South Africa’s first female pilot is one smart ‘Kucki’

I did not know that the first female South African airline pilot has been residing in Deep Cove since 1979.

Kucki Low was born in Austria, and moved with her family when she was seven years old to South West Africa, now called Namibia.

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By the time Kucki (pronounced “cook-ee”) was 19 she had suffered two personal tragedies, the sudden death of her mother and her father’s death two years later. When she was 15 due to her father’s illness, she had to leave school to help run their photography business.

Her mother passed away when she was 17 and within two years of that her father passed away, having had his second heart attack. Suddenly she was on her own. At that point in her life she never even considered flying as a possible career.

But that all changed when, by chance, she had the opportunity to shoot a late-afternoon coastal sunset from the passenger seat of a small Piper 140 aircraft which ignited her passion for flying.

She was hooked and determined to learn to fly. Once she had her private pilot licence she decided to go for her commercial licence so she could get paid for what she loved to do — to fly.

pilot
Kucki Low - photo supplied

She took a whole year of home study and had no trouble passing the practical, but was devastated when she failed the written exam for the commercial licence. At that time friends suggested she not worry about that failure, because she was, after all, a photographer.

But she persevered, rewrote the exam and was thrilled to pass and get her commercial pilot’s licence. She felt that joy and used the memory of it in everything she has accomplished since.

In 1970 she became South Africa’s first female flight instructor. In 1973 after working as a flight instructor for three years, she was offered a job as a pilot with Namaqualand Airways, an airline operating out of Cape Town, South Africa, with the condition that they could run a survey on their schedule for three months to see what the response of passengers would be to a female pilot.

Things were different in the 1970s. Passengers were asked to fill out a questionnaire when they checked in for the schedule of the day. The questionnaire enquired:

If you were booking in, and your pilot for the flight was a female, would you:
1. Be happy assuming that if the company had hired her, she was as qualified and competent as any of the male pilots?
2. Be nervous and would have preferred a male pilot?
3. Refuse to fly?
4. Other comments

Of all the questionnaires that were returned, all except one indicated that the passenger would be OK with a female pilot. The one exception was a man who said: “I would never fly with a woman. A woman’s job is in the kitchen.”

For Kucki this positive outcome was a defining moment. Namaqualand Airways concluded that the risk of employing her was small compared with the possible upside and publicity, and she was hired.

She flew for nine years before leaving to move to Canada with her husband and son. She overcame the odds and refused to give up, she persevered when she didn’t at first succeed and now she is encouraging everyone to do the same.

She firmly believes: “You are never given a dream without also having the ability to achieve it.”

In spite of minimal education and English not being her first language, and after her son’s urging, Kucki wrote a book that will lift anyone’s spirits. In writing her book she relived all her tragedies and triumphs and was able to look back to see how each moment led her to where she is today.

Kucki is now a sought-after inspirational speaker, with her program, Finding Your Flight Path: Living Your Life with Passion and Purpose and author of her biography This is Kucki Your Pilot Speaking.

You can learn more about her on kuckilow.com.

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