in 1947, the club came back to life as the SAAF Flying Club. Since then, in one form or another, a flying club has always served the interests of air force members and others.

A number of redundant Tiger Moths were purchased from the SAAF after World War Two. A scarce Leopard Moth was also added to the fleet but was exchanged for a Piper J 3C Cub, ZS - AVA, soon to be joined by a second Cub, ZS – AWL.

When the Langebaanweg branch of the club was terminated in 1957, a number of Tiger Moths and an Aeronca 7AC Champion were taken over by the Defence Flying Club of Pretoria.   During a lull in terms of activities in 1972, the club was forced to do away with all its Tiger Moths, as well as a considerable number of spare parts.  Four complete Tiger Moths were again exchanged for one Cessna 150.  Some of these Tigers are flying to this day.

The club purchased a brand new Cessna 172, ZS - CPJ in 1960, saving R2 000 off the original price of R16 000, and was assembled on arrival from the United States of America (USA).

There is probably no other industry where its members are so passionate about their work that they would spend time and money at a hobby that has to do with their work.  This has been the case with flying whereby, through the years, fighter pilots could be found pottering around in Tiger Moths, while helicopter pilots would be testing their skills on the Piper Cherokee, and young, and not so young pilots sweating to learn the intricacies of aerodynamics, meteorology and radio procedure.

The club has always catered for those members who were not already pilots.  With regard to that, a record of training has been maintained over the years, and many graduates of the ground school have gone on to become air force pilots, airline pilots, or just competent private pilots.   The club holds a safety record in that, one of the club’s, ZS - AWL, was written off when a solo student pilot failed to recover from an inadvertent spin at low level. The two other fatal accidents involving the club’s aircraft were both as a result of failure to recover from a spin. One was a Tiger Moth, ZS - CJM, north of Wonderboom, in Pretoria.  The pilot survived but the passenger was killed. The other, involving Cessna 150 ZS - EXU, occurred at Swartkop airfield, when both the instructor, and his student, were killed. These three fatalities had been considered too many, hence the club can pride itself with  a noteworthy safety record over a period of 70 years!

The club seeks to carry on this tradition.  A ground school, drawing on the knowledge of retired instructors to teach the students what they need in order to be excellent pilots, and train them on the aeroplanes put at the disposal of the club by its members, up to the level of private pilots.   A number of students are at present going through the school, and the next course is already nearly full.  Several air force pilots also recently joined, and will convert onto the aircraft used by the club, in order to participate in its flying activities.

An active building section carries on the tradition of the club, and members can build their own aeroplanes, or assist others in building, under the watchful eye of experts.

The club has a history of participation in sport flying.   A club Tiger Moth, flown by Brig (then Colonel) Jan Blaauw came first in the 1960 Governor General's Cup (later the State President's Cup) race.  More recently, two members of the club came 7th in the Grand Central Airport Challenge time rally on 4th February 2012.  Not a bad performance as this was the first time that these pilots participated in that type of aviation sport.

Club Tiger Moths took part in various aerobatic competitions but during the 1980s the club's Cessna 150  "Aerobat" ZS - IOP became a familiar sight during provincial and national championships.  Club members dominated the "Sportsman" class and regularly took the first four places in the nationals.  One member was awarded the gold and silver medals in the Sportman's class during the South African Games in 1987.

Glen Dell, one of the club's regular top aerobatic pilots, went on to win the world aerobatic championship in the advanced class.

For people who are interested in the aviation industry, and especially the South African Air Force, the club offers an opportunity to get in touch with aircraft, the history and the culture involved. Close contact between the SAAF Museum, and the historic Harvard Club is maintained.

Several flying sport activities are planned, and the club is also preparing a project to assist in the battle against rhino poachers by flying air patrols over game reserves.  For the members of the air force specifically, this club, being an authorised sport club, offers members an opportunity to get involved in different aspects of aviation. 

Many members of the air force may not be pilots, but may wish to learn to fly, and the ground school offers them the chance to do exactly that.  The club is also closely linked to the SAAF Museum and the historic Harvard Club to give even more opportunities to those who wish to learn about aviation and its history.   For those interested in working on aeroplanes, the building section is the place where they could come and learn about the secrets of metalwork, cloth covering of aircraft, and maintenance.

This club is currently the oldest existing flying club in South Africa.  All serving members of the South African National defence Force (SANDF), their dependents and pensioners are eligible to join the club as full members.  Employees of organisations affiliated to or under contract to the SANDF may be invited to join as temporary members.

Training is offered to members in obtaining their private pilot licences, as well as national (sport) pilot’s licences at competitive rates.  Highly qualified flying and ground instructors are dedicated in their effort to offer training that is excellent and of high standard.

Qualified pilots are expected to participate in competitive sport flying.  Members may take part in club operated aircraft as well as their own.

The club gives members an opportunity to participate in a very satisfying pass time.  The building section of the club provides members with fantasies of manufacturing full size aircraft and flying them.  This is done under the expert eyes and supervision of building enthusiasts. 

For more information, you can contact Maureen at:  (012) 756-2671.

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