Photos – Noel Sellick. For many years two aircraft have guarded the entrance to the Gqebetha International Airport (formerly Port Elizabeth). Then one fell off its plinth.
The first aircraft to be placed on gate guard occurred on 27 May 1995. It was an Aermacchi MB 326 Atlas Mk1 Impala, tail number 507. This aircraft was a member of the Silver Falcons during its operational status, and wore the last colour scheme, when the Impala was the mainstay aircraft of the team. Through the years this aircraft had suffered badly from the harsh weather that the Eastern Cape experiences.
The second aircraft to be placed on a plinth was the Piaggo P166 ‘Albatross’. This aircraft was donated by the late Mike Beachyhead (of Thunder City fame) and was built up using parts from two aircraft to make up the display.
About two years ago the aircraft toppled off its plinth onto the rocks beneath it during a storm, causing significant damage to the horizontal and vertical stabilizer. During the past couple of
months vandals have also stolen the rudder and a baggage hatch cover.
After many months of red tape, the SAAF Museum were finally given permission to move both aircraft. The current ACSA manager Claudia Daniels with Captain Mark Kelbrick were significant driving forces to ensure the removal and preservation of these iconic aircraft.
‘then one fell off its plinth’
On Friday, SAAF staff from 2 ASU (Aircraft Servicing Unit) Ysterplaat, under the command of Lt. Col. Zackery Khan arrived with local Museum staff to begin the delicate task of rescuing the aircraft. The flaps were first removed from the Albatross to prevent further damage when slinging the aircraft. Then in rain, both aircraft were loaded on the flatbed trailers. The Impala slipped in its sling and incurred canopy damage when it was lifted off the plinth.
Local stalwart Stu Davidsons & Sons supplied two trucks and flatbed trailers free of charge, together with Samson Machinery Moving Equipment, who supplied the crane, cradles and gantry equipment.
The Nelson Mandela Traffic Department also volunteered their time and vehicles for both days. To all those involved, kudos.
Once the aircraft were loaded onto the flatbed trailers, the convoy made its way to the Museum. This involved lifting the Impala to clear the airport perimeter gates. The Impala had been loaded sideways and suffered further minor damage to the rudder.
Because the Albatross was loaded fuselage lengthwise on the flatbed it made the trip a bit easier. The gullwing design of the Albatross made the transition through the gates without a problem.
Lastly, ACSA working with ATNS, temporary closed the active runway 08/26 to allow the convoy to cross to the SAAF Museum gates. Rudi Nelson and ‘Friends of the SAAF Museum’ were on hand to receive both aircraft for offloading.
It is planned to restore both aircraft to static display condition, with Impala 507 wearing the Silver Falcons blue/white blue scheme it wore during its service. The museum has a spare canopy that will be fitted during the restoration.
The Albatross will be cleaned up and displayed in its present SAAF scheme. The Museum is looking for a rudder and rear left baggage compartment door.
The SAAF Museum survives on donations, charity and volunteer work, so any help in funds and materials is always appreciated.
Contact Details: Rudy Nelson
Bank Name: ABSA Bank
Account Name: SAAFM PE
Account Number: 918 640 0565
Branch Code: 632005
Reference: Your own details.