The Cessna 185 Skywagon was selected by the Army to replace the ageing Austers then being used by the Army Air Reconnaissance squadron at the School of Artillery in Potchefstroom in the observation and co-operation role. 45 examples of three variants were delivered between 1962 and 1968 and equipped both 41 (ACF) Army Co-operation Squadron based at Potchefstroom (later Grand Central Aerodrome) and 42 AAR Squadrons, which remained behind at Potchefstroom. In October 1968 the two units transferred to the SAAF, falling under Light Aircraft Command.

The Cessna’s were amongst the first SAAF aircraft to serve in the operational area of SWA, being based as from 1968 at 1 ABU / 90 TAU (Rundu) and 91 TAU (Katima Mulilo). They were replaced by the Aermacchi AM3C Bosbok and equipped the re-formed 11 Squadron, also at AFB Potchefstroom in 1974. This unit was renamed 84 Advanced Flying School in 1981 and 84 Light Aircraft Flying School in the following year but was disbanded in 1991. The aircraft were then transferred to 42 Squadron following the withdrawal from service of the Bosbok and relocated to AFB Swartkop following the closure of AFB Potchefstroom in October 1992. 42 Sqn disbanded in 1998 and the Cessna’s equipped “B” Flight of 44 Sqn at AFB Waterkloof as from the beginning of 1999.
They continued to serve in the training role as well as carrying out border patrols from Army bases at Messina and Macadamia.The survivors were gradually withdrawn from service with most being sold by the time the last were withdrawn in 2006.

Cessna 185 no. 748 was built in the USA as an “E” model with construction number 185-1182 and registered as N4728Q before being imported to South Africa. It received the local civil registration ZS-EPB before being allocated its military tail number. It was allocated to 42 Army Air Reconnaissance Squadron in February 1967 and carried the titles “S. A. Army” / “S. A. LEER” on its sides along with the SAAF Castle and Springbok emblem. It served for the first time in SWA in July 1970 when it was based at 1 ABU (Rundu) for some 6 months. Thereafter it served a number of times at Katima Mulilo and Ondangwa, including at least two attachments to the South African Police, flying in an olive drab/dark earth/deep buff camouflage colour scheme with the SAP badge and markings, carrying the tail numbers SAP 112 and SAP 121. Thereafter it served with 11 Sqn and 84 L A/C FS, serving in the Operational Area of SWA for the final time during November/December 1988 at AFB Ondangwa.

Whilst with 44 Sqn “B” Flight it was selected in late 1994 to be the aircraft which would be stripped down to bare metal, polished and repainted to represent a 42 Squadron aircraft during that unit’s 50th anniversary celebrations in January 1995. It also participated in two President’s Trophy Air Races – the first in 1996 and again in 1998.

748 flew her last service flight on 13 October 2006 having flown a total of 7349.4 hours. It was placed in storage pending disposal and was allocated to the SAAF Museum in November 2011.
It remained in storage, appearing briefly as a static exhibit at a reunion of former “Takkie” pilots and at two SAAF Museum airshows, bearing once again the “S. A. Army” titles on its fuselage, as it would have during the late 1960s.

In mid-2014 it was decided to return it to flying status and it subsequently underwent a major servicing, completed in February 2015

by WO1 Alan Taylor