Happy Birthday SAAF!

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

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What I did
SAAF 80 Airshow

Flag of South Africa  , Free State,
Saturday, October 28, 2000

To say the year 2000 was busy would be an understatement!  Not only was the Squadron riding the tide of having the first Rooivalk delivered and introducing them to the South African public, but the development of the DTS was in full swing and I was clocking up the Km's between DENEL in Kempton and 16 Squadron in Bloemfontein.

I was part of the Aircrew CBT Team as well as the Head of the Logistical CBT team, so I got to go to DENEL for both, seemed to spend more time there than I did in Bloem, but it was fun and I was working with a great bunch of guys.

I also had some more flights in Rooivalk which was very exiting:

28 Aug 00, Lt Col Reynolds in 671, FABL - FAJS for AFB Waterkloof Show, 2.0 hours.
05 Sep 00, Maj Meyer in 672, FAJS - FAWK, 0.5 Hours callsign N01J.
20 Oct 00, Lt Col Bates in 672, FABL - FABL for SAAF 80 Flypast, callsign KESTREL

I also finally got the pilots convinced that I needed to fly as a full time crew member, partly through nagging like hell, and partly due to impressing them with my hard work and knowledge of the aircraft systems.  So on the 31st of October 2000 I did my first official Rooivalk conversion sortie with Maj Viljoen in 673 with callsign Pegasus in the Bloem GF, and got my first stick time as well.  She handled beautifully, although not as smoothly as when the pilots were flying her :).

I was also lucky enough to be part of the team that visited AFB Ysterplaat for the SAAF 80 Airshow there, although we drove down with cars and the pilots flew :(.  We were always hanging out with the other Helicopter Squadrons and I saw this amazing photograph of 2 Oryx helicopters doing handstands with Table Mountain in the background.  So, I approached the OC of the Squadron and organised a 2 ship Rooivalk photo shoot with their local newspaper contact.  Initially I was not impressed with the photo's, they were great but not as wow as the Oryx photo, but must admit that they grew on me over the years :)

The Attack Helicopter:

An attack helicopter is a military helicopter with a primary role of an attack aircraft, which means attacking targets on the ground, such as enemy infantry, armored vehicles and structures. Weapons used on attack helicopters can include auto-cannons, machine-guns, rockets, and guided missiles such as the Hellfire. Many attack helicopters are also capable of carrying air to air missiles, though mostly for purposes of self-defence. Today's attack helicopter has two main roles: first, to provide direct and accurate close air support for ground troops, and the second, in the anti-tank role to destroy enemy armour concentrations. Attack helicopters are also used to supplement lighter helicopters in the armed scout role. In combat, an attack helicopter usually destroys around 17 times its own production cost before it is destroyed.

In the mid-1960s the U.S. Army concluded that a purpose-built attack helicopter with more speed and firepower than current armed helicopters was required in the face of increasingly intense ground fire (often using heavy machine guns and anti-tank rockets) from Viet Cong and NVA troops. Based on this realization, and with the growing involvement in Vietnam, the U.S. Army developed the requirements for a dedicated attack helicopter, the Advanced Aerial Fire Support System (AAFSS). The aircraft design selected for this program in 1965, was Lockheed's AH-56 Cheyenne.

As the Army began its acquisition of a dedicated attack helicopter, it sought options to improve performance over the continued use of improvised interim aircraft (such as the UH-1B/C). In late 1965, a panel of high-level officers was selected to evaluate several prototype versions of armed and attack helicopters to determine which provided the most significant increase in capability to the UH-1B. The three aircraft ranked highest during the evaluation; the Sikorsky S-61, Kaman H-2 Tomahawk, and Bell Huey Cobra, were selected to compete in flight trials conducted by the Army's Aviation Test Activity. Upon completion of the flight evaluations, the Test Activity recommended Bell's Huey Cobra to be an interim armed helicopter until the Cheyenne was fielded. On 13 April 1966, the U.S. Army awarded Bell Helicopter Company a production contract for 110 AH-1G Cobras.

The Cobra had a tandem cockpit seating arrangement (vs UH-1 side-by-side) to make the aircraft a smaller frontal target, increased armour protection, and greater speed. In 1967, the first AH-1Gs were deployed to Vietnam, around the same time that the Cheyenne successfully completed its first flight and initial flight evaluations. And while the Cheyenne program suffered setbacks over the next few years due to technical problems, the Cobra was establishing itself as an effective aerial weapons platform, despite its performance shortcomings compared to the AH-56, and design issues of its own. By 1972, when the Cheyenne program was eventually cancelled to make way for the Advanced Attack Helicopter (AAH), the
interim "Snake" had built a solid reputation as an attack helicopter.

After Vietnam, and especially into the 1990s, the missile-armed attack helicopter evolved into a primary anti-tank weapon. Able to quickly move about the battlefield and launch fleeting "pop-up attacks", helicopters presented a major threat even with the presence of organic air defences. The gunship became a major tool for both the US Army and their Warsaw Pact counterparts in tank warfare, and most attack helicopters became more and more optimized for the anti-tank mission.

The US Marine Corps continued to see the helicopter, as well as its fixed-wing aviation assets, in the close support role, although the Marines did dedicate a close-support helicopter in the form of the AH-1 Super Cobra. Soviet helicopters retained troop transport capability rather than being attack only.

While helicopters were effective tank-killers in the Middle East, attack helicopters are being seen more in a multipurpose role. Tactics, such as tank plinking, showed that fixed-wing aircraft could be effective against tanks, but helicopters retained a unique low-altitude, low-speed capability for close air support. Other purpose-built helicopters were developed for special operations missions, including the MH-6 for extremely close support.

The "deep attack" role of independently operating attack helicopters came into question after a failed mission, during the 2003 Gulf War attack on the Karbala Gap. A second mission in the same area, four days later, but coordinated with artillery and fixed-wing aircraft, was far more successful with minimal losses.

During the late 1970s the U.S. Army saw the need of more sophistication within the attack helicopter corps, allowing them to operate in all weather conditions. With that the Advanced Attack Helicopter program was started. From this program the Hughes YAH-64 came out as the winner.

The Soviet armed forces also saw the need of a more advanced helicopter. Military officials asked Kamov and Mil to submit designs. The Ka-50 officially won the competition, but Mil decided to continue development of the Mi-28 that they had originally submitted. The 1990s could be seen as the coming-of-age for the U.S. attack helicopter.

The AH-64 Apache was used extensively during Operation Desert Storm with great success. Apaches fired the first shots of the war, destroying enemy early warning radar and SAM sites with their Hellfire missiles. They were later used successfully in both of their operational roles, to direct attack against enemy armour and as aerial artillery in support of ground troops. Hellfire missile and cannon attacks by Apache helicopters destroyed many enemy tanks and armoured cars.

Today, the attack helicopter has been further refined, and the AH-64D Apache Longbow demonstrates many of the advanced technologies being considered for deployment on future gunships. The recently fielded AH-1Z upgrades the twin-engine AH-1W Super Cobra currently operated by the US Marines. The Russians are currently deploying the Ka-50, Ka-52 and Mi-28, which are roughly equivalent to the AH-64D and the AH-1Z. During the Kargil War, the Indian Air Force and the Indian Army found that there was a need for helicopters that can operate at such high altitude conditions with ease.

The limitations of attack helicopters from operating with high payloads and restricted maneuverability led India to the develop the Light Combat Helicopter that can operate in high altitudes.  These helicopters will be used by the Indian Air Force and the Indian Army aviation wing.

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