What you need to know:
Marie Natasha Nakyomu Makumbi has 80 flight hours under her belt. She not only flies aircrafts, she is also trained to perform regular maintenance on aircraft before flight, repairs and regular inspections. She wants to become a flight, and maintenance instructor
“I am about 100 hours short of my commercial licence,” Marie Natasha Nakyomu Makumbi says. With 80 flight hours under her belt, she is determined to obtain the coveted commercial licence.
She is halfway through the journey, but the goal is already in sight.
Now a private pilot with a licence from the Uganda Civil Aviation Authority (UCCA) and Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), Makumbi is living her dream. Flying aircrafts was her dream career growing up in Mityana District.
Makumbi also doubles as an FAA-certified airframe and powerplant mechanic, a role that requires her to perform regular maintenance on aircraft before flight, maintaining records, repairs, inspections and any reports related to flying services.
Makumbi joined flying school in 2017 but the thought of taking the captain’s seat behind a yoke first crossed her mind as an infant. “When I was younger, my dad drove severally to Entebbe International Airport often to pick up missionaries from Europe and I always tagged along. I admired pilots and cabin crew and I had a conviction that this is the kind of profession I wanted to belong to,” she recounts.
That thought did not vanish. After completing A- Level, she shot her shot. And the mentorship and the inspiration she drew from Capt Emma Mutebi, a family friend helped her navigate the unknown world of aviation.
“He referred me to Kajjansi Flying School. Initially, I wanted to pursue only aircraft maintenance, but he suggested that I could take on flying as well,” she says.
Mutebi took Makumbi through the different available flying licences namely private pilot license (PPL), commercial pilot licence (CPL) and airport transport pilot’s licence (ATPL).The discussion stretched to the duration of the courses and how much they would cost her.
Makumbi was convinced she had to fly and her parents bankrolled her studies untill completion. Learning how to fly comes off as a complicated process for the average Ugandan, many are even put off by the tuition.
Aside from fees, little is known about how hard or easy it is to excel in aviation school. There are not many stories told about the chronicles of flight school.
She says learning how to land can be tasking. “Flying is different for everyone but for most people, landing is the most challenging bit. Knowing the right height and time at which to flare, without ballooning or floating is quite hard,” says Makumbi.
Even after completing her studies, Makumbi was not ready to fly. She had to undergo further tests in the field to prepare her for the skies. “Before taking off, one must undergo a medical examination from an aviation medical examiner, followed by a background check by aviation security and then the issuance of a student’s pilot’s licence from the Uganda Civil Aviation Authority-the examining and licensing body,” she explains. After ticking all those boxes, she was good to go.
Every person has dates tattooed at the back of their minds for different reasons. July 20, 2017 is one of them for Makumbi. It was the day she first took off from the ground in control of an aircraft with the supervision of Capt Geofrey Adoa.
“We took off from Kajjansi Flying School and the flight lasted for 42 minutes. I was so excited and did well according to my supervisors,” she recollects. Makumbi’s time at Kajjansi Flying School won her recognition and rewards.
It is here that Barry King, a pilot, mechanic, flight and maintenance instructor together with his wife Janice King, created a fundraiser to take her to study aviation maintenance technology in the US, after obtaining her private pilot licence.
“I managed to convert my Ugandan PPL into an FAA PPL. I also obtained my FAA airframe and power plant licence,” says Makumbi on the massive step she made upon examination and licensing by the US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).
Near death experience
After completing an aircraft maintenance course, Makumbi has been at the helm of a number of regional flights as she awaits her next step of acquiring a commercial pilot licence.
Between 2017 when she first flew and today, a lot has transpired in the cockpit. And what is a pilot’s story without a fine margins experience? Makumbi had hers on March 22, 2018 as she attempted to land after her first solo cross country flight. “During landing, the aircraft flipped. The first thing that came to my mind was to get out of the aircraft before it caught fire. At the same time, I did not want to get out of the plane because I had disappointed myself, my instructor, my mentor and my parents,” recollects Makumbi.
That incident has since humbled her and she is grateful to God for getting out of the aircraft alive. “I released my safety belts, got out of the aircraft and received a comment I will never forget, “Now take your walk of shame,” her instructor said to her.
They say setbacks prepare one for better days ahead. After suffering the landing howler, Makumbi put it behind her back and gained courage to fly again.
Some of Makumbi’s most memorable experiences are the successful solo flights she has had. “Flying solo forces you to make important decisions and boosts confidence. Flying alone was scary, but I am glad my instructor trusted me. I refused to allow failure to shatter my dream career,” she says.
Whenever Makumbi gets the chance to fly, she never takes it for granted when she lands safely. She also makes it a point to spare some time and say a prayer while up in the sky.
“I am usually excited as I set out to fly, I get anxious too sometimes when I think of the aircracft engine getting faulty,” she says. Flying also comes with making some tough decisions.
At one time, Makumbi had to cut a solo cross-country flight short due to poor visibility. She was scheduled to fly from Kajjansi to Jinja City, then overhead Kayunga and back to Kajjansi.
But she could not complete the flight because she could not see as far as required according to the visual flight rules.
“I descended to a lower altitude but it was not any better so I chose to cancel the second leg of the flight and flew back home.
I needed to finish the three legs of that flight so that I could get the required hours for solo cross country flights. I chose to return home and lived to fly another day,” she states.
Makumbi has also got to learn the importance of flying with a second eye. She says it is relieving in case of an emergency.
She always prefers a co-pilot next to her because they can notice something before she does or may have better judgment regarding a situation.
But training requires one to be competent even as a single pilot. As a pilot, Makumbi has perfected the art of multi-tasking. She knows how to make gentle corrections in the right direction and has the ability to think ahead of a situation.
More importantly, Makumbi has learnt that every pilot has different journeys and timings that should never be compared.
“This job calls for one to have a number of qualities such as desire to learn, commitment, a high level of integrity, ability to lead and to take responsibility for your actions,” she adds.
Supporting future pilots
The international mandatory retirement age for pilots is 65, which gives Makumbi another 40 years of flying. She has a flying bucket list that includes making many regional flights.
Family remains dear to her and she would not want a job that takes that away from her.
The most fulfilling thing according to Makumbi is supporting future pilots to gain ground. “I want to become a flight, ground school and maintenance instructor. Teaching others to fly would be one of my biggest achievements,” says a budding pilot.
Makumbi performs preventive maintenance on aircrafts, minor repairs and alterations to the powerplant and airframe and approve them for return to service.She also executes 100 hour inspections on airframes and powerplants and aircraft appliances.
“Servicing the engine, changing oil, timing the magneto to the engine, servicing tyres, sheet metal work like riveting and bending, non-metallic work like paint work and composite fabrication are some of the things I do,” she explains.
I had paused flying when I went into mechanical school but moving forward I plan to do mechanical work during the day and further my flight training in the evenings.
Her training at Kajjansi flying school ended in 2019 and she started mechanical training with Blue Ridge Community college in 2020, which she completed last month. Both courses; flying and aviation maintenance technology took her four years and cost about Shs149,374,797 (appproximately $39,000) in tuition.
Marie Makumbi was born to Bishop Johnstone Makumbi, a pastor in Mityana and Nampiima Lydia Makumbi, a teacher.
You expect children from a pastor and teacher’s home to come out as admirable beings because both roles are about nurturing lives, Makumbi encapsulates all that.
Her education at Trinity College Nabbingo and Nabisunsa Girls’ School also prepared her for lessons on navigating the skies at Kajjansi Flying School and later at Blue Ridge Community College in Virginia, USA.