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Captain Wakuwile reflects on his 39-year flying journey

Sunday November 15 2020
pilo pic

Captain Joseph Wakuwile sharing his 39 year flying journey in an interview with Life&Style magazine at his house in Goba, Dar es Salaaam. PHOTO BY | ERICK BONIPHACE

“You can hide memories, but you cannot erase the history that produced them.” These are words of a Japanese writer, Haruki Murakami.

Murakami’s words are reflected in the life of a 65- year-old retired pilot, Captain Joseph Wakuwile, who retired two months ago, after working with Air Tanzania Company Limited (ATCL) and Precision Air for 39 years since 1981.

Captain Wakuwile says 1982 will never be erased from his memory as it was the year he flew ATCL’s Twin Otter aircraft carrying 19 passengers, just a year after he started flying.

It was the time when Captain Wakuwile, the second born in a family of 8 children had a near-miss mid-air collision on route Dar es Salaam – Tanga.

The father of two and a grandfather of one, recalls the ordeal saying the aircraft was shaken and so were the passengers.

During the incident, he felt like his brain had stopped working for a while.

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It was until he landed at the Tanga airport when he came to his senses and started registering what really happened.

“My body was shaking. I detest that memory because the incident shook me to some extent,” says Captain Wakuwile, who got his diploma at the Finnair Aviation College in Finland in 1981.

He asked himself: “Is this how this job is going to be?” Adding, “No one could imagine we were able to escape the near-death situation. It was God’s mercies.”

Despite the challenges, he never thought of changing his career, but rather decided to follow the same dream he had since he was a little boy.

Captain Wakuwile served ATCL for 17 years before joining Precision Air in 1998 where he served for 22 years up to his retirement. His last flight was a return trip from Dar es Salaam to Arusha via Zanzibar on September 9, 2020.

According to the Tanzania Civil Aviation Authority (TCAA) director general, Hamza Johari, the retirement age for a pilot is 65 years.


The beautiful beginning

At the age of 6, Captain Wakuwile came across a cartoon character drawn on an advertisement section of a certain magazine, which was Air India’s iconic mascot, the Flying Maharaja. Since then, he has always admired and been inquisitive about planes.


Due to his passion, he spent a lot of his time at the airport watching planes take-off and land.

“During my free time when I was in Form Two, I used to ride a bicycle--- a 10km-long ride to Tabora airport from Tabora town where I used to live,” says Captain Wakuwile.

In what could be described as a ray of hope for him, in 1979, he saw an advertisement in the government’s Daily Newspaper calling pilot trainees to be trained in the Finland-based Finnair Aviation College for ATCL.

Captain Wakuwile tried his luck and made it through 1000-plus applicants who were called for an interview meant for the three-year training, covering Private Pilot License (PPL), Commercial Pilot License (CPL) and ‘frozen’ Airline Transport Pilot License (ATPL).


No walk in the park

Becoming a pilot back then was no ‘walk in the park’, says the Captain.

“The selection was rigorous and unique. It had to be undertaken at different times for a period of six months to prune the applicants to end with 15 cadets only from 1000 applicants, and I was one of them,” he says.

To reach that stage was not an easy task, the Captain reiterates. “We had to do a lot of tests including medical checks by an aviation medical doctor, aptitude test, flying test experience and some other written exams as well as one-on-one interviews,” he says.

He had to quit his job at the Bank of Tanzania (BoT) where he was working as a statistical assistant in the department of research and statistics. He worked at the BoT from 1978 to 1979 after completing his National Service in 1977.

Despite the fact that it was by that time very hard to quit once employed by BoT, Captain Wakuwile says he cannot forget his director’s words that encouraged him to take that step.

The then BoT director of research and statistics, Prof Delphin Rwegasira told him, “You are still young, go and study.”

41 years down the memory lane since Captain Wakuwile went to Finland for training, Prof Rwegasira remembers nothing about the incident.

“It has been a long time now for me to remember, but what I can say is that the government was by that time doing all in its power to find a lot of sponsorships, initiatives which paid off,” commends Prof Rwegasira.

Noting that pilot training costs thousands of US dollars, Captain Wakuwile says if it were not the government’s sponsorship, he could not become who he is today.

“My parents couldn’t afford the fees because pilot school costs thousands of US dollars,” says Captain Wakuwile, whose father was a forester and his mother a housewife.


Role of close ones

At the beginning, Captain Wakuwile’s mother was not happy with his choice of career. However, after convincing her that someone else’s child has to do it, she gave him her blessings. “Family and colleagues encouraged me to take over the challenges coming my way and become what I wanted to be,” he says.


The big moment

Captain Wakuwile says his most memorable moment as a pilot is rooted back to 1983 when he was part of the crew that flew the founding father of the nation, Mwalimu Julius Nyerere and his vice president Ali Hassan Mwinyi from Mwanza to Bukoba on Let-410 flight.

“I am very proud of carrying the national leaders who were going to launch the Uhuru Torch race back then,” says Captain Wakuwile whose rank by that time was a first officer.

