Flying a plane was, for the longest time, thought to be a role exclusively for men. But here are some African women who made piloting cool even before it was cool to be a female pilot.
Asli Hassan Abade – Somalia
Born in 1958, Asli Abade developed her love for planes early in childhood. She loved watching planes take off.
Abade left for Italy to train as a pilot in 1970 and returned to her homeland to join the Somali Air Force (SAF). She started fling planes for the SAF in 1976.
She is known as the first and only female pilot in the SAF and is also thought to be the first female pilot in any African country’s military.
Abade now resides in Texas and is recognised for her charitable contributions in Somalia.
Melody Millicent Danquah – Ghana
Melody Millicent Danquah joined Ghana’s air force in 1963 after the president encouraged women to join the airforce.
By 1964, Danquah could fly solo and was the only student pilot allowed to do so for 10 minutes. She was recognised for her spotless landing.
In 1965, Danquah was awarded with her ‘wings’ as a qualified pilot by the country’s Minister of Defence, Kofi Baako.
However, Danquah had to retire in 1984 due to ill health. She was discharged from the force and awarded with a ‘Long Service award’ and ‘The Efficiency Medal’. Danquah passed away on 18 March 2016.
Asnath Mahapa – South Africa
Asnath Mahapa was fascinated by airplanes as a teenager, despite not having the support of her father.
She tried to follow her father’s wishes by enrolling on an electrical engineering course at the University of Cape Town, only to drop out a year later.
Mahapa later joined a flying school and was the only female in her class. She flew for the first time in 1998. Mahapa has since opened the African College of Aviation (2012) to inspire a new generation of female pilots. ”Girls can become anything they want” – Mahapa
Esther Mbabazi – Rwanda
Esther Mbabazi was born in Burundi, in 1994, after her family fled before Rwanda’s genocide that same year.
The family moved back to Rwanda in 1996. At 8-years-old, Mbabazi lost her father, after the plane he was flying was shot down, causing it to crash in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
As a result, her interest in planes, and later desire to become a pilot was frowned upon by some family members.
Nevertheless, she trained at the Soroti flight school in Uganda, and was eventually sponsored to continue her training in Florida by national carrier Rwandair. Mbabazi now flies the company’s CRJ-900 regional jets across Africa.
“Being a pilot really was my childhood dream, I don’t think anything was going to stop it”.
The 24-year-old admitted that the death of her father influenced the way she flies saying “it moulded my character as a pilot, what happened to my dad makes me a little safer”.
Flora Ngwinjili – Malawi
Although Flora Ngwinjili graduated as the first pilot in the Malawi Defence force, her career actually began as a presidential hostess.
She was encouraged by a friend to join the military and applied to be a presidential hostess in 1999. And, it was as a presidential hostess that her dream to become a pilot was conceived. She grew tired of hostessing and aspired to become the country’s first female pilot.
She has since shared that she also wanted to become a journalist but admitted she was too envious of air hostesses.
Irene Koki Mutungi – Kenya
Irene Mutungi was born in 1976, and knew she wanted to be a pilot from the age of 5 years old. Her ambition was formed from the close relationship she had with her father, who was also a pilot.
She joined Kenya Airways in 1993, becoming the country’s first female pilot, and Kenya’s only female pilot from 1993-99.
After Mutungi successfully managed a 15-hour flight, on which she also impressively led an all-female crew, she made headlines.
“A lot of African women are doing a lot of extraordinary things across the continent. I think women have recognised the potential they have and there is a deliberate effort to show what we are capable of doing”.
Captain Chinyere Kalu – Nigeria
Born in 1970 and of Nigerian descent, Chinyere Kalu grew up in a supportive environment cultivated by her family.
Kalu was inspired to become a pilot by her aunt, who was famous for travelling abroad often. She would later be encouraged by this same aunt to begin a career in aviation.
Her studies gave her ample time in the sky as it meant she travelled to the UK, Zaria and the USA.
In 2011, then President Goodluck Jonathan proclaimed her the Chief Executive and Rector of Nigerian College of Aviation Technology.
Joan Obasi – Nigeria
Joan Obasi currently holds the impressive achievement of being the youngest female pilot in Nigeria at the age of 25.
She was most recently acknowledged by the United States Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).
Obasi was also added to the FAA Airmen Certification Database.
Besa Mumba – Zambia
Born in December 1996, Besa Mumba has been named the youngest pilot in Zambia.
Mumba was appointed as the First Officer in 2016, when she was just a teenager.
She originally wanted to work as a cabin crew member but secured her dream job after training in South Africa.
Since then, the young women has become an inspiration to young girls and women in Zambia, and across the continent.