Major Catherine Labuschagne Gripen

pilot: SA Air Force

Determination, bravery and dedication are just some of the words that describe Major Catherine Labuschagne, the world's only female pilot of frontline fighter aircraft. She was trained by the South African Air Force and made aviation history last year when she became the first female pilot in the world to fly solo in a Gripen. The 31-year-old had earlier made aviation history as the first woman to fly in the rear seat of a two-seater Gripen during the Africa Aerospace and Defence show in 2004. Labuschagne, code-named Siren, boasted 1 900 flying hours by October last year, 1 000 of them in military jets. She previously flew an Impala and the Hawk lead-in fighter in preparation for the transition to South Africa's frontline fighter. She admits the training was "tough�, but worth all the effort. "It was quite a big thing for me because it made history. It was also rewarding because I have been in the frontline since 2003. It's been a long road.� Flying a Gripen requires a high level of mental and physical fitness because of the speed at which the aircraft flies, a maximum of Mach 2 � twice the speed of sound, or about 2 400km/h. Pilots are also required to accumulate about 430 hours on the Hawk and pass several courses before they are allowed even to sit behind the controls of a Gripen. Labuschagne is one of several female pilots in the air force but the only one who has flown in the fighting line or as a member of its Elite 2 Squadron, which flies the single- and dual-seat Gripens. She continues to undergo further training at the 85 Combat Flying School in Makhado, Limpopo, which operates under the motto Detrimento sumus (Destruction is our business). � Mmanaledi Mataboge