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Cape Town - Aviation fans are outraged that a rare and historically important aircraft is being ripped apart to be sold as scrap metal.
When aviation enthusiast Greg van Schaik saw the wing and engine of a Shackleton MK3 long-range reconnaissance plane strewn on the back of a truck, he could not believe his eyes.
A phone call later, he found out it was the same aircraft that had been on display at Ysterplaat Air Force base since it was decommissioned in the early 1980s.
“I think it’s absolutely despicable from a heritage and a historical perspective,” he said.
John Heath, the chairman of the Cape Town branch of the SA Air Force Association, said he was shocked when he was greeted by the sight of air force base workers stripping the plane’s wings and cutting through the fuselage on Tuesday.
The aircraft, built in 1958, has been at the base for years and the effects of the sun, wind and rain have corroded its chassis.
“Look, the plane was in desperate need of some tender loving care. They probably asked themselves… ‘do we spend money on it and make it look good again, or do we chop it to pieces and sell it?’”
Heath, who served as a volunteer reserve pilot in Britain and South Africa, said the Shackleton MK3, used in the 1960s and 70s to patrol South Africa’s borders, was one of the last of its kind left in the world.
According to him, there was not a single Shackleton left in the UK, where the aircraft was originally manufactured.
“If the SA Air Force had been thinking out of the box, they could have approached the British consulate and offered them the plane. They would probably have been more than happy to take it off their hands… Now it’s gone.”
But Christo Stroebel, the commanding officer at Ysterplaat, said the rusted aircraft had become a serious safety concern and had to be removed.
“One night, the nose wheel part collapsed and the whole plane fell on its tail,” he said. “There was always the fear that pieces of it would start flying around in the wind and hurt someone.”
The decision to scrap the plane was made almost a year ago by the museum board, who decided the aircraft was beyond economical repair.
Stroebel said he could understand why people would feel angry or sad about the plane’s destruction.
“I couldn’t watch when they took it apart,” he said. “It has left a big empty space… it was always a landmark on the base.”
But he said the base museum always tried to hold on to planes as long as it could and there was consolation in the fact that the more intricate and unique parts of the aircraft had been retained to be displayed at the museum.
Stroebel said there was still a functioning Shackleton MK3 stationed at the airbase, which was, as far as he knew, the only fully-functioning model left in the world