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Kenya Air Force in 50th birthday celebrations

The Kenya Air Force today celebrated its 50th birthday, honoring those who gave their lives in the service of the nation and reaffirming its commitment to defending the country’s air space. President Uhuru Kenyatta led the anniversary celebrations at Kenya Air Force headquarters in Nairobi.

Kenya's presidential jet (left) flies with two DHC Dash 8 aircraft during a flypast to mark the 50th anniversary of the Kenya Air Force.

Kenya’s presidential jet (left) flies with two DHC Dash 8 aircraft during a flypast to mark the 50th anniversary of the Kenya Air Force.

Kenya Air Force officially came into existence on 1 June 1964. Officers of the UK’s Royal Air Force were sent to Kenya to lead the formation of the new air force. Africans were gradually recruited, trained and promoted. The first indigenous pilots graduated from the flying school on 18 February 1965.

“Since its formation on Madaraka Day in 1964, from a squadron of the British Royal Air Force, the Kenyan Air Force has distinguished itself by its dedication to duty, professionalism and excellence. On behalf of every Kenyan, let me express my appreciation for the patriotism of every Kenyan whose service has sustained the Air Force over its half century of existence,” said President Uhuru Kenyatta.

Kenya Air Force got its first African commander in 1973. Dedan Gichuru was just 30 when he was given command of the young air force. Today, he gave a moving account of his years in the service; from the country’s Independence until he retired in 1989.

A major highlight of Gichuru’s career was flying to Nairobi the body of founding president Jomo Kenyatta, who died in Mombasa on 22 August 1978. The current Chief of Kenya’s Defence Forces, General Julius Karangi, was Gichuru’s navigator in that flight.

F-5 fighter jets fly in formation over Nairobi to mark the 50th anniversary of the Kenya Air Force, 4 June 2014.

F-5 fighter jets fly in formation over Nairobi to mark the 50th anniversary of the Kenya Air Force, 4 June 2014.

Kenya’s air force has grown over the years. Laikipia Air Base was opened in February 1974, providing the air force with the ground facilities and air space needed to operate a large fleet of combat aircraft. F-5 and Hawk fighter jets were introduced into service in 1978. Gazelle helicopters were also introduced the same year.

The air force has invested heavily in air transport. The DHC Caribou was introduced in the 1960s and was replaced with the DHC Buffalo in the 1970s and 80s. In the light utility category, Kenya Air Force operated a fleet of piston-engine Dornier Sky Servants which were replaced with Y-12 turbo-props in 1997.

In helicopter transport, Kenya Air Force acquired a fleet of Puma helicopters from France beginning 1978. The Puma helicopters are currently being replaced with Russian-built Mi-17 helicopters.

For executive passenger transport, Kenya Air Force bought several DHC Dash 8-100 in 1990. In 1995, one Fokker 70 joined the fleet and serves as Kenya’s presidential jet.

For pilot training, Kenya Air Force operates a mixed fleet of Bulldog, Grob G120 and Tucano trainers.

The service acquired a new face in the year 2000 following the integration of women as officers and service women after the disbandment of the Women Service Corps (WSC).

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