Air Force of Zimbabwe

The Air Force of Zimbabwe (AFZ) is the air force of the Zimbabwe Defence Forces. It was known as the Rhodesian Air Force until 1980. The Air Force of Zimbabwe saw service in the Mozambican Civil War in 1985 and the Second Congo War of 1998–2001.

Air Force of Zimbabwe
Zimbabwe Air Force emblem
Active1980 – present
Size5,000 personnel (1999)
94 aircraft (2014)[1]
Part ofZimbabwe Defence Forces
Motto(s)Latin: Alæ Præsidio Patriæ ("Our wings are the fortress of the country")
CommanderAir Marshal Elson Moyo[2]
Air Chief Marshal Azim Daudpota Air Chief Marshal Josiah Tungamirai
Fin flash
Aircraft flown
TrainerSF-260, K-8
TransportIlyushin Il-76, An-12, C-212, Islander, AB412SP


Formation and early days

The Rhodesian Air Force (RhAF; formerly known, from 1954 until 1970, as the Royal Rhodesian Air Force (RRAF)), was reconstituted into the Air Force of Zimbabwe in 1980. The RhAF's 12 Hunter FGA.MK 9s were joined by other aircraft in 1981, 1984 and in 1987 from Kenya and the British Royal Air Force (RAF). Pakistan Air Force trained most of the Zimbabwean pilots in the initial days along with construction of Thornhill Air Base. Pakistan also sent Air Marshal Azim Daudpota to Zimbabwe as the Chief of Air Staff of the Air and Edias Ntini was a great commander for the ground work Force of Zimbabwe.

In 1981, the Air Force of Zimbabwe ordered 8 eight Hawk MK60s, which were delivered in July 1982. On the night of 25 July 1982 a sabotage attack on Thornhill Airbase damaged four Hawks, nine Hunters and a single FTB-337G. One Hawk was written off, another was repaired on site and the other two were returned to BAE for a rebuild. A follow-up order for five additional Hawks was completed in September 1992.

The first supersonic interceptor operated by the air force was the F7 Airguard, 12 of the IIN and II variants were delivered in 1986. In 1993, a pair of O-2As were delivered for anti-poaching patrols over Zimbabwe's national parks. Two Cougar helicopters were reported to be in use in 1997. One was delivered in April 1995 and the second in September 1996. They were used for VIP duties.

Second Congo war 1998–2003

The Second Congo War, also known as "Coltan War" and the Great War of Africa, began in August 1998 in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (formerly called Zaire), and officially ended in July 2003 when the Transitional Government of the Democratic Republic of the Congo took power; although hostilities are currently ongoing.

Zimbabwe's well-trained military entered the war as the best-equipped side. In mid-August 1998, the AFZ deployed five or six F-7s, most of the C.212s, at least four Cessna 337G Lynxs, and a dozen or more helicopters, including Alouettes, Bell 412s and Mi-35s, to Congo. All aircraft were flown by Zimbabwean pilots. After receiving an urgent shipment of spare Hawks, the AFZ apparently deployed some of them as well. At the start of the war, the Hawks had been reported to be in unflyable condition. Due to these circumstances the AFZ contingent in the Congo in August and September 1998 consisted of flights from No.3, No.4, No.5, No.7 and No.8 Squadrons, while a flight from No.2 Squadron was to follow later.

The No.2 AFZ Squadron deployed 12 BAe Hawk T.Mk.60/60As, which were used as strike-fighters and equipped with AIM-9B Sidewinder AAMs, Mk.82-series bombs, and Hunting BL.755 cluster-bomber units (CBUs), as well as launchers for unguided rockets. Only six or seven F-7s From No.5 squadron were fully mission-capable. Prior to the war in Congo, Zimbabwe was in the middle of negotiations with China for 12 additional F-7s.

For transport, the AFZ had the No.3 Squadron, flying 12 CASA C-212 Aviocar and six Britten-Norman BN-2A Islander light transports which had already seen heavy service, and were to see even more of this in Congo. Transport and liaison were also duties of the No.7 Squadron, equipped with Aérospatiale SA 316B Alouette IIIs (including ex-Portuguese Air Force – and Romanian IAR-built examples), as well as of the No.8 Squadron, equipped with Agusta-Bell 412SPs which were later armed with rocket launchers for this war. However, the latter unit would soon play a significant role in the war in DRC, as it was only recently equipped with the newest addition to the AFZ: six Mi-35 helicopters (including two Mi-35Ps). The first AFZ Mi-35-crews were trained at Thornhill AB, in Gweru, by Russian instructors. CO of this unit was Sqn.Ldr. Mukotekwa.

