current upgrade and repair to the runways at AFB Waterkloof
is big news around the SAAF these days. But it is nothing
The base, which will celebrate its 70th year of existence
this year, was established in 1938, initially as a practiced
forced landing field, secondary to Swartkop. During those
years, the airfield measured 1775 x 1550 yards of grass
landing strip, which was typical and adequate for aircraft
types of the 1930’s and 1940’s.
With the introduction of jet-powered aircraft such as the
Vampire, a new problem arose. With its typical low-slung
tail pipe, the jet efflux destroyed earth and grass runways
in close proximity. Plans to lay tarmac runways with
concrete hard standings were accelerated and it was decided
to construct tarred runways at AFS Waterkloof for the new
generation of jet fighters.
In July 1951 the newly delivered Vampires of 1 Squadron were
moved to AFS Swartkop in preparation for the construction
work to commence. In August 1951 the last aircraft moved out
of Waterkloof. These were the Auster MkV’s of 42 Squadron,
which had operated from there for a while.
Work was scheduled to start on 7 January 1952 and it was
estimated that it would take 2½ years at a cost of 434 000
When completed it was planned that 1, 2, 3, 4 and 42
Squadrons would operate from there together with 1 and 15
Air Depots. However little of those plans came to pass and
it was only in 1956 that flying units were able to move back
to Waterkloof. The construction of the runways and other
associated tasks therefore took nearly five years to
The period thereafter however saw the vast expansion of the
South African Air Force of the 1960’s and 1970’s. A host of
new equipment were introduced, units reformed, personnel
expertise increased and AFB Waterkloof became the foremost
SAAF airbase that it is today.
“History repeats itself! Which part of history?
The future is in our hands.”
Written by Capt L. Steyn
Research Officer, SAAF Museum