From Ghana Web: http://www.ghanaweb.com/GhanaHomePage/NewsArchive/artikel.php?ID=308758
For close to 35 years, being a combat pilot in the Ghana Air Force has
been a ‘no go’ area for ambitious young women who have the desire to ply
their trade in that sector of the Ghana Armed Forces.
The first two female pilots who served during the Nkrumah regime left the Air Force after the 1966 coup.
However, the resilience and determination of a young woman, who had
displayed great interest to train as a combat pilot 13 years ago, has
changed all that.
Her dream would have nearly been aborted if she had not insisted that,
“it was the Air Force that I chose because I wanted to be a pilot.”
Squadron Leader Selase Agbenyefia, who completed Sixth Form at the
Mawuli School in Ho in 1996, applied to join the Ghana Air Force after
she had watched a documentary on a female air traffic controller, which
really impacted on her life.
“After watching the film, I asked myself why I couldn’t also pursue a
career in the aviation industry. I discussed this great ambition with
one of my brother’s friends who was a serviceman.”
According to Sqn Ldr Agbenyefia, his brother’s friend gave her the
necessary encouragement and told her that she stood a better chance of
becoming an Air Force pilot, especially with her subject combination,
Physics, Geography and Maths.
With this motivation, Sqn Ldr Agbenyefia responded to an application by
the Ghana Armed Forces for enlistment and stated her preference
programme as the Ghana Air Force.
However, when the applicants were invited to the Burma Hall in Accra
for the selection process, she realised that she had been pushed from
the Air Force to the Army.
“I was not pleased with the change and approached one of the officers
and told him I had applied specifically for the Air Force but my name
had been changed to the Army. The officer told me, ‘You see that thick
tall man over there, go and speak to him and if he agrees, the change
would be effected.’”
That officer then was Maj General Joseph Narh Adinkrah, the former Army
Commander and then Officer in charge of enlistment of officer cadets.
“Initially, I looked at the huge frame of the officer and got
frightened because I hear at the time that the military did not tolerate
anything that should not be tolerated. I, however, mustered courage and
went to him and told him my problem. He looked at me then said ‘well,
the Air Force is not for women, and could be the reason why your course
option was changed.’ I insisted that it was the Air Force that I
selected and that if I would not have the opportunity to train as a
pilot then I would opt out. Maj Gen Adinkrah looked at me, checked my
application and I believe he was overwhelmed by my confidence and asked
that I should be included in the Air Force list.”
This was how Sqn Ldr Agbenyefia traversed to become the first female
Helicopter pilot in the Ghana Air Force and the whole of the West
African sub region in 48 years, who has flown all kinds of aircrafts—
from L-29 fighter jets trainers to, Agusta -109 light attack
helicopters, Bell 412, and MI-17 Helicopters.
She is also the first female military pilot to have participated in United Nations mission.
After that trailblazing feat, it took close to 10 years before four other ladies have joined the Air Force as pilots.
Beginning of training
After the completion of the selection process, 20 of them were
airlifted to Takoradi where they were introduced to flying for three
months and grading to check whether one had the aptitude to fly.
After that exercise, the number was scaled down to 15 and they were
transferred to the Ghana Military Academy (GMA) at Teshie in Accra where
they went through rigorous military training for seven months.
After the training period at GMA, the group went back to Takoradi to
prepare for further training in the United States where they went
through Basic Flight Training for eight months.
The group later returned to Ghana with their licence as Qualified
Professional Pilots. She later obtained a Bachelor of Science in
Business Administration ( Finance Option) from the University of Ghana,
Legon, in addition to a post graduate certificate in Public
Administration from GIMPA.
According to Sqn Ldr Agbenyefia, she was very apprehensive the first
time she was in the air, but she kept it to herself. She said her first
personal experience in the cockpit was when she flew the L29 Basic
Fighter Jet Trainer in September 1998 in Takoradi.
She said she was in the jet with her instructor, Air Commodore Philip Ayisa, now the Base Commander in Tamale.
“Air Commodore Ayisa was calm by my side and he kept reassuring me. He
taught me the basic principles in flying. “In fact, when I took off and
was in the air I just could not believe it was me, the young girl from
Ho, in the air. It was unbelievable. After that experience, initial
apprehension and excitement, flying became a normal routine for me.”
Sqn Ldr Agbenyefia said her mother was against her enlistment into the
Ghana Air Force, but her daddy, a former educationist of blessed memory,
always gave her the much needed support and encouragement.
According to her, the mother always kept praying that she would not
make the grade and be dropped. However, eventually, when she made it,
she was very proud of her military feat just the same way her siblings
She said her family’s joy was manifested at the Wings Parade held in
Takoradi to confer the wing as pilot to them after they had returned
from the US in 2001.
Since graduation, Sqn Ldr Agbenyefia has been flying regularly from the
smaller machine to bigger machines after her turbine transition. She
started first as a co-pilot then graduated to be the Captain of the
She explained that the categorisation was based on skills and
proficiency and the number of hours one had flown. So far, she had made
an average of 1800 hours and considering her age and experience she
qualifies to be a captain on all machines that she flies.
Sqn Ldr Agbenyefia has now specialised in helicopter and has flown
within Ghana and to many remote locations where there were no airfields
and no runways.
She had the best of flying experience in Cote d’ Ivoire, where she did a
lot of medical evacuations, troop extraction and insertion, armed
reconnaissance flights during the peak of the Ivorian crises.
Initially, she engaged in a lot of VIP flights, including flying
ministers of state, Members of Parliament, chief executives, politicians
with diverse backgrounds.
According to Sqn Ldr Agbenyefia, when some of these people who joined
her flight got to know that she was the one in charge they were filled
with apprehension and disbelief initially; they thought she was a flight
attendant and “when they see me in the cockpit they feel uncomfortable
but later they come back to me to confess after I had given them a
smooth flight and now accept me and acknowledge my prowess.”
She is grateful to her male colleagues whom she described as very
supportive and always ready to see her succeed in her career. Also, the
Air Force top hierarchy have also supported her in a bid to bring about
Gender parity in the Air Force.
However, she said there were still some male chauvinists, those who do
not believe in women making it in a male dominated fields.
“It has been my determination to prove such people wrong and that is
what I have set myself to do. I have succeeded in diffusing that
tendency all these years.”
Turbulence in the air
Sqn Ldr Agbenyefia said she had encountered turbulence on several occasions and described it as a “bad experience.”
She maintained that once the pilot was in charge, there was no need to
panic. “If the passengers panic why should the pilot also panic? At
least you know your capabilities and that of the machine and how far to
push it. It is just an uncomfortable situation and that is what we were
trained to do — deal with tensed situations.” “I have also gone through
emergency situations in the air where the aircraft develops mechanical
faults, but the split second decisions you make will save you from
catastrophe and as scary as it may be God has seen me through it all”.