The South African Air Force (SAAF) was formed in 1920 when the United Kingdom donated 100 aircraft to South Africa ("The Imperial Gift") like they did to each of Britain's Dominions.
In the early nineties the SAAF started a reorganisation program ("Rationalisation") during which several types were withdrawn from use. Among them were the Harvard, the Canberra and the Super Frelon. Besides that, the bases Pietersburg, Port Elizabeth and Potchefstroom were closed. The nineties also saw the introduction of some new types whitin the SAAF. For example, the first Denel built Rooivalk was delivered to 16sq in 1999.
Nowadays the SAAF has only one fighter squadron (2sq), based at AFB Makhado and operating the SAAB JAS39C and JAS39D. The Cheetah C/D ceased flying on 2 april 2008. 16sq was disbanded in 1990 with the closing of Port Elisabeth but was re-activated with the delivery of the first production Rooivalk, and was relocated to Bloemspruit. In 2003 it was announced that the SAAF ordered four Super Lynx 300 in Maritime configuration, to be built by Westland in Yeovil (UK). The first BAe built Hawk Mk120 was delivered in November 2003 to the TFDC for evaluation purposes. All remaining Hawks will be assembled in South Africa.
After the elections in 1994 the former Homelands ("thuislanden") became part of South Africa and the aircraft of the Defense forces of Bophuthatswana, Ciskei and Venda were added to the SAAF inventory. The SAAF still suffers from budget-cuts and SAAF-pilots have trouble keeping up their flying hours.
A special part of the SAAF is the SAAF Museum. This has his homebase at the former Swartkop AB and has the goal to preserve former SAAF aircraft. Besides that, the Museum tries to keep several aircraft flying. The Museum has many depots in the country and the airworthy Mirage 3's and Mirage F1AZ are based at Hoedspruit and maintained by the 85 Combat Flying School.
Although the SAAF is suffering from budget cuts, Chief of the SAAF Lieutenant-General Carlo Gagiano announced in 2011 that a Maritime Patrol aircraft is to be acquired on short notice. It will be used against Piracy. Somali pirates have already been active in the Mozambique channel, and the South African Navy has deployed a frigate to the area, supported by two SAAF aircraft – a Lynx helicopter embarked on the frigate and by a C-47TP maritime patrol aircraft forward based in northern Mozambique.
In 2011, SAAF ‘unveiled’ the updated PC-7s at AFB Langebaanweg. The upgrade features a state-of-the-art glass cockpit, a new avionics system and other training-related equipment. The upgrade was performed by Aerosud under the supervision of the Swiss original equipment manufacturer (OEM) as part of a programme coated at R400 million in 2007. Work started at AFB Langebaanweg in November 2010. In total 35 PC-7s will be updated, prolonging the lifespan to 2025.
SAAF Lieutenant-General Carlo Gagiano also stated that, although South Africa pulled out of the A400 programme, the need for an strategic airlift is also still in place; more specific an aircraft that can carry an Oryx and/or Rooivalk helicopter to remote locations. This work is being carried out by leased Il-76s. As the United Nations demand on-going deployment of the Oryx helicopters throughout Africa, the need for a bigger transport aircraft is evident. During recent months, no less than thirteen Oryx helicopters were deployed simultaneously.
By 1986 the Police already had a number of Alouette III helicopters being operated by the SAAF. These were returned to the SAAF and the Air Wing purchased new, more modern helicopters. The pilots and technicians are mainly ex-SAAF, who enlisted with the SA Police. Most numerous types in use are the AS350B3 and PC-6/B2-H4.