The South African Air Force’s (SAAF) only dedicated airlift unit, based at AFB Waterkloof, marks its 70th anniversary in June. At the same time it will also mark the 50th year of service of the venerable Hercules C-130BZ with the SAAF.
The third number that will be commemorated is 100, to mark the centenary of Lockheed Martin, the US aerospace company responsible for the design and manufacture of the C-130, now in its J model.
Immediately after being formed at Almaza, Egypt, on June 1, 1943, 28 Squadron was split into two, with A Flight based at Castel Benito in Italy and B Flight based at Ras-el-Ma in Morocco, both operating Avro Ansons, according to the Unofficial SAAF website.
By August that year Wellingtons and Dakotas had joined the fleet. The squadron also operated detachments in Sicily and Algeria and it was only at the end of the war in Europe that the squadron consolidated operations at Maison Blanche, Algeria.
In September 1945 the squadron returned to South Africa and was based at AFB Swartkop from where it shuttled South African troops home from North Africa and Europe (the “Springbok Shuttle”) during 1945 and early 1946 using Dakotas. At this time, they also operated the Anson, DH Rapide and a single Avro York.
VIP flights were an important part of 28 Squadrons taskings, with various Dakotas and Venturas fitted out with improved accommodation. From 22 September 1948 to 25 September 1949, two contingents participated in the Berlin Airlift, flying Royal Air Force aircraft. In 1949, nine De Havilland Devons were added to the VIP fleet followed by De Havilland Herons in 1955, while the York was disposed of in 1952. When the Dakota could no longer be used to fly VIPs to Europe, a Viscount was acquired in 1958.
Seven C-130B Hercules were acquired in 1963 and when the squadron moved to AFB Waterkloof it left its Dakotas behind to join 44 Squadron at Swartkop. In February 1968 the VIP flight was reconstituted as 21 Squadron (taking with it the Viscount), while the C-160Z Transall was acquired in 1969 and operated with the squadron from January 1970 until they retired in 1993. Three ex-US Navy C-130F aircraft were acquired in 1996, with a further two ex-US Air Force C-130Bs following in 1998. The F models were only flown for a short period before being retired, but the squadron continues to fly the nine C-130B Hercules all upgraded to C-130BZ configuration.