Air Force Base Potchefstroom
Aviation activities in the Potchefstroom area can be traced back to before World War II, when an all-grass municipal airfield was established approximately four kilometres south of the town next to what was to become the road to Viljoenskroon. As a result of the Joint Air Training Scheme, a new airfield was constructed five kilometers north of Potchefstroom during World War II. The old municipal airfield became an emergency landing ground for South African Airways from 1946, by 1947 was again used for civil flying activities. Various units and aircraft were based at the military field until it was closed.
AIR FORCE BASE POTCHEFSTROOM
Short history of the base
Work on the new military airfield at Potchefstroom began in 1940. Two large concrete hangars, which could accommodate 48 aircraft, were constructed. Tar runways and a steel hangar were added later. Personnel for 6 Air School began to arrive in June 1941 and the school opened in August 1941. Other units occupied the field until Air Force Station (AFS) Potchefstroom was established on 2 January 1974 under Light Aircraft Command with 11 Squadron and 42 Squadron as its operational squadrons. AFS Potchefstroom was upgraded to Air Force Base (AFB) Potchefstroom during 1980. The base’s badge (motto Aspirate ad Alta: we strive to the heights) was adopted in 1985. On 9 August 1985 AFB Potchefstroom was awarded the freedom of the town and in 1989 the base replaced its WWII-vintage control tower with a more modern one. AFB Potchefstroom celebrated 50 years of existence by hosting the AFB Potchefstroom 50 Years Open Day on 22 June 1991. When the base was deactivated in September 1992 it was handed over to the South African Army.
Chronology of units based at AFB Potchefstroom
- 6 Air School from August 1941 to August 1946
- 40 Squadron from August 1946 to June 1947
42 Squadron from 1947 to 1992
- 42 Air Observation Post (AOP) Flight April 1947 to April 1962
- 1 AOP Squadron from the mid-1950s to May 1962
- 42 Army Air Reconnaissance (AAR) Squadron May 1962 to September 1968
- 42 Squadron October 1968 to September 1992
- 41 Squadron from January 1963 to October 1968
- 103 Commando Squadron from 1965 to March 1993
- 11 Squadron from January 1974 to December 1980
- 84 Light Aircraft Flying School (LAFS) from January 1981 to December 1991
- 10 Squadron from November 1986 to March 1991
The JATS resulted in seven elementary flying schools, seven service flying training schools and other schools for the training of crew members other than pilots being used. The new military airfield constructed north of Potchefstroom became the home of 6 Elementary Flying School, which was renamed 6 Air School on 11 November 1940. The first staffmembers for the unit started to arrive in June 1941 and the school opened on 4 August 1941. The old municipal airfield was used as an auxiliary landing ground and land on the farm Vyfhoek for the practicing of forced landings. Thirty eight courses were completed before the school was disbanded on 6 August 1946 (the 39th course was suspended on 6 October 1945). Aircraft used by 6 Air School included Tiger Moths, Hornet Moths and Harvards.
10 Squadron (Vigilamus, “We are vigilant”)
Ten Squadron, which was originally formed in September 1939 at Collondale aerodrome, East London, found a new home when it was reformed in 1986 at AFB Potchefstroom and received the first of seven Seeker 2Bs for observation and intelligence gathering shortly after. On 18 August 1989 the squadron received the first of two Piper Aztecs (ZS-JLU and ZS-JLW) for communication-flight purposes, but the unit was finally disbanded in March 1991.
11 Squadron (Ne desit virtus, “Let courage not fail”)
Eleven Squadron was reformed as an Army co-operation unit at AFS Potchefstroom on 2 January 1974 following the renaming of B Flight of 42 Squadron and was equipped with Cessna 185 light aircraft. In 1975 elements of the unit were deployed in the Operational Area in northern South-West Africa (the Bush War). The unit’s contribution to the Bush War included deployment in roles such as reconnaissance, forward air control, transportation and mortar/artillery fire control. Locally aircraft were used in a co-operation role with ground units during regular exercises. On 31 December 1980 the unit was closed down when its Cessna 185s were transferred to 84 Advanced Flying School.
