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