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Dubai’s Sheikha Mozah is first woman to pilot part-plane, part-helicopter ’tiltrotor’

Being an Emirates Boeing 777 captain and a helicopter pilot made her ideally qualified to fly the Leonardo AW609

Sheikha Mozah bint Marwan Al Maktoum has become the first woman to pilot the AW609 tiltrotor aircraft — which takes off and lands like a helicopter but flies at the speed of a plane.

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Already the first female pilot in the Dubai ruling family, Sheikha Mozah piloted the plane earlier this month during a visit to Italian defence and aerospace company Leonardo’s US helicopter headquarters in Philadelphia.

This hour-long flight set a milestone for women pilots in the civil aviation sector.

AW609 tiltrotor manufacturer Leonardo said Sheikha Mozah’s skillset as a Boeing 777 captain with Emirates and a certified pilot of the AW139 helicopter — also produced by Leonardo — made her uniquely qualified to fly the tiltrotor.

“I’m thrilled to be the first female pilot to test this revolutionary aircraft,” Sheikha Mozah said on Monday.

“This is not just a personal milestone but an opportunity to shatter another glass ceiling for women.

“I always push myself beyond my limits to prove that if I can do it, it is also within the reach of anyone else who is determined enough to try.”

She described it as a “natural evolution” of her experience as a pilot and said it felt like home when she stepped into the plane.

“I am still pinching myself,” she said.

“Aircraft like this one makes me feel really excited about the future of aviation, a future now open to more women who chose this industry.

“Piloting the AW609 has been on my bucket list since I first saw the early prototype images.”

Sheikha Mozah said she had been “really excited about the experience”.

The tiltrotor combines the strengths of the helicopter and plane. It can take off and land vertically, hover like a helicopter and fly at speeds of more than 500 kilometres an hour and cover almost 1,400km.

Leornardo expects civil, government, and military demand for the plane once it receives US Federal Aviation Administration certification.

In addition to passenger services, the AW609 can operate in search and rescue and emergency medical services roles.

William Hunt, managing director of Leonardo Helicopters in the US, said it was “incredibly meaningful” to have Sheikha Mozah as the first female pilot on the AW609 on May 9 and 10 in Philadelphia.

“Demonstrating the AW609’s combined fixed and rotary-winded piloting capabilities was a true milestone for the team in Philadelphia,” he said.

Sheikha Mozah said she set her heart set on flying the minute she set foot into the cockpit of an aircraft at the age of 12 and has set several records in aviation.

At the age of 17, she became the youngest student enrolled at Oxford Aviation Academy in England.

After receiving Boeing 777 certification, she was appointed as a first officer with Emirates in 2015 and soon after set out on her first passenger flight from Dubai to Amman, Jordan.

She was also the first lieutenant pilot in the Dubai Police Air Wing in 2019.

Sheikha Mozah said the tiltrotor was pilot-friendly and amazing to fly. She forgot what type of plane she was commanding until she looked out of the windows at the big rotors.

“The merging of the rotor and fixed-wing just makes it a totally different experience,” she said.

“It’s something you can’t describe unless you are in there.”

Leonardo brought the tiltrotor to Dubai during the Expo 2020 Dubai to show its capabilities.

The aircraft was flown from Italy to Dubai for its debut outside Europe and the US.

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