Capt. Ouma Laouali, the first female pilot in the Nigerien Air Force, recently accomplished the next step in her pilot career April 22, 2020, 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 here at Little Rock Air Force Base, Arkansas.
The 314th Airlift Wing, in close partnership with the 189th Airlift Wing, trains more than 1,200 students a year. Approximately 150 of those students come from countries around the globe to become combat-minded C-130 Hercules crew members. Laouali is one of these international students and is a pioneer in the history of her country’s air force.
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 – 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 Forces Armées Nigeriennes 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 a 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 our 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.”
Upon completion of her training here, Laouali brings with her the knowledge of how to employ the C-130 Hercules as a tactical weapon with honed abilities as a Herk pilot — moving troops and supplies throughout the Nigerien air force’s large area of operations, as well as assisting with regional peacekeeping operations.
“I look forward to possibly becoming an instructor and I am ready to grow as a C-130 pilot,” Laouali said. “I have already seen what the plane can do, l know the plane’s full capabilities and I have the experience to use those capabilities if they are needed in the future.”
Laouali hopes that this accomplishment inspires other females to set their own goals and achieve them. She has always aspired to be the reason another young girl from Niger makes their own dreams come true — just as she did.