16 Squadron Re-opening

Trip Start Feb 05, 1990
Trip End Jan 31, 2005

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Where I stayed
AFB Bloemspruit Officers Mess
What I did
Factory Conversion Rooivalk AH

Flag of South Africa  , Free State,
Thursday, October 28, 1999

And so, what started as a dream and nearly ruined my selection interview 10 years ago was turning in to reality, although I was VERY nervous as I had no idea what to expect or what was laying ahead for me.

My good friend Louis Pretorius just put the pressure on before I left, because for years I had been talking about opening the Rooivalk line to Nav's and how I thought it should be done, so his parting words to me were:  "Well, you have been saying how it should be done for years, now you must go and do it!".

I had a very hard time saying good buy to my daughter and driving to Bloemfontein from Cape Town.  Hilton Canning warned me to carefully choose my music and make sure it was up-beat.  But, unfortunately what was up-beat in Cape Town was extremely depressing on the road and I spent most of the time singing the songs as load as I could, while crying my eyes out as they all reminded me of my 2 year old daughter Robin who was staying behind in Cape Town :(.

So, I arrived in Bloem not knowing what to expect and not knowing anyone there at all :( such a lonely feeling.  I had been in Bloem for night stops with 28 Sqn and on trips with Nav School, but had never stayed there, and must say had not even stopped there to refuel when driving from Pretoria to Cape Town.

It was VERY difficult to adjust to life in Bloem.  Not only was I the only non-pilot aircrew member on the base, but I was also the only non-helicopter aircrew member, so I did not fir in anywhere, and to top it all off I was a Captain and Cobus Meyer was the youngest pilot at 16 Squadron and he was a senior Major.  Furthermore, I had no idea what was expected of me, or even how I was to do that which was expected, so talk about a HUGE learning curve.  But I was where I had volunteered to be, and it had been my dream for as long as I was in the SAAF, longer actually, so I was going to make it work!

The factory conversion (presented by DENEL) started shortly after I arrived, before the first Rooivalk arrived at 16 Squadron, and it was absolute hell for me.  I knew NOTHING about helicopters and the Rooivalk was based on many of the same components as the Oryx, so gearbox explanation : "The gearbox is the same one as in the Oryx." and all the pilots go "Cool" and I go "Huh?" 

So I remember going out to the Waterfront in Bloem after the conversion was finished with a bunch of books on the Desktop Training System (DTS) the Rooivalk Computer Based Training System and realising that it was the first night I had not been in my room studying since my arrival which was in September (3 months ago).

I had worked my &%$# off, but was glad I had passed the technical exam, not by much 76% if I remember correctly, and the pass mark was 70%.  But I had finished in 2:45 minutes for the 3:00 exam, and while everybody else wrote longer than 3:00 hours and the exam went open book after 3:00 hours I felt great about the outcome, even though I had the lowest score :(.

I also remember the arrival of the first Rooivalk on the Squadron!  What an exiting day!!!!  It smelt like a new car, can you believe it and it was the most beautiful thing I had ever seen in my life! 

I was also privileged enough to be there fir the re-opening parade and dinner when 16 after the first Rooivalk was delivered.  Talk about doing it in style!

O, I was told that I would not be flying at all when I arrived on my first day.  Then I was briefed on my job, which was to teach the pilots the technical, weapons systems etc.  So day 3 saw me in Lt Col Marais office explaining that I could not teach what I did not know practically, or had experience on, and he agreed!  So, within 3 days I went from never flying to flying sometimes, HARD ON!!!!!!!!!

My first ever flight was with Mr Delen from DENEL and we ferried tail number 671 from Bloemfontein back to DENEL, a whole 1.7 hours.  It is the only time in my whole career that a whole page of my logbook features only 1 entry only :).

16 Squadron:

16 Squadron SAAF
is an attack helicopter squadron of the South African Air Force (SAAF). It was originally formed in World War II as a maritime patrol squadron, however, over the course of the war it was disbanded and reformed a number of times, operating a number of different types of aircraft. It was finally disbanded in June 1945 and was not re-raised until 1968 as a helicopter squadron. In the late 1980s the squadron took part in the conflict in Angola before being disbanded again in 1990. It was raised once more in 1999 and it is currently operating the Rooivalk attack helicopter.

16 Squadron was formed immediately after the outbreak of World War II, and was equipped with three ex-South African Airways Junkers Ju 86Z aircraft. It was deployed to Walvis Bay, where it was used as a maritime patrol squadron. However, it was short-lived, and by December of that year it had become B Flight of 32 Squadron.

The squadron was re-formed at Addis Ababa on 1 May 1941, once again flying the Ju 86Z, but disbanded that August following the Italian surrender.

The third chapter of the squadron's WWII history began when 20 Squadron, equipped with Martin Maryland and Bristol Beaufort aircraft and taking part in the invasion of Madagascar, was renumbered. Following the successful invasion of Madagascar, the squadron moved to Kenya, where it was equipped with the Bristol Blenheim V for use in the maritime patrol role, thus returning to its original purpose.

In April 1943 the squadron moved to Egypt, and was equipped with Bristol Beaufighters for use in anti-submarine duties. It continued to perform this role until it was again disbanded on 15 June 1945.

It would be 23 years before the squadron was once again re-formed, this time at AFB Ysterplaat on 1 February 1968, and equipped with the Aérospatiale Alouette III. A year later it moved to AFB Durban, though did not stay long, and finally moved to AFB Bloemspruit during 1972. The squadron's A Flight was transferred to AFS Port Elizabeth in 1973, with its B Flight moving first to AFB Ysterplaat, and then to AFS Port Elizbeth in 1980 to join A Flight.

In 1986, the squadron received an additional type, the Aérospatiale Puma. Throughout this period the squadron played a vital role in the South-West Africa/Angola Border War, and following the cessation of hostilities was disbanded in October 1990.

The latest chapter in 16 Squadron's history began on 28 October 1999 when it was reformed at AFB Bloemspruit and equipped with the new Denel AH-2 Rooivalk attack helicopter, receiving all 12. Due to the complexities of integrating a new type and the creation and modification of tactics for the use of the SAAF's first attack helicopter, the squadron is only expected to reach complete operational readiness in 2008. It is however still a functioning squadron, and regularly carries out joint exercises with the South African Army and other elements of the Air Force.
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