The People, Past and Present

Meet the team

We are a group of individuals with a passion for South African aviation history and the Supermarine Spitfire and are active members of the Friends of the South African Air Force Museum (FSAAFM).

The Spitfire Restoration Committee

Colonel Tony Smit

Committee member

Col. Smit has had an extremely distinguished career in and out of the SAAF, including 15 years in the Rhodesian Air Force, 4 years as an instructor in 44 Squadron SAAF, 7 and a half years as an instructor in 21 VIP Squadron, Officer Commanding, 41 Squadron for 4 and a half years, and Officer Commanding, SAAF Museum for 4 and a half years, Officer Commanding 81 Flying School, and SAAF Director of Foreign Relations to name but a few. Col. Tony was heavily involved with bringing the P-51D Mustang from the USA to the SAAF Museum, including restoring 11 scrap aircraft to flying condition during his time as OC of the SAAF Museum. Col. Tony still flies everything from corporate jets to vintage aircraft and turbo props, with over 25000 flying hours on 230 aircraft types, and not to mention, he is also a dedicated family man, father and husband!

Ian Grace

Project Lead

Ian has a long-standing interest in vintage aircraft, particular World War II. This interest extends to aircraft which served on either front, in particular, the fighter aircraft. Ian has also served in management levels and within various organisations. His academic and technical qualification is within the Instrumentation and Process Control field, specialising in liquid chromatography.

Phil Scallan

Project Representative on SAAF Museum Council

Phil has served in top management and on the boards of a number of listed and multinational companies as well as consulted to listed companies and large parastatals. His expertise lies in the fields of project management, technical, QA and production management. Philip has been a member of the Friends since 1993 and served in various roles: Member of SAAF Museum Council since 2003, President NEC of the Friends SAAF Museum since 2008, Past Chairman Pretoria Branch Friends SAAF Museum (2003 -2006), Member of EAA and Warbirds of America.​

Dave Evans

Committee Member

Dave Evans has been a member of the Friends of the SAAF Museum for twenty years, serving variously on the Pretoria Branch committee as chairman, vice chairman, treasurer and secretary. He has 45 years of business experience in areas such as project management, planning and optimisation, strategy, organisation development, logistics management, factory management and IT management. He has been an aviation nut for considerably longer.

Robert Cathro

Aeronautical Engineer

Robert is an aeronautical engineer with 21 years of experience working at the CSIR and Denel Aerostructures. He is currently a principal engineer at Denel Aerostructures where he works mainly on the Airbus A400M. He specialises in the design and analysis of polymer composite structures.

Karen Heydenrych

PR & Social Media

Karen has always had a keen interest in all things military, especially on World War II history. Her many visits to the Military History Museum, her involvement with the Transvaal Scottish Regiment and her love for planes brought her to the Spitfire Restoration Project. After finding out about the project at the 2016 Airshow, she offered to assist with marketing and public relations. Karen works as the communications manager at software development company DVT. Before that she ran her own PR consultancy, Communikay, from 2012 to 2017. Karen worked in the PR industry for 13 years in which she gained invaluable experience working with some of South Africa’s top IT companies.

Don Sutton

Project Manager Specialist

Don Sutton is professional construction project manager with over 20 years of work experience and is now a Senior Project Manager in Sydney Australia where he continues to support the project internationally through support, information gathering and guidance from the well established ‘Warbird’ scene and experienced aircraft restorers in the various states of Australia. He has worked on diverse projects within various sectors of the economy. Don’s experience extends to establishing standardised gated methodologies for programme and project life cycle stages through the establishment of best practice governance, processes, procedures and templates while committing to quality assurance practices. Don has a keen interest in World War II era fighter aircraft whilst as the same time wishing to preserve the history of the SAAF and the many men who served with distinguished careers.

Keith Pratt

Non-committee member, UK Representative

Ex. British Army WO1 (ASM) REME Mechanical Engineer specialising in Battlefield repair with experience in Heavy Armour, Artillery, Railways, Outboard Motors etc. Specific experience: 3 years work on merlin engines in use as power units for Centurian MBT, and Founding member of REME Historic Vehicle Society and manager of their annual Vehicle Rally which included steam, military & civilian vehicles (now part of REME Corp. Museum).

in memory

Lt.Gen.Denis Earp (1930-2019)

