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South African Air Force


SAAF no c/n
6901 42934
6902 43155
6903 43156
6904 43157
6905 42984
6906 7488
6907 10417
6908 10413

SAAF DC-4 Exhaust modification
Photograph: South African Air Force Museum Swartkop Archives


SAAF DC-4 Camouflage
Photograph: South African Air Force Museum Swartkop Archives
SAAF DC-4 last formation fly-past flight - 7-ship formation Waterkloof 27 November 1992
Photograph: South African Air Force Museum Swartkop Archives

The last formation fly-past of the SAAF Douglas DC-4 Skymasters before being withdrawn from service.
Waterkloof AFB 27 November 1992.
Photograph: Omer Mees

Flight crews disembarking after the last formation flight.
Waterkloof AFB 27 November 1992.
Photograph: Omer Mees

Group photo of the crews of the Skymasters
Waterkloof Air Force Base 27 November 1992.
Photograph: Omer Mees


Skymasters' last bow
From Ad Astra, February 1993 (Text written out below)

Skymasters' last bow

44 Squadron's Skymasters have recently proved that up to their last performance their sturdy airframes were far from exhausted. The event was AFB Waterkloof's Prestige Parade, so it was the perfect venue for an all time record. All seven of the DC-4's used in the SAAF were flying in a formation and proudly so.

This was achieved by a tremendous team effort of the Squadron's ground crew under the command of Capt Keith Andrew.

Aboard one of the aircraft was, however, another champion: Col Kallie Minnaar (SSO Support Air­ craft) holds the record in the SAAF for the most flying hours on a DC-4, namely 3 500. It was thus also a suitable way of bading the Colonel goodbye, as he is retiring at the end of February.

Few people were aware that Skymaster 6904, flying in the back position of the formation, was also the very last model on the production line of the Douglas Aircraft Company. This youngest member of the Skymaster team will in future form part of South African Airways' (SAA) Historical Museum, turning the wheel full circle.

The SAA initially started buying these specific aircraft in December 1945. The SAAF received its first four DC-4's in January 1966 and another four at a later stage. One of the fleet burnt out at Rand Airport in the early 1980's, which left the seven aircraft in the formation behind.

Through the years the Skymasters proved to be one of the most popular passenger aircraft in the SAAF, transporting troops to and forth from the operational area and f lying VIP and other visitor groups to the border or elsewhere.

Despite their age (production ceased in 1947) the Skymasters have shown at numerous events that it was made of sturdier stuff. At the 1991 Air Transport Force Preparation Camp the DC-4's won the tactical navigation section and last year they ended third at the same venue. It was also a Skymaster which ended third among the more than 70 aircraft partaking in the Silver Queen Air Race last year.

With a formation performance never to be forgotten in mind, we wish these venerable flying machines a well-earned rest: we will not forget you.

The DC-4's in their final manoeuvre.


Bye, Master of the Sky
From Ad Astra, September 1994 (Text written out below)

Bye, Master of the Sky

by Lt Elza Thiart

When the big master of the sky rolled to a final standstill against the orange sunset, he walked slowly towards the darkened aircraft, a sad song emanating from his bagpipes and the on looking men grew silent.

Then suddenly the Skymaster-lovers cheered as the crew of the final SA Air Force DC-4 flight emerged from their aircraft to be served French champagne.

This was the sad sight at 44 Squadron on Wednesday, 3 August 1994 as Skymaster 6905 completed the final flight of a DC-4 in SAAF service.

The Skymaster was officially phased out of service at the end of 1992, when four of the five passenger aircraft ceased operations. Three aircraft remained in service - 6901 and 6906 for electronic warfare operations, and 6905 for training and force preparation.

On that last day, 6901 was on static display and formed the backdrop to the function in the hanger.

Touched crews

It was a touching moment for the present and past Skymaster crews when the roaring Pratt and Whitney engines were shut down for the last time. There were certainly a few lumps in throats as many a fond story was remembered and exchanged. The DC-4 number 6905 even received a kiss from one of her most loyal fans: Fsgt "Mannetjies" Wilken. Fsgt Wilken has the most hours on type of the present squadron crews.

When, why and what for?

In January 1966 the SAAF's DC-4's arrived at AFB Swartkop. These were four former South African Airways (SAA) aircraft which had spent their last years at SAA flying on the internal schedule routes and transporting spare DC-7 engines to the Comoros Islands.

The aircraft had all been newly purchased by SAA between 1945 and 1947 for use on the famous Johannes­ burg to London "Springbok Service". Another aircraft was obtained in the late 1966 and three more in the late 1970's. Sadly, on 24 November 1980, 6903 was burnt out in an accident while in a servicing hanger.

Skymaster 6904 is worthy of a special mention. This aircraft was the last of the 1165 C-54/DC-4's built, and was operated by SAA before being purchased by the SAAF. On 30 June 1962 this aircraft was involved in a mid-air collision with a SAAF Harvard trainer while on final approach for a bad weather landing at Louis Botha Airport in Durban.

The Harvard sliced through the DC-4's tail, but fortunately the crew managed to land safely and save the aircraft. The son of the co-pilot, Maj Gerhard Duvenhage, is presently a C-47TP pilot at 44 Squadron.

While in SAAF service the Skymaster was widely used as a passenger and VIP transport aircraft and is probably best remembered for transporting entertainment groups to and from the operational area. A far lesser known role of the DC-4 was that of electronic warfare. This involved electronic reconnaissance and real time support of aerial strikes during the Bush and Angolan wars. Although little can be said about this side of the DC- 4's operations, it is interesting to note that an Angolan Mig 21 fighter failed to intercept 6901, (better known as the "Spook"), whilst the aircraft was in support of an air strike.

The Skymasters of 44 Squadron surely did a great job and their final retirement, sad as it is, is well-earned. Their familiar shape and sound will al­ ways be remembered: Master of the Sky.

The crew of the final DC-4 flight: Fsgt "Mannetjies" Wilken (flight engineer), WO1 Theo Munro (flew with last flight), (Maj HP Meyer (co-pilot), Maj Rodney King (pilot), Maj Marius van den Heever (navigator), Lt Iain Findlay (navigator), and Lcpl Marco Gerli (loadmaster).

A sad sight at the farewell of the Skymaster