Reaching for the skies and enjoying it

By Philip Mwakio

The pilot adjusts her hijab (head cover) and when she is satisfied with her appearance, she effortlessly steers the Cessna Caravan to the skies.

With the confidence that comes with experience, Ruweidha Mohamed, 33, admires the exhilarating scene below, just like her passengers.

Outstretched for miles is a beautiful Lamu landscape.

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Confidence: When Mohamed takes charge of the plane’s controls, she makes flying look like it is a lot of fun. [PHOTO: MAARUFU MOHAMED/STANDARD]

The aerial view is like a priceless postcard. "I never get tired of this natural beauty. And flying over the Masai Mara gives me a wonderful view of wildlife in their droves. It is so exciting flying over these areas," says the pilot who comes from the Coast.

Mohamed usually shuttles between Mombasa’s Moi International Airport to scenic Mara and heavenly Lamu archipelago.

She has also flown to Southern Sudan, Pemba and Uganda. Her passengers are usually tourists and other leisure enthusiasts.

"I developed a keen interest in aviation right from the time I was little, growing up at Ngomeni village near Malindi. But that was just about it as I thought the job wasn’t for a simple girl like me. But there was no harm in admiring something,’’ she says.

Her decision to actually become a pilot came by chance. While she was a student at Coast Girls’ School, she went to see off a friend who was travelling out of the country.

At the waving bay at the Moi International Airport, she saw something that was to change the course of her life.

Now a captain

"From where I stood, I spotted an aircraft just about to take off and when I saw an African face at the controls, I was puzzled. Before then, I thought only Europeans were pilots! My decision to become a pilot was made there and then."

After that experience, she did not think of anything else in the days that followed. Even her dreams were about her reaching for the skies, literally.

Unknown to her, aviation training requires a lot of money and because she came from an extended family, it meant the career was out of reach for her.

She fundraised for the course but the money, it seemed, was never going to be enough.

At the brink of despair, two generous people came her way to assist — her step-father, Al Amin Bahero, and the proprietor of Kenya School of Flying, Captain John Ririani.

She started her flying career at the now defunct Coast Aviation in 1999. When the company wound up, she and two other trainee pilots had to look for alternative training schools.

Ruweidha enrolled at Kenya School of Flying in Nairobi.

While at the Coast Aviation, Mohamed had learned how to fly onboard a Piper Cherokee (a two-seater aircraft) and once in Nairobi, she continued with her studies and completed her basic training before she was issued with a Private Pilot Licence.

Ruweidha later gained experience while working as an apprentice pilot and technician with Kijipwa Aviation.

She would fly both Cessna 150 and Piper Colt before she returned to the Kenya School of Flying for her Commercial Pilot Licence in January, 2005.

Thereafter, she then went for training for Instrument Rating (special training that could enable her operate a flight in instrument conditions) and after getting the licence, she got a job with the Mombasa Air Safaris.

She started off as a First Officer (assisting captain). But now she is a captain, the one responsible for plane.

Ruweidha is married to Bwana Mohamed.

She says her grandmother, the late Mwanawangu Abdallah, encouraged her to be who she is.

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