Celebrating Woman’s month from the skies

There’s been nothing even close to this since reliable satellite-based fire detection records began in Greenland in 2000. Very small wildfires can evade satellite detection

Written By Kishugu

On 16/08/2017

As almost any other year, Lizanne Woite celebrated Women’s Mont in the air. She is the only female pilot employed by Kishugu Aviation at this point, “but to me gender doesn’t make any difference. There are generally fewer females in the aviation industry,” Lizanne says, “but I work with a great team of pilots and we support each other regardless.”

In celebration of Women’s Month, we took a closer look at what our one and only courageous female pilot’s career entails as a Kishugu Aviation Spotter pilot. This tall, feminine lady, is in fact a true warrior and reflects courage, bravery and heroism. She flies a Command and Control unit (Cessna 182, 206 or 210) during aerial firefighting operations for Working on Fire (WOF) Aviation, which offers aerial support to the South African Government’s Department of Environmental Affairs (Expanded Public Works) Working on Fire Programme and Fire Prevention Association (FPA) members.

When a wildfire is reported and it requires aerial resources, the Spotter plane is dispatched ahead of the bombing resources to observe and analyse the fire and its movement. Lizanne explains that she supplies the Incident Commander (IC) on the ground with information regarding the fire and offers possible strategies on where she thinks the water bombing should start.

When the Bombers and Hueys arrive, she acts as communication platform between IC and the different aerial and ground resources and guides the bombing units to where they need to drop their loads. The bombing units fly to and fro between the fire and the water supply, to douse the flames enough for the firefighters to battle the remaining flames on ground level.

“I stay in the air until all the aerial resources are called to stand down and return to base, so that I can offer direction and ensure that the aerial resources operate safely on a fire.”

Mike Assad, National Flight Operations Manager for WOF Aviation explains that aerial firefighting is a challenging but very rewarding occupation. “These pilots are on standby for long periods during the fire season but as soon as there is a wildfire, the siren goes off and they need to be ready to take to the sky to save property, life and limb from devastating wildfires.”

Lizanne developed a passion for flying at a young age and started working towards her Private Pilot Licence (PPL) after school. She completed her Commercial Pilot Licence (CPL) at Wonderboom airport, Pretoria.

“I became interested in aerial firefighting along the way, so I applied for a Spotter pilot position with Kishugu Aviation in 2008.”

New Spotter pilots are sent on a fire behaviour course and thereafter, they spend a minimum of one season flying as an observer with an experienced pilot. Following a complete evaluation by the Spotter Line Captain, the new spotter pilots are sent out to a base to start operating their own planes.

“When you decide to follow a career, it is hopefully because you are truly interested in that specific field,” Lizanne says. “Being male or female, is not what defines you in your career – success lies in your passion and commitment.”

Lizanne is currently based in the Lowveld, Mpumalanga to help combat fires during the winter fire season.