The first noted AFZ operation took place on 26 August 1998, where they destroyed a 5 km armoured column of rebels as they were approaching Kinshasa.[3] After defeating the invaders in Kinshasa, the Zimbabweans, in the belief that Kabila's government was already safe, suggested that there was no need to continue the war, and peace should be negotiated. This resulted in the reinforcement of rebel efforts as well as the Rwandans and Ugandans rushing better-equipped units into the battle. The garrisons in eastern Congo that remained loyal to Kabila fell to rebel attacks. The Ndigili airport, in Kibanseke Province, as well as Kitona, both held by Zimbabwean troops, were attacked simultaneously. In both cases, the AFZ responded with fierce air strikes. Rebels claimed that up to 100 civilians were killed by their bombs.

A series of fierce battles were fought between 4 and 13 September 1998, during which the Angolan mechanised forces were finally able to deploy their full firepower. The Chadian contingent was meanwhile deployed in NE Congo, where it participated in re-capture of Lubutu. The AFZ and FAC were active in this area for several days, flying a number of strikes during which cluster-bomb units (CBUs) were used. According to government reports, 45 rebels were killed and 19 captured in this battle.

On 13 September, when the Angolans attacked towards Kamina, the Zimbabweans found themselves under fierce attacks by thousands of rebels in the Manono area. It was in this area that the AFZ suffered its first documented loss of this war: on 4 September the Aermacchi SF.260 flown by wing commander Sharaunga crashed in bad weather, killing the pilot. Nine days later an Alouette III helicopter carrying several high-ranking officers, including Col. Kufa and Sqn.Ldr. Vundla, was shot down by rebels in eastern central Congo. Kufa and Vundla were killed, while Flt.Sgt. Sande was captured by RCD.

In late October 1998, the Zimbabweans launched an offensive in SE Congo. The offensive was made possible owing to the deployment of additional foreign troops in Congo, including some 2,000 Namibians. This began with a series of air strikes, partially flown by BAe Hawk T.Mk.60s of the No.2 Squadron, newly deployed in Congo, and by F-7s of the No.5 Squadron. These units first targeted airfields in Gbadolite, Dongo and Gmena, and then rebel and Rwandan communications and depots in the Kisangani area, on 21 November. On the following day the No.2 Squadron launched a strike package of six aircraft, armed with Mk.82 bombs and Matra 155 rocket launchers for unguided rockets calibre 68mm, which reached out far over central Congo. They deployed over Lake Tanganyika and attacked ferries used to transport Burundi troops and supplies into the war in Congo. According to Zimbabwean reports their strike came as a complete surprise. With machine-guns and light infantry weapons as the only means of air defense, six ferries were sunk and 600 Burundi and Rwandan troops killed. In a similar attack, on 7 December 1998, Zimbabwean planes or helicopters sank two rebel boats on Lake Tanganyika some 40 km north of Moba.[4]

In November 1998, it was reported that a $54 million shipment of helicopters, fighters and spotter aircraft had arrived in Zimbabwe to assist in the Democratic Republic of Congo. It is unclear who received the delivered weapons. There were only very few reports about the fighting in the next few days, probably because the Congolese, Zimbabwean and Angolan governments found themselves under heavy pressure from Western powers because of this offensive. The few reports released from sources close to the rebels indicated Zimbabwean and Congolese attacks on Nuyuzu, Kasinge and towards Manono, supported by T-62 tanks and heavy artillery. According to Zimbabwean reports the Hawks and F-7s continued their operations and made additional attacks against Kalemi on 24 November, and a new round of strikes against different airfields in eastern Congo two days late. After the attacks the pilots of No.5 Squadron claimed destruction of an unidentified An-12 transport on the ground.[5]

Current organizational structure

The AFZ is subdivided into the Administration Wing, the Engineering Wing, the Flying Wing, and the Regimental Wing.[6] The Administration Wing supports equipment purchasing, recruitment, staff support, food supplies, and related functions. The Engineering Wing maintains and inspects aircraft and related equipment, and covers the School of Technical Training, a tertiary education institution responsible for training aircraft maintenance engineering technicians. The training institute is the only federation aviation school in Africa. The Flying Wing handles aircrew personnel divided into eight squadrons at three primary bases. It also covers the schools for flying and parachute training. The Regimental Wing covers those squadrons specially selected to guard other AFZ assets, such as personnel and installations.[6] and weapon activations.


