MOSIUOA LEKOTA, South Africa’s Defence Minister, officially re-opened the South African Air Force’s (SAAF’s) 85 Combat Flying School (85 CFS) at Air Force Base (AFB) Makhado on October 19. The first ten SAAF Hawk Mk 120 lead-in fighter trainers for the SAAF were officially handed over at the same time. The unit, the SAAF’s only fighter pilot training squadron, had closed down last year to await the arrival of the Hawks after moving from AFB Hoedspruit to Makhado. The first Hawk was delivered to Makhado in September 2005 for initial ground crew familiarisation and training (see First SAAF Hawk Delivery, December 2005, p18), following which formal hand-over of the first two aircraft took place on May 24,2006 (see News Briefs, July, p20). The Hawks, 24 of which are being acquired, replace the unit’s Atlas Impalas, which were phased out at the end of last year. A total of 16 aircraft are scheduled for delivery to 85 CFS by the end of 2006, with all 24 expected to have entered service by mid-2007. The first four trainee pilots have completed ground training and will begin the flying element of their course shortly, whilst a further four are undergoing ground school. Three test pilots, one flight-test engineer, six flying instructors and one navigator have been trained on the type.
All SAAF pilots undergo an initial 180 hours of flight training on the Pilatus PC-7-II Astra at Langebaanweg, after which they are streamed for helicopters, transport aircraft or fighters.
Those selected for fighter pilot training go to 85 CFS to fly the Hawk, undergoing training in various skills, including air-to-air and air-to-ground combat, plus reconnaissance. After 430 hours on the Hawks, they convert onto the SAAF’s Gripen fighters, due to enter service in 2008. It is planned to recruit and train around eight fighter pilots per year, according to Colonel Daan van der Linde, officer commanding 85 CFS.