40 Squadron (Exercitui oculus, “The eyes of the Army”)
Forty Squadron was reformed as a tactical reconnaissance unit at Potchefstroom on 1 August 1946 and stayed there until June 1949. Aircraft comprised Tiger Moths, Harvards and Auster Mk 5s.
41 Squadron (Detegimus hostes, “We find the enemy”)
Forty-one Squadron returned to its roots when it was reactivated at Potchefstroom In January 1963 as an Active Citizen Force Army Co-operation unit. The mounts of the unit, Cessna 185s, provided a steady platform for the battlefield reconnaissance and low-level tactical navigation that comprised much of the unit’s operational flying. General-communications and the occasional medical-evacuation duties were also performed by the unit. Forty-one Squadron relocated to Grand Central Airfield on 1 October 1968.
42 Squadron (Per spicimus, “We survey”)
Forty-two Squadron’s origins can be traced back to 42 Air Observation Post (AOP), which was formed on 23 January 1945 at Bari and was disbanded on 13 August 1945. The unit was reformed on 1 April 1947 as 42 AOP Flight at Potchefstroom. Forty-two AOP Flight carried the code-letter prefix OP after WWII and was renamed 42 AAR Squadron on 1 May 1962, when 1 AOP Squadron merged with 42 Flight (operating Cessna 185s). On 1 October 1968 the unit was renamed 42 Squadron and stayed at Potchefstroom until September 1992 before moving to Swartkop (from September 1992 until December 1998) and being absorbed by 44 Squadron (February 1999). A four-ship display team with the name Spikes (derived from 42 Squadron’s motto) was also formed. Forty-two Squadron was the unit that spent the longest time at Potchefstroom (this includes the periods that the unit was known under other names).
Over the years control of the unit changed from the SAAF to the SA Army and back again. Forty-two Flight served under the SAAF from 1 April 1947, thereafter command was switched to the Army and by 1950 back again to the SAAF. In 1953 control of the unit went to the Army again and on 1 October 1968 the SAAF finally took control of the unit.
While at Potch, 42 Squadron began re-equipping with Atlas AM3C Bosboks in March 1973 and in January 1974 the Cessna 185s of 42 Squadron B Flight were used to form 11 Squadron. The Atlas C-4M Kudu was used by 42 Squadron for a short while before going to 41 Squadron. With the closure of 84 LAFS in December 1991, the Cessna 185s returned to 42 Squadron. It is ironic that the Bosboks, the aircraft that replaced the Cessna 185s, were themselves replaced by the Cessna 185s. The Bosboks were phased out after they took part in a parade on 25 September 1992.
Forty-two Squadron’s origins can be traced back to 42 Air Observation Post (AOP), 42 AOP Flight and 42 Army Air Reconnaissance Squadron. On 1 October 1968 the unit was renamed 42 Squadron and stayed at Potchefstroom until September 1992. A four-ship display team with the name Spikes (derived from 42 Squadron’s motto) was also formed. Here one of the team’s aircraft is illustrated. Note the new (left) and old (right) control tower of AFB Potchefstroom in the background. Forty-two Squadron began re-equipping with Atlas AM3C Bosboks in March 1973.
84 Light Aircraft Flying School (Prosperea res nitendo, “Achievement through endeavour”)
Eighty-four Advanced Flying School began to take shape on 1 January 1981 and was equipped with the former 11 Squadron’s Cessna 185s. A name change in May 1982 saw the unit renamed as 84 LAFS, which was established to provide advanced training for recent graduates of the SAAF’s ab initio Harvard course. This allowed for faster streaming onto light aircraft or transport aircraft. Later the unit’s mandate was expanded to include the training of pilots earmarked for helicopter conversion. 84 LAFS closed down on 31 December 1991, following which the Cessna 185s were transferred to 42 Squadron. Training was also carried out with 41 Squadron Kudus and 42 Squadron Bosboks.
At the time of the 84 Light Aircraft Flying School Open Day on 20 June 1986 it was approximately four years since 84 Advanced Flying School was renamed 84 LAFS. Here a line-up of five Harvards of the Central Flying School and eight Cessna 185s (including 714, 724, 721 and one of the civilian registered ones) of 84 Light Aircraft Flying School is seen on the flight line.
