As with other South African Air Force (SAAF) units, 44 Squadron is faced with what is euphemistically termed “challenges” and in its particular case this is having to perform up to nine different taskings with only two aircraft at its disposal and with only one serviceable.
This includes supporting the SA National Defence Force’s (SANDF’s) coronavirus de- and employment.
The AFB Waterkloof-based transport squadron has five aircraft – all C-212 Aviocars built by Spanish aircraft manufacturer CASA (now part of Airbus). This is a far cry from one definition of an air force squadron which has it that it “is a unit comprising a number of military aircraft and crew, usually of the same type, typically with 12 to 24 aircraft, sometimes divided into three or four flights, depending on type and air force”.
As always, the “can do” attitude of SAAF personnel, as often espoused by the force’s now retired deputy chief Jerry Malinga, is a major contributing factor to taking on and completing taskings. Adding to the workload is squadron boss, Lieutenant Colonel Samuel Tshepo Mabidikama, on “COVID-19 standby” while day-to-day squadron operations go to his immediate subordinates.
The men doing the job while he finds himself elsewhere, according to SANDF communications, are Lieutenant Colonel Mpho Makgabathe and Major Boitumelo Kgetha.
The squadron operates five of the Spanish twin-engined, high wing light transport aircraft and its inventory was in service with former South African “homeland” air forces prior to democracy in 1994. The 44 Squadron fleet comprises one aircraft formerly part of the then Bophuthatswana Air Force and two each from what were the air forces of Transkei and Venda. At one stage, 44 Squadron had the honour of being home of a CN235, the first aircraft of type to be built by the Spanish manufacturer and now resident at the SAAF Museum at AFB Swartkop.
As with other SAAF units, budget constraints hurt and 44 Squadron currently has just two aircraft at its disposal with one always serviceable. This is a pat on the back for the unit’s maintenance and servicing team.
Included in its tasks are paratrooping (static and free fall), cargo dropping, VIP transport, casevac, reconnaissance (visual and photographic), border patrol, command and control, propaganda (sky shout) as well as light and medium transport.
44 Squadron has been part of many air and national defence force missions and operations. A highlight was Operation Jambu conducted in collaboration with the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) during the South Africa’s first democratic elections, using the C-47TP. These aircraft were part of in the Union Buildings flypast during the inauguration of the first SANDF Commander-in-Chief, Nelson Mandela. In 2000, the Squadron’s C-212 and Cessna 185 aircraft were part of Operation Litchi providing humanitarian assistance during the floods in Mozambique that year. The Spanish high wing aircraft have been part of air capability demonstrations at Roodewal bombing range in Limpopo and Exercise Winter Solstice generally staged in Northern Cape.