Makinde sisters take the skies

They say that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, and no one knows that better than Captain Mopelola “Lola” Iyiola who has inspired her younger sister, Senior First Officer Oluwaseun “Jen” Jenrola, to follow in her footsteps into the world of aviation. During the summer of 2023, the sisters were featured in Business Day Nigeria for breaking gender barriers in aviation. Exemplifying our Core Value of Teamwork, we excitedly interviewed the two sisters from our base in Port Harcourt, Nigeria.

Tell us who, or what, inspired you to journey into the world of aviation?

Lola: Our dad, Captain Wale Makinde, is a former pilot and was a big part of our inspiration. I used to love watching him fly and I admired everything about being a pilot, but it always seemed like it was just a career for men. Then I heard a story about two Nigerian sisters who flew airplanes and I thought to myself, I want to see more of this, I want to see more women flying, so why not me? I have six sisters, we’re a family of women. That motivated me to break into this field, but I wanted a challenge, I didn’t want to do fix-wing. I told my dad I wanted to fly helicopters because people think flying a helicopter is difficult. Nothing motivates me more than being told I can’t do something.

Jen: Our dad played a role in my journey but a big part of it was also my sister. I got so much joy out of seeing my dad and sister fly, but watching my sister conquer her dreams of becoming a pilot while managing her family was a sight to witness. It showed me that women can have a successful career and family, that work-life balance is achievable.

What was your reaction upon learning that your sister wanted to follow in your footsteps?

Lola: It’s something that I am so happy about and every time I think about it, I smile. To have my sister with me in this helicopter, doing rotary wing it’s very special. It’s a reminder that when you set your mind to accomplish something, you can do it. I knew it was important to me to see more women represented in this space and having one of those women be my sister makes me happy and I continue to be filled with joy because our youngest sister is also a pilot. We’re all on this journey together and it’s such a wonderful bonding experience.

Do you often get mistaken for each other?

Lola: All the time! To a lot of people, we do look alike. I remember our first flight together; a passenger was boarding and did a double-take like “there’s two of you?” and we’ll say “yes, we’re sisters.” There are other times where I will go to a new location, that she’s been to and people will start talking to me and I’ll say “oh, I think you’re talking about my sister.” I love it, it makes me laugh.

Jen: I’ll never forget the first time I went to Escravos and people were smiling and talking to me about all these things, like I had been there before, and I finally had to say, “I think you may have met my sister.” And they’ll stop and look at you with this look of confusion and then I get asked, “Are you twins?” Nope, she’s the oldest, she’s the captain.

Do you remember your first experience flying a helicopter?

Lola: I was in training school in Durban, South Africa. After weeks of reading and training modules my instructor said, “Ok, today we’re flying.” We got in the helicopter and as we’re taking off, I’m asking myself, “Are you sure you want to do this? Your heart is in it, but this is reality, are you ready?” As I looked over at my instructor the expression on his face was joy. Halfway through our flight he asked me to take over and I was screaming on the inside, but I was excited. I kept saying to myself, “You’re doing this Lola, you’re flying!” But when I think about my first flying experience that I remember, it’s when I got my command and was told “You’re the captain of this aircraft.” That’s an unforgettable moment for me, it put everything into perspective. Everything I worked hard for; it was finally happening.

Jen: I was in flight school as well, in California. I was in a Robinson R22. My instructor looked at me and said, “I’m going to give you control.” And I thought, “Are you sure?” Next thing I know I’m flying this tiny helicopter, with no doors, because it’s so hot. However, my favorite memory of flying for the first time is landing on an offshore oil rig called Langley, off the coast of Port Harcourt. I remember it well. This wasn’t your normal helipad landing, there was this large obstruction that made it a little difficult. I was slightly panicked on the inside but, wow, it was an amazing experience.

What is your favorite thing about being a pilot?

Lola: Remember, I said I like challenges, right? My favorite thing about being a pilot are the take-offs and landings, no matter where I am. There’s a lot you have to think about and prepare for, all types of different situations and to me that’s exciting, it gives me a rush. Also, night flying. I like doing the training for it, going over possible situations, and learning how to handle emergencies which are tied into being able to land the aircraft perfectly. 

Jen: I also love the thrill of preparing to take-off. Having control of the aircraft stiffly and suddenly ascend into the air, it’s a beautiful thing. Another thing I enjoy is seeing my progress. I’m still a First Officer but I am going to be a Senior First Officer soon and I like looking to see how far I have come. I’ve learned so much and I notice that when I’m doing check-off procedures for takeoff.

Favorite place to takeoff from?

Jen: I like offshore rigs. Any platform is cool by me. I don’t think I would trade it for going to airports.

Lola: Same. I love offshore takeoffs. There’s no feeling that can replace taking-off from a platform or a moving vessel. It’s such a different feeling that I wish I could convey better but I love it.

What’s your favorite thing about flying with your sister?

Lola: She’s a professional and I’m not just saying that because she’s, my sister. The first time we flew together I was a little nervous. I don’t know why but flying with Jen loosens me up. Once we get into that cockpit, we’re in sync on everything from takeoff checks to cruise altitude. She supports me and asks me questions before I even think about what I need and that’s a gift to have. Jen is one of my favorite co-pilots, she’s truly the best.

Jen: The first time I flew with Lola I was trying to impress her. Yes, she’s my sister but she’s also the Captain and I can’t mess this up. I didn’t want her giving me any slack, either. The first time we flew together, I remember it was a beautiful day and I was nervous but really excited. Now, it’s such a sweet feeling, like, I’m flying with my sister, we get to do this together.

Since this interview, Jen has become Senior First Officer. Congratulations, Jen!