If ever the SAAF had a love affair with an aircraft then it must be with the North American T6 Texan (Harvard). The T6, known as the Harvard in the RAF, served as the classroom for most Allied pilots who fought in WW II. Over a period of 25 years the Harvard was operated by 34 countries.
The first Harvard training aircraft arrived in South Africa in October 1942 as part of the US Lend Lease agreement with Great Britain. Forming part of the Allied Joint Air Training Scheme, the SAAF received a total of 633 Harvard Mk II A’s and III”s. By October 1945 the SAAF still had 555 Harvards in service. With the war at an end, 300 were shipped back to the US and the SA government purchased the remainder of the aircraft from the US.
Subsequently, a further 65 AT-6 D’s (SAAF Serial 7634 – 7698) and 30 T-6G’s (SAAF Serial 7699 – 7728) were purchased between 1952 – 1956. The Harvard served the SAAF till 1991. Today the Harvard club of South Africa still fly airworthy machines on the airshow circuit. Currently there are 61 Harvards still in existence in South Africa as derelict airframes, static displays, gate guards and airworthy machines.
Photos 2 and 3 depict an interesting incident involving a SAAF Harvard and soldiers from the SA Defence Force on 2 October 1964. The soldiers had dared the pilot the previous evening at a pub that no low flying Harvard pilot would ever fly so low that they would have to dive to the ground, so the following day he showed them. Fortunately nobody was injured and the SAAF Brass never found out about the incident so the pilot escaped a court martial. The distinctive sound of a Harvard engine will always have a place in South Africa. Currently SAAF pilots train on Pilatus and Hawk Trainers.
17 additional images. Click to enlarge.