Breaking: Air force unveils Nigeria’s first female fighter pilot

As reported by OKODILI NDIDI,Flying Officer Kafayat Sanni, a woman driven by excellence, has made history becoming the country’s first female fighter pilot.

Flying Officer Kafayat Sanni can easily pass as any other young lady in her mid-twenties. Slender and soft-spoken, with a feminine look that tends to suggest an over-pampered girl-child, but behind this façade lies an uncommon and daring spirit.

Miss Sani described herself as driven by the quest to explore every available opportunity to prove that women could excel in a seemingly male-dominated profession like flying fighter jets.

Winged alongside another first helicopter pilot, Flying Officer Tolulope Arotile and 11 others, Sanni became the first female fighter pilot in the Nigerian Air Force since it was formed 55 years ago.

Speaking with reporters shortly after the historic event at the Air Marshal MD Umar Blue Room at the Defence Headquarters Abuja, Sanni, said she chose to be a fighter pilot because of the passion to test her strength among men.

According to the pilot, who was admitted into the Nigerian Defence Academy in 2012, “My inspiration comes from the passion of being very active and testing my strength among men and trying to see how far I can go with what men do. Along the line, I found out that joining the Armed Force was one of the things that was going to project me.”

She advised young women to pursue their passion without fear or intimidation from the menfolk.

In his speech at the winging ceremony, the NAF Chief of Training and Operations, Air Vice-Marshal Oladayo Amao, said the first-ever female fighter pilot in the Nigerian Air Force was trained at the United States Air Force under the prestigious Aviation Leadership Programme from January 31, 2018 to August 16, 2019.

According to him, “In line with one of the key drivers of the Chief of Air Staff, Air Marshal Sadique Abubakar, which is ‘human capacity development through robust and result oriented training for enhanced professional performance’, the Nigerian Air Force has continued to train personnel to meet her professional needs, particularly, the need for more pilots to man the ever-increasing platforms in the NAF inventory.

“These new pilots would no doubt boost the pilot manning needs of the Service as their deployment to the various NAF platforms would enhance the fulfilment of the constitutional roles of the Nigerian Air Force, especially in the ongoing operations in the North East and North West.”

He added: “The 13 newly winged pilots comprise 12 helicopter and one fixed wing Pilots. Similarly, the officers that attended Westline Aviation Limited, South Africa, commenced their flying training on August 20, 2018 and completed the course on September 10, 2019. Flying training for the Nigerian Air Force Student Pilots at Starlite International Training Academy in South Africa was conducted from August 9, 2018 to October 12, 2019.

“Notwithstanding this achievement, the Nigerian Air Force will continue to collaborate with allied countries to train personnel to meet her operational needs. As we speak, there are 12 student pilots undergoing training in the United States of America comprising; two at the United States Air Force for the Undergraduate Pilot Training and 10 student pilots at Civic Helicopters undergoing Basic Helicopter training, while two student pilots are currently undergoing basic flying training at the Indian Air Force.

“Also, four student pilots are being processed for Combat helicopter pilot training at the United States Army Aviation, Fort Rucker. Furthermore, 10 student pilots have been processed for Military-Style Rotary Wing Pilot Training at Cobham Aviation Services in the United Kingdom. Most of the trainings are tailored towards ensuring that the pilots, on graduation, are mission ready.”

He said 22, 841 personnel have been trained in different specialties at both home and abroad in the last four years.

“It is worthy of mention that the NAF under the leadership of Air Marshal Sadiq Baba Abubakar DFS has trained 22, 841 personnel comprising 2, 414 foreign trained and 20, 427 locally trained personnel in different specialties in the last four years.  This is unprecedented in the history of NAF. All these go to reinforce the CAS’ drive to improve the professionalism of Nigerian Air Force personnel through deliberate and targeted specialist trainings,” he said.

Chief of the Air Staff Air Marshal Abubakar described Sanni and Arotile as outstanding aviators.

He said the NAF was winging the first female fighter pilot since its formation 55 years ago.

Air Marshal Abubakar said: “It is common knowledge that of all resources available to a leader or manager, the human resource is the most important. This is because the human resource drives all other resources pursuant to the attainment of organisational objectives. It is on this consideration that the NAF spares nothing at developing its human resource capital.

“This desire for excellence is even more compelling in the face of current and perceived future national security challenges. Accordingly, NAF has continued to invest in human capacity building, since the Service is a veritable instrument for maintenance of national security. The NAF will continue to discharge her constitutional responsibility of protecting Nigeria’s sovereignty and integrity by air.

“Our records indicate that as at today, we have trained a total of 67 Instructor pilots since 2015. Furthermore, with the winging of these pilots today, the NAF would have winged a total of 101 pilots within the same period. Currently, we have 61 pilots undergoing basic flying training, while 50 are undergoing various forms of advanced flying training courses both locally and abroad. As such, we are highly delighted to see the rewards of our collective efforts.

“I am confident that the NAF and indeed Nigeria will soon be reaping the benefits that these pilots would undoubtedly add to our operations,” he said.

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