After 80 years, the last C-47 Dakotas in military service worldwide are being retired

SAAF C-47TP (Photo Bob Adams (CC BY-SA 2.0)) 2

After an extraordinary 81 years of dedicated service, the South African Air Force (SAAF) is retiring its fleet of Douglas C-47 Dakotas.  These aircraft, known for their robustness and versatility, have been a mainstay of South African military aviation since 1943. The SAAF was the last military operator of the C-47, meaning the type is now officially retired from military service after an 8-decade career.

The Douglas C-47 Dakota, the military version of the DC-3, first flew on 23 December 1941 and was used extensively during World War II. The aircraft’s durability and adaptability made it invaluable for various missions, including troop transport, medical evacuation, and cargo delivery. The SAAF received its first C-47s in 1943, and these planes played a significant role in the Border War from 1966 to 1989, supporting operations in Namibia and Angola.

The C-47 Dakota had a distinguished career with the SAAF. Initially used during World War II, the aircraft were instrumental in post-war military and humanitarian operations. The fleet was modernized in the early 1990s under Project Felstone, converting many Dakotas to the C-47TP “TurboDak” configuration, equipped with turboprop engines and updated avionics. These modifications extended the operational life of the aircraft, allowing them to perform maritime surveillance, transport, and search-and-rescue missions.

Despite their storied history, the remaining C-47TPs in the SAAF have faced significant maintenance challenges. The lack of manufacturer support and difficulty in finding qualified maintenance providers led to the grounding of the fleet for the past two years. Armscor, South Africa’s arms procurement agency, made several attempts to secure maintenance contracts since 2018, but these efforts were unsuccessful.

SAAF C-47TP 6840 (Photo Asylumkid (CC BY-SA 2.0))

The final decision to retire the fleet was communicated to No 35 Squadron at Air Force Base Ysterplaat. This squadron, responsible for the remaining Dakotas, will likely transition to other aircraft platforms to maintain operational capabilities. The exact timeline for the withdrawal and disposal of the C-47TPs remains uncertain, but their retirement marks the end of a remarkable chapter in South African aviation history.

The C-47 Dakota’s retirement is a significant moment, reflecting on its long-standing contribution to the SAAF. While the fleet’s grounding and the challenges faced in maintaining such vintage aircraft are notable, the Dakota’s legacy endures as a symbol of resilience and adaptability. The SAAF is now looking towards modernizing its fleet to continue its vital maritime surveillance and transport missions.

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    • Marc Lecocq on May 17, 2024 at 12:00 PM
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    It is probably the aircraft that has had the longest military career and the warrior who has participated in more wars. AND many of whom are still in flight. They will be present in large numbers for the D-Day on June 06. And I am sure that the last of the South African Air Force will not be sent to scrap but be damaged in museums or will know a new civilian career.

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