He is also proud of flying honourable Dr Hussein Mwinyi from Zanzibar to Pemba in July this year where he was introduced as the ruling party’s Presidential candidate for Zanzibar.


The shift from ATCL to Precision Air

In the 1990s, Air Tanzania was not doing well and as a result, they were doing redundancy to cope with the financial strain.

So, he says, instead of waiting for redundancy, he decided to apply for early retirement from ATCL, the application of which was accepted.

“Air Tanzania was shrinking, so, I went to Precision Air, but now it’s the opposite, Air Tanzania is growing but my age does not allow me to go back to my first love,” he says.

At that time Precision Air was changing from chartered company to scheduled ones, so they needed professionals. “I had to do an interview and was among those who were selected. We were taken for a one-month course in the Czech Republic for the Let-410 flying, before coming back to fly the same,” says Captain Wakuwile.


Best thing about being a pilot

The rigorous lifestyle to achieve peak performance and numerous medical checks to keep you healthy above your chronological age, is what kept Captain Wakuwile going.

Captain Wakuwile is also proud of young pilots whom he has trained and who flew with him, and are now flying and commanding bigger machines here in Tanzania and abroad.


Beyond retirement

The Captain is content with what he has done and achieved and wants to give back to the country.

“I want to keep training the young stars,” says the retired Captain.

“I don’t want to die with all the experience I have had in these four decades of my career. I would like to pass them on to the younger generation,” he says.

The retired pilot will continue teaching aviation-related subjects to young aspiring cadets at relevant institutions, when required.

He is also planning to revisit his music hobby and improve his skills in playing the guitar and doing gardening.


The memorable farewell

Captain Wakuwile’s water salute farewell when he landed his last flight in Dar es Salaam was witnessed by all the passengers who boarded the flight with the Captain.

One of the passengers who were in the Captain’s last flight, Mr Mohammed Hassanali, also a retired professional, tells Life&Style that he has never witnessed anything like this since he began boarding flights in 1975.

“Recognising these kinds of heroes [pilot] made me very emotional,” Mr Hassanali says.

According to Mr Hassanali, there was an announcement made by one of the Captain’s crew members that ‘This is Captain Wakuwile’s last flight’.

The Captain then got down the flight, all the Precision Air staff came down too for the farewell held at the Julius Nyerere International Airport (JNIA), Mr Hassanali recalls.

The Captain then got into the car and travelled under plumes of water expelled by fire fighting vehicles from both sides at the taxiway. “It was a beautiful sight to see. It actually formed a scenic arch. It was my first time to ever witness a water salute,” Mr Hassanali explains.

“Precision Air did the right thing to have this kind of salute and honour the Captain,” says Mr Hassanali.

[email protected]

Murakami’s words are reflected in the life of a 65- year-old retired pilot, Captain Joseph Wakuwile, who retired two months ago, after working with Air Tanzania Company Limited (ATCL) and Precision Air for 39 years since 1981.

Captain Wakuwile says 1982 will never be erased from his memory as it was the year he flew ATCL’s Twin Otter aircraft carrying 19 passengers, just a year after he started flying.

It was the time when Captain Wakuwile, the second born in a family of 8 children had a near-miss mid-air collision on route Dar es Salaam – Tanga.

The father of two and a grandfather of one, recalls the ordeal saying the aircraft was shaken and so were the passengers.

During the incident, he felt like his brain had stopped working for a while.

It was until he landed at the Tanga airport when he came to his senses and started registering what really happened.

“My body was shaking. I detest that memory because the incident shook me to some extent,” says Captain Wakuwile, who got his diploma at the Finnair Aviation College in Finland in 1981.

He asked himself: “Is this how this job is going to be?” Adding, “No one could imagine we were able to escape the near-death situation. It was God’s mercies.”

Despite the challenges, he never thought of changing his career, but rather decided to follow the same dream he had since he was a little boy.

Captain Wakuwile served ATCL for 17 years before joining Precision Air in 1998 where he served for 22 years up to his retirement. His last flight was a return trip from Dar es Salaam to Arusha via Zanzibar on September 9, 2020.

According to the Tanzania Civil Aviation Authority (TCAA) director general, Hamza Johari, the retirement age for a pilot is 65 years.

The beautiful beginning

At the age of 6, Captain Wakuwile came across a cartoon character drawn on an advertisement section of a certain magazine, which was Air India’s iconic mascot, the Flying Maharaja. Since then, he has always admired and been inquisitive about planes.

Due to his passion, he spent a lot of his time at the airport watching planes take-off and land.

“During my free time when I was in Form Two, I used to ride a bicycle--- a 10km-long ride to Tabora airport from Tabora town where I used to live,” says Captain Wakuwile.

In what could be described as a ray of hope for him, in 1979, he saw an advertisement in the government’s Daily Newspaper calling pilot trainees to be trained in the Finland-based Finnair Aviation College for ATCL.

