SANDF to acquire 'super jumbo'

The South African National Defence Force (SANDF) will be taking delivery of a brand-new, giant Airbus 380 airliner in October next year. The acquisition of this three-deck, 600-ton ‘super jumbo” will essentially be for military-support strategies and will form part of the ongoing arms deal.

A spokesperson for the SANDF, who preferred to remain anonymous, said the giant aircraft would play a dual role, primarily as transport for the quick dispatch of South African troops to trouble spots on the continent and also as a standby for use by the South African president.

Like the Boeing 737-800 currently on loan from the SANDF to the president, the new Airbus 380 will be owned and operated by the South African Air Force and, in possible times of conflict, will provide a useful and necessary platform for airborne political party inspections of battle sites.

The R760-million Boeing airliner currently being used for the vitally important presidential international travel schedule has often proved inadequate to the needs of the president and his entourage.

Apart from the president, the Boeing 737-800 Business Jet carries only 10 passengers in its current ‘presidential” configuration. The same aircraft, when used in commercial aviation, carries more. South African Airways (SAA) carries nearly 200 passengers in its 737-800s.

What has attracted the SANDF to the acquisition of a new and larger airliner was the announcement by Airbus Industrie of the introduction of the new ‘super jumbo” Airbus 380, a mammoth three-decker, capable in commercial aviation of carrying more than 600 passengers. The quoted cost of the new presidential airliner will be R7,6-billion.

A spokesperson at the Presidency said that the acquisition of an Airbus 380 both as a military support aircraft and, occasionally, as the president’s airliner, ‘would signify the importance the world places on President Thabo Mbeki’s efforts in his historic role as progenitor and leader of the African renaissance”.

‘You can’t have the inspirational leader of something as crucial as Nepad [the New Partnership for Africa’s Development] slumming around in a 10-seater,” the spokesperson added with a dry chuckle.

According to early written stipulations issued by the Presidency travel and security advisers, and in the possession of Not the Mail & Guardian, the new presidential ‘super jumbo” will be configured in a manner suited to the transportation of highly trained peacekeeping troops.

To give an idea of the size of the giant Airbus 380: it would fill a rugby field, from end to end, with its wings extending well over the touchlines and its four massive engines will each produce 33 750kg of thrust — the biggest Boeing engines only produce 24 300kg each. The aircraft will stand nearly 30m high.

The lowest of the three decks will be used to transport the specially equipped road vehicles either military in nature and use or necessary for the protection and security of the president when travelling in foreign countries. Two specially manufactured, bomb-, grenade- and bullet-proof Mercedes CX-76G limousines, like those now used in South Africa by Mbeki’s nine-vehicle motorcade, will be included. One of the overseas Mercedes CX-76Gs will be left-hand drive, the other right hand, so as to be suitable for road and traffic conditions in foreign countries. Security advisers to the president have stipulated that Mbeki should not risk his life in even the best diplomatic transport supplied by the countries he visits. His personal safety should never be at risk.

To these ends, when carrying the president, the new Airbus 380 will be accompanied by a flight of six of the new Gripen fighters and interceptor jets and will be refuelled by airborne tankers flown by the South African Air Force. These tankers are converted Boeing 747-400s, previously owned by SAA.

The Airbus 380 has a useful load- freight capacity of 170 tons and the lowest deck may also be used for the transport of military vehicles for tactical support in times of conflict or, alternatively, six suitable vehicles for transporting the president’s entourage and security staff.

The central deck will be used for a 100-seater conference centre-cum-war room, doubling as a cinema or night club in the evenings. The aircraft will also carry a full Steinway concert grand, plus a string quartet from the University of Cape Town’s Music and Classical Hip-Hop Faculty. There will be a compact disco club for younger members of the presidential team. There will also be a five-star kitchen and small exclusive dining areas for senior military staff or the presidential group.

Located on the central deck will be several private military office suites and the central computer command centre. The presidential support staff — numbering about 360 political advisers, public relations managers, communications directors, personnel managers, spokespersons and interpreters — will be housed here.

The upper deck will be reserved for senior staff and will include a specially installed Thai ‘sauna facility”, a meditation room, a jacuzzi, a small, hermetically-sealed 50m-by-20m ‘meditation” tropical forest with waterfall, and a practice golf-net and putting green. There’ll be a 18m-by-6m grand bedchamber, a private bar and a splash pool. A small operating theatre is also planned.

The signal advantage of the larger aircraft is that, unlike the two-engined Boeing 737-800, the Airbus has four engines and a far greater range. It will be capable of flying non-stop from Pretoria to Moscow or Beijing.

Like the current presidential jet, the giant new one will be named after a popular South African bird. In this case, the north Sotho name, Mmakaitsimeletsa — the Marabou stork — no doubt a reference to this bird’s habits of feeding off putrifying animal corpses. The ANC also tends to feast on noisome political carrion, like apartheid and communism.

Early media response to the purchase of the aircraft has, according to the SANDF spokesperson, been typically racist and hostile. The spokesperson added that the new airliner will be bought with spare funds from those allotted to the arms deal and that Airbus Industrie has agreed to an offset investment in South Africa by way of the installation by Airbus of a special 10% discounted flight simulator for use in training crews for the 380, plus free lunch vouchers for air crew undergoing training.

The currently used Boeing 737- 800 presidential jet will be retained and used, if necessary, as a support and supply aircraft for the presidential Airbus, carrying invited journalists from the Independent group of newspapers and other political essentials.

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