Military heraldry
November 2006 / December 2013

Air Force heraldry

THE SA Air Force, established in 1920/21, was a branch of the Army until 1951. The official emblem, since c1949 is a golden fish eagle.

In the 1960s, the SAAF began to introduce unit coats of arms, to replace the system of non-heraldic badges that had been used since World War II.

Most units have individual arms, but for command HQs, air reserve squadrons, air servicing units, forward airfield units, and security squadrons there are generic designs which are simply differenced for individual units.

Headquarters, bases and stations

Some SA Air Force unit arms SAAF HQ - Air Logistics Command - AFB Durban - AFS Rooikop - Northern Air Defence Sector - 306 FAF CP.

The SAAF Headquarters arms depict the flying eagle superimposed on crossed swords. Each command HQ differenced these arms by adding a chief bearing suitable charges, e.g. the chain in the Air Logistics Command arms.

The characteristic feature of an air force base's arms is an embattled bordure, as seen in those of AFB Durban. The bird is a hammerhead.

Air force station arms do not have bordures. Those of AFS Rooikop depicted a flamingo. An embattled bordure was added later, when the station was upgraded to a base.

Northern Air Defence Sector's arms alluded to its function of controlling radar stations.

The standard format for forward air force command post arms divides the shield "per chevron raguly" (symbolising defence), with pheons representing incoming enemy aircraft, and a charge, such as 306 Forward Air Force Command Post's chess knight, to identify the individual unit.


Many operational squadrons use arms, while others prefer to retain their World War II emblems.

Some SA Air Force unit arms 12 Sqn - 27 Sqn - 107 Sqn - 508 Sqn.

Some, such as 12 Squadron, have created arms by placing their emblems – in this case, a flying springbok – on shields. Others, such as 27 Squadron, opted for new designs. The latter, which replaced the non-heraldic badge depicted on the Colour, alludes to the squadron flying coastal patrols in Albatross aircraft.

Reserve squadrons' arms follow a standard pattern of an orange saltire on green, with a local emblem, such as 107 Squadron's orange tree, on a plate in the centre.

The standard pattern for security squadron arms is a gryphon holding a sword (symbolising rapid and fierce reaction to threats), and an embattled chief (symbolising protection) bearing a charge alluding to the area where the unit is located. 508 Squadron's arms, for instance, depict two Zulu assegais.

Supporting units

... 80 Air Navigation School - Flying Training School - 11 Air Depot - 2 Air Servicing Unit - Air Publications Depot - 2 Satellite Radar Station.

Most air force schools have arms. Those shown belong to 80 Air Navigation School, depicting compasses and the Southern Cross, and the Flying Training School, depicting an Impala aircraft.

The standard pattern for air depot arms was three outwardly curving arrows surmounted by a plate bearing a charge to identify the individual unit, such as 11 Air Depot's seashell.

Air servicing units' arms display a pair of wings enclosing a charge identifying the individual unit. The arms of 2 Air Servicing Unit, for instance, display the symbol for iron ('yster' in Afrikaans), alluding to the unit's home at AFB Ysterplaat.

Other unit arms of interest include those of the Air Publications Depot, which symbolise distributing printed material to all corners of the globe, and 2 Satellite Radar Station, with its spider-and-web design.

References :
  • Potgieter, H. & Steenkamp, W.P.; Aircraft of the South African Air Force (1980).
  • SA Air Force website.

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