103 Commando Squadron (Robor et décor, “Strength and Pride”)
One hundred and three Commando Squadron was formed in 1963 at Potchefstroom. As the unit had shared the base with 42 Squadron, it also received training in artillery spotting and was on occasion required to perform such diverse tasks as the transporting of prisoners and photo-reconnaissance. The unit was disbanded on 31 March 1993 and had the honour of being the last unit to leave Potch.
Airshows and open days were held at Potchefstroom on 2 August 1975, 20 June 1986, 20 June 1987, 18 June 1988 and 22 June 1991. The 84 LAFS Open Day took place on 20 June 1986. Aircraft that attended the open day included Cessna Skylane II A2-CHE and Dakota ZS-DRJ of Comair. The 84 LAFS Airshow on 20 June 1987 is memorable because the Aviation Society of Africa, Friends of the SAAF Museum and Dakota Association of South Africa chartered Comair Dakota ZS-DRJ (I was a passenger on this flight).
2 August 1975
In 1975 the SAAF undertook a massive public-relations exercise by hosting open days at various bases. An open day was also held at AFS Potchefstroom (as the base was then known) on 2 August 1975. At that stage the resident units were 11 Squadron (Cessna 185s) and 42 Squadron (Bosboks). The Atlas AM3C Bosbok (one static and five flying) and Atlas C4M Kudu (961, the second prototype) were displayed in public for the first time. Visiting units included 2 Squadron (Mirage IIICZ 800, flying), 15 Squadron (Super Frelon 313), 19 Squadron (Alouette III 113 and Puma 122), 21 Squadron (Merlin II), 28 Squadron (Transall C-160Z 331) and 86 Advanced Flying School (Dakota 6843). Four Atlas Impala Mk Is also took part in the flying display.
20 June 1986
The Central Flying School of the SAAF formed an aerobatic team using Harvard aircraft. In this view Harvards 7676 (left), 7111 (centre) and 7661 (back) of the team are seen during the flying display at the 84 Light Aircraft Flying School Open Day on 20 June 1986.
The Silver Falcons is the premier display team of the SAAF. This photograph illustrates four Atlas Impala Is resplendent in the colours of the then national flag while performing formation aerobatics during the 84 Light Aircraft Flying School Open Day on 20 June 1986.
20 June 1987
Silver Falcon 1 (Impala I number 489) took part in the 84 Light Aircraft Flying School Air Show on 20 June 1987. Note the WWII-vintage hangar in the background. Two of these concrete hangars, which could accommodate 48 aircraft, were constructed during the Second World War.
This photo was taken during the 84 Light Aircraft Flying School Open Day on 20 June 1987. Cessna 185 number 726 of 84 LAFS is in the foreground while three aircraft (Alouette II number 22, Sikorsky S-55 number A-5 and Fieseler Storch VD+TD) of the SAAF Museum Flight are flying past in the background.
20 June 1987
Several airshows were held at AFB Potchefstroom. Here Cessna 185 number 720 of 84 LAFS (with ZS-JLV in the background) is portrayed on 18 June 1988.
This view of Bosbok 927 of 42 Squadron on the flight line was taken during the 18 June 1988 airshow.
22 June 1991
The AFB Potchefstroom 50 Years Open Day (to commemorate the birth of AFB Potchefstroom in 1940/1941) included the first public display of the SAAF’s then new Oryx helicopter. The flying display included a mass formation of 17 Bosboks in the form of the figure 50 and formation flying by the 42 Squadron Spikes display team and the Chubbs, Smirnoff and Harvard aerobatic teams. In addition there were formation and solo flying by the Bosboks and Cessna 185s and solo displays by the Oryx and the Hercules. For details about aircraft that were seen at the base on this day, see the table.
The flying display during the AFB Potchefstroom 50 Years Open Day included a mass formation of 17 Bosboks in the form of the figure 50.
AFB Potchefstroom celebrated 50 years of existence by hosting the AFB Potchefstroom 50 Years Open Day on 22 June 1991. Bell 222B ZS-HVR is shown with four aircraft of the Spikes display team flying in the background.
Bosbok 933 of 42 Squadron is displayed on 22 June 1991 with the typical armaments used in the Border War.
