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article imageAir Force Museum flying day full of surprises Special

By Christopher Szabo     Apr 7, 2013 in World
Pretoria - It might have been any first Saturday of the month at the South African Air Force Museum at Swartkop Air Force Base, Pretoria, but it turned out to be a special day with a one-of-a-kind aircraft making its debut and a surprise helicopter ride.
Besides the aircraft that visitors can usually expect, including the North American T-6 Harvards (or Texan as it’s called in the US), the Kudu and Bosbok liaison planes; the Museum’s Aérospatiale Alouette II and III, the Puma helicopter (also designed by Aérospatiale),
A nice shot of the North American Harvard trainer.
A nice shot of the North American Harvard trainer.
Alouette Mark II known as the  Draadkar   or  Wire Cart .
Alouette Mark II known as the "Draadkar", or "Wire Cart".
There was also the first introduction to the public of a unique land version of the Thurston Teal amphibian aircraft, designed by former Grumman Aircraft engineer David Thurston.
Thurston was design team leader for two naval aircraft, the Grumman F9F Panther, which saw service in the Korean War and the Grumman F-11 Tiger, which was the first US single-seat aircraft carrier-based fighter.
Grumman F9F Panthers over Korea
Grumman F9F Panthers over Korea
wikipedia
The Grumman F-11 carrier fighter.
The Grumman F-11 carrier fighter.
Thurston designed his two and four seater amphibian after resigning from the Grumman Corporation in the 1960s. These are mainly used in North America, as the abundance of water in the northern latitudes of the continent allows lakes and rivers to be used as landing strips. The land version, named after its designer, Marvin Patchen, is the Patchen Explorer.
The only Patchen Explorer in the world.
The only Patchen Explorer in the world.
The aeroplane has been in mothballs for more than a decade and is flown by former SAAF fighter pilot and test pilot Major General (ret) Des Barker and Colonel Rama Iyer. Iyer told Digital Journal:
“ Thurston ... created a fleet of these aircraft as amphibians, and the amphibians are still flying, there are many of them. Then he decided, ‘maybe I should try a land version’. He created one land version and that was it.’
Marvin Patchen put up the money.
Iyer enthused:
“This is the only aircraft in the world, the ONLY aircraft in the world of this type, and we have it!”
General Barker, in an article for World Air News, explained the reason the SAAF considered the Explorer:
“Having found its way to South Africa from the USA, this design possessed several features required for visual reconnaissance, namely, a high level of stability about all axes, docile handling qualities to reduce pilot workload, a design manoeuvre speed of 100 mph, more than 180° unobstructed horizontal and 135º forward vertical field of view, and a small radius of turn, amongst others.
“It was these features that presented a possible solution for a ‘quiet visual recce’ aircraft during the early 1980’s which saw the transfer of the Explorer to the SAAFs Test Flight and Development Centre (TFDC) at AFB Waterkloof. The tasking placed on the TFDC was to evaluate the Patchen Explorer in the quiet, visual reconnaissance role.
There was a problem though, the aircraft was nose-heavy, as the re-design shaved off a large part of the nose of the original amphibian. It was to overcome this problem that Barker and Iyer had been testing both a strengthened nosewheel and the Explorer’s flight characteristics, to pass on to other SAAF Museum pilots in future.
Colonel Rama Iyer looks at the camera after inspecting that suspect nosewheel!
Colonel Rama Iyer looks at the camera after inspecting that suspect nosewheel!
But there was another surprise in store! It is normal that members of the public who have arranged with the Museum, get the opportunity to go up in one of the helicopters, usually the Alouette III or the Puma. As I was taking photos and watching a party of people climb into the Museum’s Puma, Captain (reserve) Kobus Kapp suddenly told me, in no uncertain terms, to climb into the helicopter. I at first tried to decline, but as there was one seat left and the chopper couldn’t waste precious fuel waiting for me, the military man came out with Kobus saying:
“Get on the chopper, NOW!”
While I didn’t exactly salute and say “yessir” I did hurry on to the helicopter, one familiar from days in the South African Infantry. (Its replacement is the Oryx, which is a locally-built Super Puma.)
We flew for about 30 minutes and a special pleasure was when the flight engineer came back and opened the doors. I don’t know how high we were, but I would guess about 8,000-10,000 feet about the ground (or about 16,000 feet above sea level).
View from the Puma of an interchange north of Pretoria
View from the Puma of an interchange north of Pretoria
It’s difficult to describe all the feelings you experience in being in a helicopter after so long, under very different conditions than three decades ago, when the Border Conflict was raging. The fact that I’d been up in the Oryx, which, while longer and bigger than the Puma, is really an upgrade, helped, but it was still an emotional experience. Having said that, it was also great fun, having the open door right next to my left shoulder was great and the pilot did some fun turns at a fairly steep angle, which was even better! I hope the photos below succeed in sharing the feeling!
A view of the Magaliesberg Mountains with the port door of the Puma off.
A view of the Magaliesberg Mountains with the port door of the Puma off.
With the chopper banking to starboard  a view of the Hartebeespoort Dam.
With the chopper banking to starboard, a view of the Hartebeespoort Dam.
Nelson Mandela on a building in Central Pretoria.
Nelson Mandela on a building in Central Pretoria.
A view of  my  chopper!
A view of "my" chopper!
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