The qualifying of the first black female C-130 Hercules commander is one of the transformation highlights emphasised by the South African Air Force (SAAF) regarding 28 Squadron, which is also active in flying troops and equipment to Central Africa on peacekeeping missions and maritime surveillance missions off Mozambique.
During a media visit to 28 Squadron based at Air Force Base Waterkloof this week, the SAAF was keen to emphasise the transformation achievements recorded by the unit, which include Major L Zuma becoming the first black navigator instructor in 2010; Flight Sergeant M P Makale being qualified as the first black air loadmaster instructor in 2011; Major C Duven becoming the first female commander in 2012; and Colonel M C Moatshe becoming the first black officer commanding 28 Squadron in 2016. In 2017 Major M A Mango became the first coloured commander in the unit and Major Nandi S Zama became the first black female C-130 commander.
Zama said that she is extremely satisfied to be a C-130 commander and that being the first black female commander is a great compliment. She emphasised that being a female should not deter someone from choosing the career they want and this should be more about ability than gender.
Her flying career began in 2006 at the Central Flying School (CFS) at Langebaan on the PC-7 Mk II. After this she flew Cessna Caravans for a year with 41 Squadron and then CASA C212s for five years at 44 Squadron before moving to 28 Squadron in 2013.
She landed at Air Force Base Waterkloof on 25 March after flying a support flight to the DRC in her first flight as a commander. She will fly in South Africa for a while before going back to the DRC in line with regular flight crew rotation. Zama said flying anywhere, and not just to places like the DRC, was a great responsibility as the C-130 is a multi-million dollar asset. When asked what is the greatest she’s faced, she said it was not flying-related but budgetary cuts, with the Air Force given the same or higher workload with fewer resources.
28 Squadron, whose motto is “leaders in military air transport,” has seventeen pilots (including eight black and two coloured), in a roughly 40:60 split between co-pilots and commanders, and about 45 aircrew. The pilots fly between 25 and 35 hours a month.
The unit took delivery of seven C-130Bs in 1963 and nine C-160Zs in 1969 (the latter was phased out in 1991). Although it received 12 C-130s (seven C-130Bs and later two C-130Bs and three Fs from the US Air Force), 28 Squadron has nine upgraded C-130BZs on strength, although two are currently unavailable due to maintenance requirements. The C-130BZ upgrade covered the engines, navigation, communication, flight control and self-protection systems as well as cockpit displays and was carried out around 20 years ago by Marshall Aerospace in the UK and Denel.
Although many of the C-130s have airframes over 50 years old, they have sufficient flight hours left to fly until 2030. Although small upgrades are planned for the fleet, there is no clear plan for their replacement or major upgrades.
28 Squadron was founded on 1 June 1943 in Cairo and was the first air transport squadron in the SAAF, equipped with Anson, Dakota and Wellington aircraft. It supported Allied forces in World War II before participating in the Berlin Airlift (1948-1949). During the 1970s and 1980s the unit participated in conflicts in Namibia and Angola but since democracy in 1994 has been involved in humanitarian and peace support operations in Africa, amongst other duties.
28 Squadron has been deployed to the Comoros (supporting elections), Madagascar (flood relief), Central African Republic (Operations Fibre and Mistral), Sudan, Libya (for a presidential visit), Ivory Coast (withdrawing embassy personnel), Mozambique (flood relief, anti-piracy and election support), Somalia (humanitarian missions) and Uganda (support for Operation Ukuwa in South Sudan) as well as the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), where it is currently active in supporting South Africa’s contribution to the United Nations mission there (Monusco). Other highlights include assisting in the rescue of the ship Pep Ice in 1980 and the Oceanos sinking in 1991 and transporting human remains back to South Africa following a church collapse in Nigeria in 2014.
28 Squadron flew the remains of former President Nelson Mandela to his home in Qunu near Mthata in the Eastern Cape on 14 December 2013 (escorted by two Gripens) and provided the ceremonial flag for his casket on the journey from Mandela’s house in Houghton to the mortuary in Pretoria. The unit also undertook numerous flights in support of Operation Uxolo, the funeral arrangements for Mandela.
In addition to logistics support, 28 Squadron is also involved in search and rescue and anti-piracy operations – particularly the South African National Defence Force’s anti-piracy operation in the Mozambique Channel, Operation Copper, was on 3 March extended to 31 March 2018 by President and Commander-in-Chief Jacob Zuma. For maritime work the C-130BZ can drop a rigid-hulled inflatable boat as well as maritime personnel.
Anti-piracy flights typically take place around once a month, with a C-130 flying from Waterkloof to Maputo or Pemba in Mozambique. When in the Mozambique Channel the aircraft typically perform surveillance flights, but this depends on what taskings they are given.
Every year C-130 pilots undergo training to ensure they remain qualified and this includes maritime work. In February/March this year two C-130s were deployed to the Cape for two-three weeks for this and other training, which included search and rescue training – the C-130s are responsible for search and rescue duties thousands of kilometres from South Africa’s coastlines, especially in the South Atlantic. Other activities practiced during such deployments include boat drops and night flights. 28 Squadron will further have a chance to flex its muscles during Exercise Winter Solstice later this year.
Captions: Top, a C-130BZ at AFB Watkerloof. Bottom, C-130BZ commander Nandi Zama.