First female commander for 35 Squadron


Air Force Ysterplaat-based 35 Squadron has its first female commander, who took up her post following a change of command parade on Friday 25 March.

The South African National Defence Force (SANDF) said the change of command parade at Ysterplaat was also for the new boss of 80 Air Navigation School.

Lieutenant Colonel Tamara L Thomas-Herwels became the first female commander of 35 Squadron, which flies C-47TPs, while Lieutenant Colonel Lucky (Nhlanhla) Zuma became the first black commander of 80 Air Navigation School.

A parade saw marching columns accompanied by the South African Navy Band. The first half of the parade was to hand over command of 35 Squadron to Thomas-Herwels, who started her career as a pilot in 2005.

Career highlights include having the privilege of flying former Presidents namely, Nelson Mandela, Kgalema Motlanthe, Thabo Mbeki, Jacob Zuma as well as various Ministers and Members of Parliament. In addition to being a fully qualified pilot, she also obtained a Bachelor of Law Degree at the University of Cape Town in 2013.

The outgoing commander of 35 Squadron, Lieutenant Colonel Troy van der Horst, said in his speech: “I started my Air Force career as a security sentry at 505 Security Squadron, AFB Ysterplaat, and was blessed with the opportunity to end my time at AFB Ysterplaat as the OC at 35 Squadron.” He wished his successor all the best with her new journey at the helm of “Maritime Excellence”, 35 Squadron.

The second part of the parade was to hand over command of 80 Air Navigation School.

Zuma joined the SA Air Force as a Radartrician and eventually qualified as a Navigator. Career highlights include being the first black Navigator Instructor (January 2010), becoming the first black instructor on the C-130BZ Hercules (2011) and appointment as the first black Officer Commanding of 80 Air Navigation School (October 2021).

In 2017, Zuma graduated from the University of Johannesburg with a Bachelor of Commerce in Transport Economics and in 2019, he graduated with a BSc Honours in Business Management.

Outgoing commander Lieutenant Mark Gomez said that when he joined the South African Air Force he prepared to stay only for four years, but 26 years later and because of his passion for aviation, he is still part of the organisation.

In his time at 80 Air Navigation School, he said he learned many important life lessons, including: you are never too old to learn; failure is good; and diversity is strength.