In 1953 an aerobatic team known as the ‘Bumbling Bees’ was founded to represent the South African Air Force by flying formation aerobatics in De Havviland Vampires.
This same team is today known as the Silver Falcons, a team of top notch pilots who showcase the very best in aerobatic flying in the country.
History in the making
The Bumbling Bees team was disbanded in 1958 and only reinstated in 1958, this time flying the Aermacchi MB-326 ‘Impala’ MK I – the newly acquired SAAF het trainer.
The team was soon renamed and the Silver Falcons were born on 22 November 1967, who as a team performed their first show just two days later.
Over the years, the Silver Falcons flew hard to earn a reputation as ambassadors for the SAAF, travelling across the country to display the skills and professionalism of an SAAF pilot.
After every show, the four-strong team would mingle with the public, cementing their role-model status, inspiring many youngsters to follow in their footsteps.
In 1985 the aircraft were repainted in the orange, white and blue – the colours of the then SA flag.
Lucky number five
A fifth members was appointed to the team in March 1988 to fly as a soloist during displays.
Less than a month later, Captain Kobus Griesel suffered an engine fire moments after breaking into his solo set at the Le Motte wine estate just outside Franschhoek in the Western Cape.
He was unable to extinguish the blaze, caused by a malfunction of the smoke generator in the tailpipe.
He ejected safely 25 seconds after the first warning lights began blinking.
Five years later, on 2 October 1993, Captian Charlie Rudnick who flew Impaly 489 suffered structural failure to his right wing during the exit from a loop. He safely ejected three seconds later.
New National Flag
In 1994, democracy arrived in all its glory with a brand new national flag, making the old orange, white and ble livery obsolete.
Embracing the new South African symbols, the Impalas were repainted.
While maintain a similar design, the colours were changed to a white, navy and artic blue scheme – the colours of the SAAF.
The new paintjobs were displayed for the first time at the historic inauguration of President Nelson Mander at the Union Buildings in Pretoria on 10 May 1994.
Six Impalas took the sky, leaving a multi-coloured smoke trail in the colours of the new South African flag.
The team flew with their beloved Impalas for the last time in September 1997.
For four years, the team was dormant, until a new four-plane routine was flown in their new aircraft – the Pilatus PC-7 mk II ‘Astra’. The first Astra display was flown by Team 52, led by Lieutenant Colonel Dave Knoesen on 30 October 1999.
In 2008 the Silver Falcons Aerobatic Team was again reborn as a five plane setup and is now the official display team of the South African Air Force.
Their aim is to inspire the youth, promote aviation and showcase the skill of SAAF pilots to the general public.
Unlike most military aerobatic teams today the Silver Falcon is a part-time team.
Pilots and ground crew all perform display duties as an over-and-above task to their primary postings.
Based at Air Force Base Langebaanweg on the South African West Coast th pilots are all full-time ab-initio flying instructors at the Central Flying School.
To date, 100 pilots have been selected to fly in 76 different teams for the Silver Falcons. Each pilot is assigned a unique, sequential number. Whenever one or more team members change, a new team number is also allocated.
Falcons 1-5 make up the flying members of the team. Falcon 6 is the Ground Liaison and Safety Officer (GLO) and Falcon 7 is the Public Realtions Officer (PRO)
Few realise the amount of work required and all the procedures that are in place to keep a military aircraft serviceable.
Often out of the limelight, there is a hard-working team of specialists to ensure that the Silver Falcons not only go up, but also come down with their machines in good working order.
At home base, the PC-7 MkIIs are maintained by the technicians of 2 Air Servicing Unit. On deployment, a team of 8 to 12 technicians accompany the display team and contribute to the success of each aerial display.
Each "crew" consists of a Technical Officer, a Crew Chief, Avionic and Mechanical technicians, Survival specialists, Armourers (ejection seat) and MSC technical personnel for the mountains of paperwork and data capture that accompanies an aircraft system.
Being a relatively small team, tasks are often shared and although a member may specialize in a certain trade, everybody must be able to pitch in and help in whatever tasks are required to "keep the show on the road (or in the air!)".
The Silver Falcons Technical Support Crew are very often called on to "help-out" when other Air Show performers have problems with their aircraft, due to their vast experience and diverse knowledge of aircraft systems.
The total contingent is split into 2 "teams" who rotate the deployments throughout the year.
In typical SAAF fashion, the ground crew members always create room for humour, rivalry and tradition when deployed.
Team 80 who will be performing at the Newcastle Airshow is :
Falcon #1 : Mark Gentles
Falcon #2 : James Wilcox
Falcon #3 : Omphile Mutloane
Falcon #4 : Wendy Badenhorst
Falcon #5 : Sivu Tangana
Falcon #6 : Bheki Shabangu