Pretoria - Air Force Base Swartkop, the oldest base in South Africa, has ceased to exist, the SA Air Force (SAAF) has said.
The facility, which also held the status of being the oldest operational base in the world, has for years hosted the SAAF Museum Airshow.
The last edition of the event took place early this month.
A national heritage site, the land was donated to the country by the then-queen of England 130 years ago. It will now be a mobile deployment wing.
This was revealed by director for command and control systems at the SAAF, Brigadier-General Jacobus Eduard Crous, also the officer in command of Swartkop.
Narrating the history of the facility to Pretoria News at the SAAF headquarters this week, Crous said the changes were necessary because the SAAF had gone through various stages which required adaptation.
“The base was built on a portion of a farm called Swartkop. That is where the name comes from. In the late 1990s it was decided to close air force base because we had Air Force Base Waterkloof and the amount of aircraft flying was reduced.
“It’s a costly affair to keep a base going with another one close by. There was no need for a second base at the time so it was a closed base but the facility still existed, the runway was still there and a decision was made that it would host the air force museum mostly and maybe a small contingent of air force if need be,” said Crous.
He said just after the year 2000 there was an issue with water under the runway at Waterkloof and it had to be rebuilt which forced them to move operations to Swartkop which reopened.
Activities returned to Waterkloof after the runway was rebuilt, but the helicopter squad and the heritage flight remained, said Crous.
“By 2010 we realised that there were some military activities still taking place and the decision was made to maybe fully reopen Swartkop.
“We had to ask for permission to reopen Swartkop, which was problematic because we all knew we were supposed to downscale because of financial constraints.
“While we were waiting for permission to open up the Air Force Base Swartkop again we would use the mobile deployment wing. The name Swartkop Air Force Base came up again.
“All we had to do was to put the air force base more on the Swartkop side, under the control of the mobile deployment wing.”
After deciding to reverse the decision to reopen the base they put the wing under the base that already existed.
“So therefore there is no air base Swartkop; there is only a mobile deployment wing,” Crous explained.
Crous insisted that the name Swartkop would be preserved, saying the geographical area is naturally called Swartkop.
“But for historical purposes, you will see when you drive down old Joburg road that there is still a board there that is written “Swartkop” because that area is known as Swartkop.”
He added that even though the museum aircraft were still flying from there and Swartkop was maintained as a functional entity, the reasons for reverting to the mobile deployment wing was because there is a big requirement for it .
“It’s an operational concept which is critical to the air force … It’s more under whose command it is … rather than a complete change. The mobile deployment wing’s responsibility is to deploy all the mobile equipment of the air force other than the aircraft like the mobile radars, mobile communication systems and mobile airbases.”
Crous said it was emotional to aviation community, historians and older air force enthusiasts to see the name go.
“The aviation community is very passionate about the airbases and runway,” he said.