Current inventory

It is difficult to ascertain a list of aircraft types operated by the Air force of Zimbabwe because of secrecy. AFZ has been constantly linked to Mikoyan MiG-29 since 1980 and even sent pilots to the then USSR for training. In February 2002 the EU enforced an arms embargo on Zimbabwe in reaction to severe violations of human rights in the nation. Unable to buy spare parts for the British designed and manufactured BAE Systems Hawk, in 2006 the air force received the first K-8. The air force also had Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-23 fighter jets donated by the late Muammar Gaddafi.

Aircraft Origin Type Variant In service Notes
Chengdu J-7 China fighter 7[7]
BN-2 Islander United Kingdom utility / transport 5[7]
CASA C-212 Aviocar Spain transport 9[7]
Mil Mi-17 Russia utility Mi-172 1[7]
Mil Mi-24 Russia attack Mi-35 6[7]
Alouette III France utility 6[7]
Trainer Aircraft
Bell 412 United States utility / trainer 8[7]
Hongdu JL-8 China jet trainer K-8 10[7]
SIAI-Marchetti SF.260 Italy trainer 28[7]


Zimbabwe has been interested in MiG-29s in both the recent and more distant past. A $300 million-plus order for a squadron was placed with Russia in the late 1980s but was cancelled in 1992.[8] Negotiations to buy 14 MiG-29SMTs from Russia were held again in 2004[9] but an order for Chengdu FC-1 fighters was apparently placed instead.[10]

The Zimbabwe Air Force is also sending its officers to attend Pakistan Air Force Combat Commanders School and Pakistan Army School of Army Air Defence each year for Advanced Training.

Retired aircraft

Previous notable aircraft operated by the Air Force consisted of the English Electric Canberra, Hawker Hunter, de Havilland Vampire, C-47 Dakota, Reims 337 Lynx, BAE Hawk, and the Agusta-Bell 205 helicopter.[11]

Rank structure

The AFZ's rank structure is similar to the RAF's rank structure from where, via the Rhodesian Air Force, its ranks were derived.


In descending order, the AFZ officer ranks are:


In descending order, the AFZ airman ranks are:

Aircraft losses

Exact figures for the Air Force of Zimbabwe's aircraft losses have not been publicly published. It is believed four Hawks were lost, three F7s and several helicopters.

  • Michael Enslin, 21 years of age the time, was shot down in a BAe Hawk at 1000 feet while recovering from a dive. He survived for 5 days in the bush until he was rescued. He was the third pilot to be shot down.
  • SF.260MC flown by Wing Commander. Sharaunga crashed in bad weather, killing the pilot.
  • The Pilot Wing Commander became disorientated at night while on the way to take part in a flypast at Laurent Kabila's funeral, and the pilot ejected. He was found alive in the jungle by Zimbabwean troops five days later.

