Catherine Labuschagne First Female Pilot To Fly The Gripen


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Catherine Labuschagne First Female Pilot To Fly The Gripen

Bill Goldston

October 11, 2010 - This week, the South African Air Force created aviation history. One of the four South African Air Force (SAAF) pilots to successfully complete the first Operational Conversion Course (OCC) instructed by local SAAF pilots, is a woman.  

Captain Catherine Labuschagne, made her solo Gripen flight at the South African airbase Makhado in the Limpopo province of South Africa. This will give her a place in the record books as the first female Gripen pilot.  

The Saab JAS 39 Gripen is a lightweight single engine multirole fighter aircraft manufactured by the Swedish aerospace company Saab. Gripen International acts as a prime contracting organisation and is responsible for marketing, selling and supporting the Gripen fighter around the world. 


The aircraft is in service with the Swedish Air Force, the Czech Air Force, the Hungarian Air Force and the South African Air Force, and has been ordered by the Royal Thai Air Force. A total of 236 Gripens have been ordered as of 2008. Captain Labuschagne is one of several women serving as pilots in the SAAF and she previously flew the Impala jet before she qualified on the Hawk Lead-In-Fighter trainer to prepare her for the transition to South Africa?s front line fighter.  

She did fly in the rear seat of Gripen back in 2004, then making history as the first woman pilot to fly Gripen, this time however, she took to the skies in a single seat Gripen and the instructors at 2 squadron stayed on the ground. The four newly qualified Gripen fighter pilots will strengthen SAAF and the 2 squadron as they will reach operational status sometime next year when their conversion course is completed.  

The South African government ordered 26 Gripen C/D fighter aircraft in 1999 as part of a ?strategic defence package.?  Recently the SAAF Gripen force, although still in a project phase and not formally an operational system, conducted a large part of the air policing during the FIFA soccer World Cup.

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