Lieutenant Colonel (Lt Col) Musa “Midnite” Mbhokota, at 36, has become the first black pilot to assume command of 2 Squadron, which operates the South African Air Force’s growing fleet of SAAB Gripen advanced light fighter aircraft, acquired for some R19.908 billion.
Mbhokota assumed command on Friday. Mbhokota one of six pilots chosen to be trained on the Gripen in Sweden. He has accumulated more than 2300 flight hours in eight different types of military aircraft, of which 1800 hours are in fighter planes, including the Gripen, the BAE Systems Mk120 Hawk and the Atlas Impala.
He survived an in-flight fire aboard an Impala on the night of July 29, 1997. On that occasion, Mbhokota, then a lieutenant, was flying an Impala at the then-8 Squadron at AFB Bloemspruit, Bloemfontein. His aircraft caught fire during a touch-and-go exercise after some 30 minutes of flying. The fire burned through the control rods of the aircraft, causing Mbhokota to lose control and eject safely. In 2002 Mbhokota was rated a flight instructor on the Hawk and he currently has the same rating for the Gripen.
He was one of four officers who Friday took command of an air force unit or squadron. Colonel Silumko Vaaiboom took command of 3 Air Servicing Unit, Lt Col Kevin Ogden of 85 Combat Flying School and Lt Col Iris Joan Owen of 515 Squadron. 85 Combat Flying School is primarily responsible for producing fighter aircrew for the Hawk while the 3 Air Servicing Unit and 515 Squadron deal with technical support and protection services respectively.
“As the Air Force’s prime fighter base, AFB Makhado boasts state of the art facilities which are meant to sustain the government’s priority of ensuring that the people of South Africa are and feel safe. It is in this vein that the Air Force has entrusted this mammoth responsibility to the officers mentioned above to be the drivers of this endeavour,” a Department of Defence media release said.
Pic: Mbhokota (left), with SAAF chief, Lt Gen Carlo Gagiano (centre) last year toast newly-qualified Gripen fighter pilots