We’re in a time of firsts. First probe to collide with a comet, first pictures from a Jupiter flyby, first good images of its moon Europa and now, Malawi’s first woman captain of the local airline.
Captain Yolanda Kaunda has burst into the left hand seat but isn’t the first commercial aviator who’s a Malawian woman. That nod goes to Fellie Mkandawire who stopped flying while still a senior first officer. But Kaunda has made the big time, with four gold bars on her epaulette and great memories, no doubt. In a recent newspaper post, Zimbabwean United Methodist Church bishop Eben Nhiwatiwa stopped by after a flawless flight to wish her well.
Many feminists would gasp. It took so long for a woman to become a captain in Malawi? But seriously, this is an area where aviation is only now beginning to really hit its straps in spite of the global economy looking a tad shaky. So it would stand to order that in a male-dominated society, a woman would take longer to achieve the top echelon of the aviation business.
No excuse here, just an elucidation.
So who is Yolanda Kaunda? It appears she trained at Progress Flight Academy in Port Elizabeth, South Africa. Last year I was picking up a child at Rhodes University and decided to head off to Grahamstown’s airport to watch planes fly in. A Piper Warrior landed dutifully a few minutes later and on board were three aviators. Two from South Africa and a trainee from Kenya. If memory serves, they were from Progress Flight Academy and at the time it got me thinking about the transfer of skills from South Africa to other aviators across the continent.
In 2008/9 while I training towards my PPL I bumped into two Egyptian pilots who had ten years in the Egyptian Air Force. They were being trained as commercial pilots in South Africa and had been purposefully sent here to experience both Johannesburg’s advanced aviation facilities, as well as its hot and high conditions which apply your mind as a pilot.
The Egyptians were MiG pilots but found the transition to little sports cruisers somewhat of a challenge. One found English even more of a challenge and I was tasked at one point with taking a VHR radio outside to listen to traffic in the circuit and ask the highly experienced fighter pilot where he thought the planes were. It was somewhat of a shock to find that his awareness was severely hampered by his inability to speak English.
The planes they’d flown were in the Mach 1 zone, but the little cruisers were tricky to handle and when stalling, flipped their wings. They are called Rapid Sabres which is really a play on the name “Sabre” – one of the earlier fighter jets used by the USAF.
The Rapid Sabre would stall, flip a wing (to the right) and plunge spiralling to the ground. Centre controls, left rudder, ease back and out of the dive. With practice we could do this in less than a hundred feet. But the Egyptians really battled with the speed of the flip. One actually screamed (according to my flight instructor) when ZU EUT did its thing at a fairly slow 48-odd knots.
That is another story.