The team was temporarily disbanded in 1958 and after a period of dormancy, it was reinstated in 1966 flying the Aermacchi MB-326 ‘Impala’ Mk I – The SAAF’s newly acquired jet trainer.
After flying a tight 4-ship display in the air, they mingled with the public and became role-models, inspiring many a child to follow their dreams of flight. In 1985, the aircraft were repainted in an orange, white and blue livery – the colours of the old South African flag.
The loss of Impala 470 was attributed to a malfunction of the smoke generator in the tailpipe.
5 years later, on 2 October 1993, tragedy struck harder. During an air show at Lanseria Airport, Captain Charlie Rudnick flew Impala 489 and suffered structural failure of his right wing during the exit from a loop. He ejected 3 seconds later, but despite his fast reaction time, the seat fired outside its design envelope and he was killed by the high rate of descent with which he impacted the ground.
At the end of April 1994, with the advent of democracy in South Africa, a new national flag was institutionalised and the orange, white and blue livery became obsolete.
In order to embrace the new South African symbols, the Impalas were repainted. Maintaining similar design geometry, the old colours gave way to a scheme of white, navy and arctic blue – the colours of the South African Air Force.
On 10 May 1994, the new paint scheme was displayed for the first time at the historic inauguration of President Nelson Mandela at the Union Buildings in Pretoria. Six Impalas performed, trailing multi-coloured smoke in the colours of the new South African flag.
The team continued to operate from AFB Hoedspruit and flew the last display in the Impala in September 1997. For the next two years the team became dormant, until a new 4-ship routine was flown in their new mount – the Pilatus PC-7 Mk II ‘Astra.’ The first Astra display was flown by Team 52, led by Lieutenant Colonel Dave Knoesen on 30 October 1999.
For the next 9 years, the Falcons continued to operate as a 4-ship team in the red and white livery of the SAAF Astra fleet. Numbers were applied to the vertical stabilisers of the team aircraft in order to create distinction from the training fleet. Although the Astra lacked the much-loved jet noise of the Impala, the pilots had new challenges in the form of torque- and slipsteam effects and the ever-lurking risk of spinning propellers inches away from vital control surfaces. The lower speed and increased manoeuvering ability of the Astra enabled the display to be flown in a smaller ‘box’, closer to the crowd.
In 2008, a decision was made to transform the image of the team by repainting the six-strong team fleet in a unique blue and white livery and expanding the team to a 5-ship again. The paint for the task was donated by Mr Kuba Miszewski, MD of First African Paints. (www.firstafrican.co.za) During the painting and test flying of the blue Astras, great care was taken to keep the new design a surprise to the public and the media.
On 16 September 2008, the new livery was unveiled to members of the media and dignitaries at a cocktail function in the paint shop at AFB Ysterplaat. The next morning, the Silver Falcons opened the Africa Aerospace and Defence Expo in their new colours.
The striking new livery portraying a falcon’s head and wings was an instant hit with the public, air show aficionados and photographers alike. In a matter of weeks, the Silver Falcons made the front pages and covers of several newspapers and aviation magazines in their shiny new feathers.
With more than 550 displays flown in over 40 years, the Silver Falcons’ safety record is among the best in the niche of military aerobatic teams. They continue to instill national pride by dazzling crowds at air shows across South Africa.