For the first time ever a black woman has become the commander of a C-130 military cargo plane in the South African Air Force. Commander Nandi Zama was promoted to commander after piloting the massive aircraft for four years. On Friday the 31-year-old major touched down the military cargo plane C-130 at the Waterkloof Air Force base‚ on her maiden flight as commander – the civilian equivalent of a captain.
Zama matriculated from Saint Gregory College in the Natal Midlands in 2003 and joined the Air force. She said she was in Grade 11, in her hometown in KwaMashu, north of Durban, during a career exhibition, when she decided she wanted to be a pilot.
Speaking to TimeLive, Zama said, “I went through military training and then I was at the central flying school in 2006 and got my wings in December. In 2007 I was transferred to 41 Squadron.”
SANDF spokesperson Lieutenant Colonel Ntsikelelo Mantshongo says Zama’s command of the C-130 came with a huge responsibility. If there’s a mission and she needs to take the aircraft‚ she needs to assemble a team that includes specialists on board. The plane can take up to 160 people.
While Zama says flying is a dangerous job, she has always felt safe. She encourages those who want to be like her to commit to what they want to do and not focus on gender.
Zama had been flying the gargantuan four-engine C-130 for four years before she was promoted to commander. Before she got into the cockpit of the bulky military cargo plane, she piloted a Cessna Caravan and a CASA C-212 Aviocar.