This Dakota (6865, note the full serial number and Springbok Castle) was also put on display at the AFB Potchefstroom 50 Years Open Day.
Impala II 1009 of 4 Squadron is seen at the AFB Potchefstroom 50 Years Open Day (with Cessna 185 number 729 in the background).
Civilian participants in the AFB Potchefstroom 50 Years Open Day included Smirnoff Pitts ZS-MZN. Infrastructure visible in the background of the picture includes the new control tower (on the extreme left), the large steel hangar (between the two control towers) and the old control tower (behind the Pitts).
AIRCRAFT SEEN AT POTCHEFSTROOM ON 22 JUNE 1991
|ZS-JLV||Cessna 185||84 LAFS||red-and white civilian scheme; no badge|
|ZS-JLX||Cessna 185||84 LAFS||
red-and white civilian scheme; no badge
|ZS-JLY||Cessna 185||84 LAFS||red-and white civilian scheme; no badge|
|710||Cessna 185||84 LAFS||
camo; no badge
|711||Cessna 185||84 LAFS||
camo; no badge
|714||Cessna 185||84 LAFS||
camo; no badge
|715||Cessna 185||84 LAFS||
camo; no badge
|716||Cessna 185||84 LAFS||
camo, Springbok Castle; fuselage and wheels only, no prop, damage to nose; no badge
|718||Cessna 185||84 LAFS|
|720||Cessna 185||84 LAFS||
camo; no badge
|721||Cessna 185||84 LAFS||
camo; 4 Air Depot sticker: Avionics Modifications Prototype Project; no badge
|724||Cessna 185||84 LAFS|
|726||Cessna 185||84 LAFS|
|729||Cessna 185||84 LAFS||
camo; static display; no badge
|732||Cessna 185||84 LAFS||
|735||Cessna 185||84 LAFS||camo, Springbok Castle; no badge|
|737||Cessna 185||84 LAFS|
|740||Cessna 185||84 LAFS||
dark green overall with black number; no badge
|746||Cessna 185||84 LAFS||camo; skyshout version; no badge|
|748||Cessna 185||84 LAFS||camo; no prop; no badge|
|749||Cessna 185||84 LAFS||
camo; no badge
|752||Cessna 185||84 LAFS||
camo; no badge
|753||Cessna 185||84 LAFS||camo; no badge|
|920||Atlas Bosbok||42 Sqn||camo|
|921||Atlas Bosbok||42 Sqn||badge; Spikes 2, Top Buc; camo|
|926||Atlas Bosbok||42 Sqn||badge; Top Buc; camo|
|928||Atlas Bosbok||42 Sqn||
badge; Spikes Solo, Top Buc; camo
|933||Atlas Bosbok||42 Sqn||static: armaments; camo|
|938||Atlas Bosbok||42 Sqn||badge; Top Buc; camo|
|939||Atlas Bosbok||42 Sqn||badge; Spikes 4, Top Buc, Mighty Bats; camo|
|943||Atlas Bosbok||42 Sqn||badge; Spikes 1; camo|
|944||Atlas Bosbok||42 Sqn||no badge; camo|
|946||Atlas Bosbok||42 Sqn||badge; Spikes 3; camo|
|947||Atlas Bosbok||42 Sqn||badge; Mighty Bats; camo|
|948||Atlas Bosbok||gate guard, Springbok Castle, no badge; camo|
|949||Atlas Bosbok||42 Sqn||badge; camo|
|951||Atlas Bosbok||42 Sqn||badge; camo|
|953||Atlas Bosbok||42 Sqn||camo|
|955||Atlas Bosbok||42 Sqn||camo|
|957||Atlas Bosbok||42 Sqn||badge; camo|
|959||Atlas Bosbok||42 Sqn||badge; camo|
|1009||Impala II||4 Sqn|
|1073||Impala II||4 Sqn|
SOURCES AND ACKNOWLEDGEMENT
85 Years of South African Air Force, Winston Brent, 2005
SA Flyer April 2002, article “Potchefstroom – New Home for EAA convention”, Dave Becker
Squadron and Special Markings of the Post-War South African Air Force – covering the period 1946 to 1959, Ivan Spring
Squadrons of the South African Air Force and their Aircraft 1920 – 2005, Steven McLean, 2005
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