Co-Pilots Chipo Matimba and Elizabeth Petros. Picture: Chipo Matimba/Facebook
Co-Pilots Chipo Matimba and Elizabeth Petros. Picture: Chipo Matimba/Facebook
South African pilot Asnath Mahapa. Picture: Supplied
South African pilot Asnath Mahapa. Picture: Supplied

The world of aviation is one that has been dominated by the male force for a number of decades, with very few female pilots making their names known around the world, but they are slowly rising to prominence. 

From the first black female pilot, Bessie Coleman from the USA, who obtained her license in 1921, to the announcement of South Africa’s first female African pilot Asnath Mahapa, in 1998, the number of black female pilots is steadily growing across the world. 

The most recent news was in 2017, when Ethiopian Airlines was entirely controlled by women, on their first domestic flight within Africa. 

Pilot Amsale Gualu said that the domestic flight, “shows us that if women get equal opportunities and work hard,  they can achieve whatever they want in all fields including the aviation industry”. 

Ethiopian Airlines all-female crew in 2017. Picture: Supplied

Staying in Africa, Zimbabwe had its moment in 2015, when Air Zimbabwe made a domestic flight, being flown by an all-female crew. The flight was controlled by pilots Chipo Matimba and Elizabeth Petros, making them the first female pilots to fly on Air Zimbabwe within the country. 

Petros posted a picture on Facebook with her co-pilot Matimba, celebrating the achievement, with the caption:

 “History has been made! First all female flight deck crew on the Air Zimbabwe Boeing 737! Two CAPTAINS!! Absolute pleasure Captain Elizabeth Simbi Petros! #FLYBABES. #PaintingTheSkyPink!". 

Co-Pilots Chipo Matimba and Elizabeth Petros. Picture: Chipo Matimba/Facebook

Besa Mumba of Zambia became the country’s youngest pilot to fly on a domestic flight, at the age of 19. The Lusaka-born teenager was flying high as a first officer for Proflight Zambia’s Caravan aircraft, flying domestic flights. 

Initially, Mumba wanted to be part of the cabin crew, but she then thought to herself, “why not be the person who flies the aircraft?”. 

“I am extremely humbled that they gave me a chance to live my dream and this shows they have confidence in me to have given me the opportunity,” Mumba said in an interview.

Nigerian-American Kimberly Anyadike became the youngest black pilot to fly a transcontinental flight across the USA, from California to Virginia, at the age of 15 years old back in 2009. 

“I decided to fly across the country the continental United States because I could,” Anyadike said while delivering the keynote speech at the West Covina Martin Luther King Jr. Day celebration. 

“As a young black girl, I was at liberty to dream and dare to accomplish my 15-year-old dreams. This was the future that Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. envisioned”.

Kenyan native Irene Koki Mutungi made headlines by becoming the first female on the African continent to become certified as a Captain of the Boeing 787 "Dreamliner" aircraft, in the year of 2014.

Kenyan pilot Irene Koki Mutungi. Picture: Supplied

Mutungi became the country’s first female pilot in 1993, and is currently recognised as the only female pilot in Africa licensed to fly Boeing 787 Dreamliner. “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,” Motungi said in an interview.

The USA also celebrated the accolade of M’Lis Ward, who became the first African-American woman to captain a domestic United Airlines flight, in 2017, in the history of U.S. commercial aviation. 

Another USA accolade came from the state of Alaska, when two black co-pilots announced on the Alaska Airlines Boeing 737 Flight #361, that they would flying passengers from San Francisco to Portland, just two months ago in May. 

American Airlines Captain Tara Dillon-Wright made the announcement on the flight, by introducing her co-pilot and 1st officer Mallory Crave. 

Even though it is slightly disheartening that some of these pilots are announced as the “first ever”, it is great news to know that women are going far and are elevating themselves one flight at a time.