The South African Air Force’s (SAAF) main medium-heavy airlift squadron celebrated two major milestones at the weekend, with the unit reaching 70 years and its C-130BZ Hercules aircraft reaching 50.
The anniversary and unit reunion was held on Saturday, June 1, at Waterkloof Air Force Base in Pretoria and featured a Squadron-in-Review Parade, led by a bugler, a flag-lowering ceremony accompanied by a lone piper and two flypasts by three C-130BZ aircraft. On the second pass, one aircraft pulled up and released flares. Finally, a lone Hercules roared very low over the base, no higher than 100 feet, surprising all present and catching out the photographers as well.
Two of the Hercules, numbers 402 and 406, had artwork done for the occasion, with “50 Years of Service” in black painted on the fuselage front section.
This was followed by a gala evening held in the hangar and decorated with a full-size C-130BZ (number 403) and featuring parachute silk hanging from the roof, no doubt a nod towards the high number of air drops and paratroops deployed from these aircraft.
Not only members and former members of 28 Squadron, but also senior SAAF and other SANDF officers were present, as well as representatives of international air forces as well as the defence industry, including representatives of Lockheed Martin, the makers of the Hercules, and Denel, and Armscor, South Africa’s arms manufacturers and procurers.
At the function, Major General Wiseman Mbambo stressed the important support given to SANDF missions throughout Africa by 28 Squadron, saying the unit had delivered 15,000 pounds of freight in 25 flying hours from February to May this year alone to support Operation Copper, the anti-piracy mission in the Mozambique Channel, as well as flying 30,000 pounds of support material to the Democratic Republic of Congo in a similar time.
The most dramatic flights were in support of paratroopers and Special Forces members in March, when 28 Squadron’s Hercules delivered 218 tons to the Central African Republic’s capital, Bangui, going some 3,500 kilometres each way and doing 173 flying hours in 15 days.
Missions supported by the SAAF C-130BZ fleet throughout the past 50 years include humanitarian, peacekeeping, transport, supply drop, search and rescue, anti-piracy and diplomatic missions.
“The C-130 Hercules is known worldwide as a proven workhorse. Missions carried out by operators such as the South African Air Force and 28 Squadron have earned the Hercules this reputation,” said George Shultz, Lockheed Martin’s vice president and general manager, C-130 Programmes.
“In its first 50 years of C-130 operations, the SAAF showcased the renowned capabilities of the C-130 within the borders of South Africa and beyond to support needs across the continent. We are proud to have South Africa as a member of the C-130 family and look forward to future decades of partnership and collaboration.”
Lockheed Martin partners with the SAAF and Denel, which in 2009 was named as the only authorized Lockheed Martin C-130 Hercules Service Centre in Africa and provides integral support the SAAF Hercules fleet.
A man who is more or less synonymous with the C-130BZ is Warrant Officer Class 1 Henk van Rooyen, who has been flying on the Hercules for 34 years. He has, according to Officer Commanding Jurgens Prinsloo, the most flying hours of any one person in the SAAF. On all types (he first flew in Alouette helicopters) he has some 12,000 hours, while just on the C-130, he has about 11,300. Colonel Prinsloo pointed out that, while this was remarkable in SAAF terms, there are many pilots in bigger air forces who have twice that, such as in the USAF.
Asked what was so special about the Hercules, Van Rooyen said. “I can’t tell you! It’s something in your heart, it’s in your blood; the squadron’s your family. The Air Force is my family. There’s no other aircraft like the C-130.I can’t explain to you what it does to you.”
Referring to the low pass mentioned above, he said, “Like tonight, when we flew from the back here; there’s something that makes the hair rise on your arms, something special”.
34 years ago, WO1 Van Rooyen started on the C-130 as a loadmaster, then took the courses and training and is now a flight engineer. A retired one at that. He is over 60 and is now in the Reserve Force.
He added that when he begins to get restless at home, his wife says it’s time for him to take to the air.
The South African Air Force received its first of seven original C-130s in 1963. Members of 28 Squadron ferried the new C-130s from the-then Lockheed-Georgia Co., facility in Marietta, Georgia, to Waterkloof.
South Africa has the distinction of being the fifth international operator of the C-130 Hercules, which is now operated by 70 nations worldwide. All seven original C-130Bs have been extensively revamped and are part of 28 Squadron’s active Hercules fleet.
With input from Denel via the Maintenance and Repair Organisation at Waterkloof, it looks as if 28 Squadron will be flying for decades to come.