HAVANA, July 31th (defenceweb) A South African Air Force (SAAF) Hercules transport aircraft recently photographed at the remote South Atlantic island of Saint Helena was en route to Cuba, carrying the personal belongings of Cuban military technicians who were returning home after working in South Africa as part of Project Thusano.
This is according to multiple independent sources, who spoke to us on condition of anonymity.
The landing at Saint Helena Airport on 18 July 2017 was the subject of intense speculation on local aviation and military forums, as it was the historic first arrival of a SAAF aircraft at the newly-opened and remote airport.
At the time, the authorities on the island reported it only as a technical stop to take on fuel, with the aircraft departing one hour later to an unspecified destination.
However, after a detailed analysis of flight plans we can confirm that the aircraft, was on a multi-day 13 000 km cargo mission from its home base at AFB Waterkloof near Pretoria to José Martí International Airport in Havana.
The C-130 first flew from Waterkloof to Hosea Kutako International Airport in Namibia, where it refuelled, before undertaking the 5 to 6 hour 2 500 km to Saint Helena Airport. From there it was a 3 300 km flight to Guararapes International Airport in Recife, Brazil, where it spent the night. The next leg was a 3 500 km and nearly 7 hour flight to Grantley Adams International Airport in Barbados, followed by the final 5 hour 2 600 km hop to Havana. In all, total flying time to Cuba was approximately 26 hours.
Despite the historic and unusual nature of the mission, requests for more information on the flight and its purpose, have gone unanswered with both refusing to provide official comment.
Nor has there been any explanation for why the personal belongings of the Project Thusano personnel were substantial enough to justify the use of an Air Force C-130BZ.
Project Thusano is a controversial programme, in which 93 technicians from the Cuban armed forces, under the command of Brigadier General Borjas Ortega, were brought into the SANDF to provide technical assistance and to repair and return to service derelict vehicles belonging to the South African Army.