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Nigerien Air Force’s first female pilot trains at Little Rock AFB

A woman watches as a man teaches her.

Capt. Ouma Laouali, the Nigerien air force’s first female pilot, watches her instructor pilot as he completes pre-flight checks on a C-130 Hercules at Little Rock Air Force Base, Ark., March 5, 2020. Laouali completed her C-130 Hercules pilot training at Little Rock AFB April 22, 2020. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Jayden Ford)

LITTLE ROCK AIR FORCE BASE, Ark. (AFNS) --

Capt. Ouma Laouali, the Nigerien air force’s first female pilot, accomplished the next step in her pilot career April 22, by completing her training to become a C-130 Hercules pilot in the C-130 Formal Training Unit’s six-month international pilot training program at Little Rock Air Force Base.

The 314th Airlift Wing, in close partnership with the 189th Airlift Wing, trains more than 1,200 students a year. Approximately 150 of those are international students who travel from countries around the globe to become combat-minded C-130 Hercules crew members.

According to Laouali, her interest in aviation began as a child while chasing planes overhead, imagining what it would be like to be in the sky. During her 10-year career, she has flown aircraft such as the Cessna 208 Caravan and the Diamond DA42.

“What’s interesting about flying is to be up in the sky like a bird, and getting to see the incredible view that is not given to anyone else besides a pilot,” Laouali said. “There is nothing but open sky in front of you and you see how big the world really is.”

Becoming a pilot proved to be no easy task for Laouali, but the pressure of setting a good example for the women who might follow her provided a constant reminder for her to try her hardest at every challenge along the way.

“Becoming a pilot made me feel very proud,” Laouali said. “At the same time, it put a weight on my shoulders because I knew I had to perform at my best for the women who will follow me. I wanted to set a good example so they would have the chance to prove themselves too. I feared that if I failed, everyone would remember that a woman failed and people might hesitate to give another Nigerien female pilot a chance.”

Laouali accomplished the goals she set to achieve: becoming the Nigerien air force Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance Squadron Operational Detachment commander – while facing many challenges during her 2,600 flying hours as a combat tested pilot – proving to everyone that women are capable of doing the same thing anyone else can, she said.

“She is a pioneer in every domain,” said Nigerien air force Col. Amadou Moctar, Nigerien Air Base 201 commander. “She has been flying with the other crew members and they don’t look at the fact that she is a woman – she is a pilot – performing just as good as the others.”

Her participation in the course marked the first time Laouali trained with the U.S. military – learning to be a combat-capable pilot of a C-130 Hercules.

“This is the first time I've trained on a U.S. base,” Laouali said. “It has given me the opportunity to see how the U.S. Air Force operates. The most important part was that there were other female pilots here. I felt like I could talk to these women and we could share and learn from our experiences.”

The opportunity for the C-130 FTU to train Laouali – along with all other international students – strengthens the U.S. Air Force’s strategic and international relationships with countries across the globe.

“We can show our commitment to our partnerships by training together,” said U.S. Air Force Col. Stephen Hodge, 314th AW commander. “The interoperability and the opportunities to train together now will pay off in great dividends if we go into a potentially hostile or contested environment together in the future.”

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