Notable incidents and accidents

  • The Air Force suffered a major setback on 25 July 1982 when four of their eight ordered Hawks were damaged in a sabotage attack a few days after their arrival at Thornhill Air Base. Plane 602 was written off, plane 601 was kept in Zimbabwe for repairs, whilst planes 600 and 603 were shipped back to British aerospace for repairs to airworthy status
  • 22 July 1985, a UFO was witnessed by dozens of persons on the ground and in the control tower at Bulawayo Airport now Joshua Mqabuko Nkomo International Airport. The air traffic controllers watched it hover and tracked it on radar and two BAE Systems Hawk jets were scrambled to pursue it and the pilots described it as incredibly shiny, reflecting the colours of the sunset they estimated that the UFO was travelling at twice the speed of sound
  • More than 20 airspace intrusions were reported in the first nine days of October 1992. The violations appeared to be in the vicinity of Thornhill Air Base and the violators are believed to be South African transport planes on their way to Angola
  • February 1995, a Chengdu F-7 crashed near Lalapanzi after encountering some engine problems. Flt Lt Zisengwe died in the plane crash
  • 21/22 January 2001, an unnamed Wing Commander flying a Chengdu F7 became disoriented at night while on way to take part in flypast at Laurent Kabila's funeral. He ejected and was found alive in the jungle by Zimbabwean troops five days late
  • In 2005, a CASA C212-200 Aviocar military transport plane came down during take-off at the Harare International Airport, killing two pilots – Wing Commander Lysias Charuka and Air Lieutenant Aletini Silaigwana
  • 1 April 2005 Aérospatiale Alouette III Crashed soon after take-off in Gokwe, pilot tried to avoid telephone lines. All four on board survived
  • 5 September 2008, a K-8 Karakoram training jet Crashed into Block 1 Married Quarters flats at Thornhill Air Base in the Midlands town of Gweru during a training sortie. The jet skimmed over trees and houses as it headed for a school before turning sharply and smashing into two high rise residential flats. There were no injuries or deaths other than the two pilots Flight Lieutenant Kudzai Kelvin Majongosi of Chirumanzu and Flight Lieutenant Dumisani Ndlovu of Bulawayo. Both were 28 years old[12]
  • On 22 September 2010, K-8 serial number 2021C piloted by "Venom" practising for the Africa Aerospace and Defence Expo display burst a tire on landing and rolled to the end of the runway at AFB Ysterplaat, Cape town. It took some time to get the runway open again and aircraft in the air at the time diverted to Cape Town International Airport
  • On 4 September 2014 a SIAI-Marchetti SF.260 trainer aircraft crashed into a shanty town soon after takeoff from the Charles Prince Airport on the western outskirts of the capital Harare on a routine training mission over the Mount Hampden area when it suddenly nose-dived and crashed. The two pilots, Squadron leader Taurayi Jombo aged 36 and Air Lieutenant Evidence Edzai Begede aged 28 died on the spot. Such was the force of the impact that one of the pilots was decapitated but there was no further casualties only extensive structural damage to buildings nearby
  • On the morning of 23 April 2015 a K-8 crashed in an open field a few kilometers from Thronhill Air base after catching fire. Both pilots ejected safely


Portrait Name From till Notes
Frank Mussell 1980 1981 Previously the Commander of the Rhodesian Air Force
Norman Walsh 1981 1983 unfortunately for him his newly arrived jets were destroyed by South African agents but suspicion fell on him & fellow white officers resulting in their arrests eventually released after world condemnation by Mugabe however he resigned and left the country.
Azim Daudpota 1983 1986 was a three-star officer in the Pakistan Air Force who went on to serve as the Chief of Air Staff of Air Force of Zimbabwe, and then to briefly serve as Governor of Sindh.
Josiah Tungamirai 1986 1992
Perence Shiri 1992 2017
Elson Moyo 2017 present

See also


  1. Flightglobal – World Air Forces 2015 (PDF),
  2. "General Chiwenga Retires As Mnangagwa Promotes Military 'Coup' Leaders". Voice of America.
  3. "Curfew in Kinshasa". BBC News. 26 August 1998. Retrieved 30 March 2010.
  4. Dinar, Ali B. "IRIN-CEA Weekly Round-Up 50–98 1998.12.11". African Studies Center. University of Pennsylvania.
  5. Cooper, Tom. "Zaire/DR Congo since 1980". Central Eastern, & Southern Africa Database.
  6. "Air Force of Zimbabwe". Aeroflight. 9 March 2003. Archived from the original on 4 July 2007. Retrieved 27 July 2007.
  7. "World Air Forces 2019". Flightglobal Insight. 2019.
  8. Latimer Clarke Corporation Pty Ltd. "Zimbabwe – Atlapedia® Online". Retrieved 22 February 2013.
  9. "The Zimbabwe Situation". The Zimbabwe Situation. Retrieved 22 February 2013.
  10. "Shinn Paper" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 16 June 2013. Retrieved 25 September 2009.
  11. "World Air Forces 1983 pg. 380". Retrieved 3 April 2019.
  12. Nkatazo, Lebo. "Zimbabwe Air Force jet crashes, 2 pilots said. old". Archived from the original on 8 May 2014. Retrieved 27 January 2012.
  • Roy Nesbit and Dudley Cowdery with Andrew Thomas, Britain's Rebel Air Force: The War from The Air in Rhodesia 1965–1980 (Grub Street, 1998) ISBN 1-902304-05-5 includes an AFZ chapter
  • World aircraft information files brighstar publishing File 340 Sheet 5
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