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 By Lieutenant Thomas T. Mulaudzi, Air Force Base Makhado; photos by Flight Sergeant Smiley vd Valt and Photo Section AFB Overberg

The annual air-to-air training camp which was conducted at Air Force Base Overberg formerly known as Test Flight Development Centre (TFDC), over the period 22 February - 11 March 2016, left the community of Bredasdorp stunned as they heard unexpected supersonic sound of Jet aircraft hovering above 30 000ft in their area. At least six Gripens and five Hawks were utilized for the duration of the camp.

From left: Maj Andre Geyer, Cpln Christopher Barends, Maj Unathi Makoba, Lt Jonathan Strydom and Lt Nigel Marais at air-to-air training camp.

Four sorties by the Hawks and Gripens were flown each day. The program, which allowed for one hour of flying, started at 08:30 until 18:00. The Hawk aircraft from 85 Combat Flying School was tasked to drag the flag which was used as a target for points scoring by the pilots. The areas between Arnistan and Infanta communities were used as the only firing range for the camp.

Ground crew members working on the Ground Command and Control System

According to the camp Commander, Capt Geoffrey Cooper, the purpose of the camp was to test the competency of the pilots (new and old) in order to qualify them as air-to-air gunnery. He mentioned that apart from shooting the target, the focus area for achieving their objective was also on: general flying, navigation and battle formation. In addition, he said that it was important for both 2 Squadron and 85 Combat Flying School to renew their competency level annually by conducting such an event which impacts positively on the combat readiness of the SA Air Force. Capt Cooper believed that, notwithstanding minor challenges, the camp managed to achieve its objectives.

Maj Unathi Makoba, a qualified Approach Controller from AFB Makhado (currently detached at AFB Overberg) attributed the success of the camp to every role player, particularly those behind the scene: technicians, ground crew, fire fighters, media liaison officers, medical services, chaplain services, human resource and the protection personnel. According to him, the kind of service rendered was much more broader and challenging but yet interesting than the normal working environment at the Bases or Units. In his scope of work, he had to attend to other civilian airlines like the Bell 206 apart from rendering the service to the Oryx, Astra, Jets, and to the training camp. He mentioned that he also enjoyed handling civilian customers who were at the base either for missile testing, flaire testing, fire fighting, coast synich, or the environmentalists as well as the Chinese students who were also undergoing flying training.

The spear of the nation (Gripens),during the camp

Furthermore, he suggested that the training camp should be conducted twice per annum. He submitted that such a move will not only benefit or boost the morale and confidence of pilots, air traffic controllers, mission controllers and the technicians but will also expose them to working long hours in any environment. It will also ensure that aircraft are readily available for any mission. To this end, he proposed that a “rotation system for members should be done in order to give every member a fair chance to acquire a skill”.


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