Captain Wakuwile tried his luck and made it through 1000-plus applicants who were called for an interview meant for the three-year training, covering Private Pilot License (PPL), Commercial Pilot License (CPL) and ‘frozen’ Airline Transport Pilot License (ATPL).

No walk in the park

Becoming a pilot back then was no ‘walk in the park’, says the Captain.

“The selection was rigorous and unique. It had to be undertaken at different times for a period of six months to prune the applicants to end with 15 cadets only from 1000 applicants, and I was one of them,” he says.

To reach that stage was not an easy task, the Captain reiterates. “We had to do a lot of tests including medical checks by an aviation medical doctor, aptitude test, flying test experience and some other written exams as well as one-on-one interviews,” he says.

He had to quit his job at the Bank of Tanzania (BoT) where he was working as a statistical assistant in the department of research and statistics. He worked at the BoT from 1978 to 1979 after completing his National Service in 1977.

Despite the fact that it was by that time very hard to quit once employed by BoT, Captain Wakuwile says he cannot forget his director’s words that encouraged him to take that step.

The then BoT director of research and statistics, Prof Delphin Rwegasira told him, “You are still young, go and study.”

41 years down the memory lane since Captain Wakuwile went to Finland for training, Prof Rwegasira remembers nothing about the incident.

“It has been a long time now for me to remember, but what I can say is that the government was by that time doing all in its power to find a lot of sponsorships, initiatives which paid off,” commends Prof Rwegasira.

Noting that pilot training costs thousands of US dollars, Captain Wakuwile says if it were not the government’s sponsorship, he could not become who he is today.

“My parents couldn’t afford the fees because pilot school costs thousands of US dollars,” says Captain Wakuwile, whose father was a forester and his mother a housewife.

Role of close ones

At the beginning, Captain Wakuwile’s mother was not happy with his choice of career. However, after convincing her that someone else’s child has to do it, she gave him her blessings. “Family and colleagues encouraged me to take over the challenges coming my way and become what I wanted to be,” he says.

The big moment

Captain Wakuwile says his most memorable moment as a pilot is rooted back to 1983 when he was part of the crew that flew the founding father of the nation, Mwalimu Julius Nyerere and his vice president Ali Hassan Mwinyi from Mwanza to Bukoba on Let-410 flight.

“I am very proud of carrying the national leaders who were going to launch the Uhuru Torch race back then,” says Captain Wakuwile whose rank by that time was a first officer.

He is also proud of flying honourable Dr Hussein Mwinyi from Zanzibar to Pemba in July this year where he was introduced as the ruling party’s Presidential candidate for Zanzibar.

The shift from ATCL to Precision Air

In the 1990s, Air Tanzania was not doing well and as a result, they were doing redundancy to cope with the financial strain.

So, he says, instead of waiting for redundancy, he decided to apply for early retirement from ATCL, the application of which was accepted.

“Air Tanzania was shrinking, so, I went to Precision Air, but now it’s the opposite, Air Tanzania is growing but my age does not allow me to go back to my first love,” he says.

At that time Precision Air was changing from chartered company to scheduled ones, so they needed professionals. “I had to do an interview and was among those who were selected. We were taken for a one-month course in the Czech Republic for the Let-410 flying, before coming back to fly the same,” says Captain Wakuwile.

Best thing about being a pilot

The rigorous lifestyle to achieve peak performance and numerous medical checks to keep you healthy above your chronological age, is what kept Captain Wakuwile going.

Captain Wakuwile is also proud of young pilots whom he has trained and who flew with him, and are now flying and commanding bigger machines here in Tanzania and abroad.

Beyond retirement

The Captain is content with what he has done and achieved and wants to give back to the country.

“I want to keep training the young stars,” says the retired Captain.

“I don’t want to die with all the experience I have had in these four decades of my career. I would like to pass them on to the younger generation,” he says.

The retired pilot will continue teaching aviation-related subjects to young aspiring cadets at relevant institutions, when required.

He is also planning to revisit his music hobby and improve his skills in playing the guitar and doing gardening.

The memorable farewell

Captain Wakuwile’s water salute farewell when he landed his last flight in Dar es Salaam was witnessed by all the passengers who boarded the flight with the Captain.

One of the passengers who were in the Captain’s last flight, Mr Mohammed Hassanali, also a retired professional, tells Life&Style that he has never witnessed anything like this since he began boarding flights in 1975.

“Recognising these kinds of heroes [pilot] made me very emotional,” Mr Hassanali says.

According to Mr Hassanali, there was an announcement made by one of the Captain’s crew members that ‘This is Captain Wakuwile’s last flight’.

The Captain then got down the flight, all the Precision Air staff came down too for the farewell held at the Julius Nyerere International Airport (JNIA), Mr Hassanali recalls.

The Captain then got into the car and travelled under plumes of water expelled by fire fighting vehicles from both sides at the taxiway. “It was a beautiful sight to see. It actually formed a scenic arch. It was my first time to ever witness a water salute,” Mr Hassanali explains.

“Precision Air did the right thing to have this kind of salute and honour the Captain,” says Mr Hassanali.

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[email protected]