LT. GEN. DENIS EARP represented the South African Air Force Museum Spitfire Restoration Project, as its Patron. Gen Earp, a Korean War Veteran, began his career in the South African Air Force, as a young pilot, training on Spitfires. Whilst in Korea, in 1951, during a mission, Gen Earp was forced to bail out and was taken, prisoner. The next 23 months, were served as a Prisoner of War. Gen Earp served in various roles within the South African Air Force, including Flying Instructor, and after converting to helicopters, became the Officer Commanding 17 Squadron. Gen Earp flew a variety of aircraft, including Canberras, and Mirage IIIs. He was the recipient of many decorations, including international awards, these included the Star of South Africa (SSA), Southern Cross Decoration (SD), Southern Cross Medal (SM), The South African Police Star for Outstanding Service (SOE), the Korean Medal, the Korean War Service Medal, the United Nations Service Medal for Korea, The Order of Military Merit (Korea) with Silver Star, the Air Medal with Oak Leaf Cluster (USA), Order of Cloud Leaf and Banner (Taiwan) with Grand Cordon (ORB), the Gran Cruz Al Merito Aeronautico (Chile) and the Al Merito Militar (Paraguay). Gen Earp later served as Chief of the South African Air Force from 1984, until his retirement in 1988. Since Gen Earp's retirement, he maintained close contact with the South African Air Force and in particular with the South African Air Force Museum, and the Friends of the South African Air Force Museum. Gen Earp was passionate about the preservation of the South African Air Force heritage for future generations.

John Henry Martin (1923-2019)

John Henry Martin was born on 2nd June 1923. He died, at the ripe old age of 96, on 21st November 2019. He was one of the most positive, upbeat, and whole heartedly Christian people I have ever been privileged to know. Lots of other people clearly saw him in the same light, as was evidenced by the very full church for his funeral. He was a Lieutenant in the SAAF during World War Two. He flew Spitfires with 4 Squadron in Italy, and became known to the Friends several years ago via those of us who are also members of the RAF Officers Club (OC). We discussed our Spitfire Restoration Project with him, and he was fascinated with it, keeping up to date on how it was progressing, and attending every Spitfire pilots’ gathering the Friends’ Spitfire Project held, until his death. Several of us also had extensive, wonderful interactions with him at various RAF OC functions; he was a most uplifting person in the flesh. Despite his age, he gave a talk to the Friends at Swartkop in 2018 on his flying experiences. I had the pleasure of being his chauffeur on that day, and on several other occasions, and enjoyed listening to many of his other reminiscences in the car as we drove. As we went up the flight line at Swartkop to the auditorium, where he was going to be speaking, he looked around him with a gorgeous smile of remembrance on his face and said ‘I converted onto Kittyhawks here – seventy-five years ago!’ He was in sparkling form, and gave an outstanding talk, backed up by a PowerPoint presentation of photos. He started his military career learning to drive armoured cars! His first ‘airborne’ experience was on unbelievably basic ‘A frame’ gliders: devices which looked as if they were designed to frighten off anyone remotely considering becoming a pilot. He then graduated to gliders which looked like real aeroplanes, followed by Tiger Moths, Harvards, and the conversion to P40 Kittyhawks. He ‘went north,’ converting to Spitfires in North Africa, and then on to Italy, where he joined 4 Squadron – ‘the Vampires.’ He had 651 hours in total when he retired from the SAAF at the end of the war, of which something like 242 hours were in 160 sorties on Spitfires, ending up on Mk IXs, which he described as a wonderful aircraft. Most of his Spitfire operations were either ground support, carrying a 500 lb bomb, or escorting bombers such as Marauders across the Adriatic Sea to Yugoslavia – he remarked that flying for hours over the sea in a single engine fighter was always tense! He also commented that with its narrow track undercarriage and very large nose, the Spitfire was never an easy aircraft to land. He ended his SAAF service in South Africa on twins such as Dakotas, Ansons and Oxfords. He was a wonderful, unforgettable character, and we remember and miss him fondly. Written by Dave Evans

Interview with John Martin by Tinus le Roux, 12 May 2013

Peter le Sueur

Peter was involved in Marketing, Sales, Training and Consulting with several international and local organisations for the past 44 years. He was a director of a group of companies in the field of training and consulting. Peter officially joined the Friends in 1993 and served as vice-chairman 1997-1998 and twice as chairman from 1998 -1999 and 2010 - 2013, a life member of the Harvard Club and was involved in the restoration of the World War 1 SE 5a bi-plane at the National Museum of Military History. Peter passed away in April 2018 and was still very active with the FSAAFM and the Spitfire Restoration Project serving on the Steering Committee.