Air Combat Maneuvers with 2 Squadron, by Stephen Murray
During my time flying Mirages in the mid-70s, it was before the SAAF began flying operationally on the South West African border and understandably our flying was routine. We would do 2-week camps during each year, air to air gunnery in the Cape in February, air to air in Bloemfontein or Pietersburg and supersonic ACM in Durban. At Waterkloof we occasionally did a couple of weeks of ACM. That covered our primary roles. However, I remember most of the time doing GCIs (Ground Control Intercept) radar flights, mostly training new GCI controllers. We would get airborne in pairs and once high level; one Mirage would stooge around at M0.86 while the other was vectored onto him. After half an hour, the roles would be reversed for another half an hour. The worst part of that was we could often see the aircraft being vectored onto us and we could not defend ourselves because the GCI controller was under training and the attacker had to be repositioned for further vectoring and another attack.
One day, for some inexplicable reason, which I cannot remember, there were just 3 of us most junior pilots on the squadron as well as the most junior flight commander. Over coffee someone remarked it would a good opportunity to practice our entire role in one sortie. I would like to think it was me who suggested it, because I often thought how lucky we were flying one of the world’s top jet fighters with so much potential, but I cannot remember. In any case we discussed what we could perhaps do with 4 aircraft. The flight commander was not sure about going so much out of the norm, but our enthusiasm got to him.
What we then did, was get two Mirages airborne, of which I was one, on a timed exercise around the NE Transvaal. We took off individually and departed on different headings on a low-level navigation to meet at a certain time at a large feature, join up and run to another feature for a pitch up and dive in for a simulated gun or rocket strike on a selected target e.g., a bridge. (I really enjoyed these low-level timed exercises as we quite often did them on Hunters in Rhodesia. They were so satisfying because we would have at least 4 Hunters doing low level timed navigation to the four corners of Rhodesia and join up at a feature. I remember being on time, on track approaching the feature and seeing the other Hunters approaching from the different directions. We would join up on the designated leader and either do a simulated strike or go onto Salisbury. We had competitions with the Canberra squadron and afterwards would have a party with them in their Officers Mess.) In this case, once we had done our simulated strike, we climbed from the Eastern Transvaal waiting to be picked up on radar as ‘intruders’ by the GCI controllers in Devon.
While we had preparing for take-off the other 2 Mirages had been towed down to the eastern Operation Readiness Platform (ORP). This ORP was a brick hangar at the beginning of the western of the runway, off to one side. In the ORP the Mirages could be plugged into a complex electrical/air conditioning system, and all the instrumentation and systems were kept warm. If a scramble was imminent, (I remember - “gereed om te spander”) the pilot would be sitting in the cockpit and all he had to do was to press the engine starter, and once started, the electrical connection was detached and the Mirage ran straight onto runway and was airborne in a couple of minutes. There was also a readiness room in the ORP where pilots and ground crew could relax in the overalls and wait for a scramble. They just had run a few meters, jump into the Mirage, strap in, start, and go. I cannot remember if they actually used the ORP facilities for our exercise or just waited for the “scramble” at the of the runway and went from there. But the pilots were strapped into their ejection seats and waited for the call from Devon.
As soon as Devon picked us up, they scrambled the two Mirages at Waterkloof to intercept us. This time it was not going to be a cold vector onto us - no retaliation. They were vectored onto us from an 8 o’clock position, we picked them up on our “tail clear” call and a two versus two dogfights ensued. I cannot remember who the victors were, but our “bingo” fuel call came first engagement as we had been airborne longer. As pairs we requested radar vectoring back to Waterkloof from Devon which fed us into a radar GCA (Ground Control Approach) and landing at Waterkloof.
What a fantastic day that encompassed every aspect of our role on 2 Squadron; low level timed navigation into and air to ground weapons strike (simulated), pick up by GCI, scramble from the ORP, GCI intercept, ACM dogfight, GCI return to base and GCA approach and landing. Best day ever!
The next day we were just the junior pilots on the squadron again, and the normal routine returned.
The photos are 2 taken of an ORP scramble that I was not involved in and carrying practice missiles. The airborne shot I also took on one of my sorties as a pair.