Meet Captain Mutinda, who rides a Caravan in skies

The surprising thing was the Tukul was a store for ammunition Simon Kupalia and Jimmy Wanjala “I never dreamt of flying Angelina Jolie, Richard Branson and the INEOS man!” Capt Mutinda, they call him. Famous in the aviation community for his strict procedural flying that leaves his checked-out students ready to fly the Cessna Caravan (C208). Capt Mutinda was bred on thorough understanding of the Cessna Caravan. From emergencies to thousands of flights, his experience is safety and adventure. He vividly remembers one time when he was a first officer flying with a lady captain from Juba, South Sudan to Boma, a place located one and a half hours away. The flight had full-board passengers and was smooth until upon landing. After touch down, they had a full brake failure which made the aircraft stop right at the end of the runway next to a Tukul (a round hut made of mud, grass, millet stalks and wooden poles, with thatched conical roofs). These kind of houses are common in rural South Sudan. Because of the hot exhaust smoke, the roof of the Tukul caught fire. In a nick of time, the passengers were evacuated, as usual, the captain leaves last. As a result, the Lady Captain suffered some burns on her hands. The aircraft burnt to a shell; the surprising thing was the Tukul was a store for ammunition. The fire consumed the ammunition and the rattling noise of exploding bullets was heard miles away. This is just one of the incidences. Before Covid-19, Captain Mutinda had another emergency after landing at Jomo Kenyatta International Airport. On approach, they suspected a possible break failure. On touch down, his fears were confirmed, the plane actually had full brake failure. He brought the Cessna Caravan to a halt and wasn’t confident taxiing it to the apron, causing a two-hour traffic snarl-up in the air. He brought the Cessna Caravan to a halt and wasn’t confident taxiing it to the apron. The Kenya Airports Authority emergency services were quick to push the aircraft off the runway, as Jumbo jets orbited awaiting landing instructions. For Capt Mutinda, life sometimes comes with its own complexities which we can barely comprehend. However, the utmost privilege we’ve always had as humans is the ability to make choices. The ability to say I can do this or I can’t do it; I can survive this or I can give in; I can turn this around and then make the best out of it or somebody else will handle it. Captain Philip Mutinda, currently the Chief Pilot at Kenya Forest Service, never dreamt of becoming a pilot but has never regretted being one, now at almost the pinnacle of his career. He was born in Kisumu, but grew up in Nairobi and attended Njiris High school. Much of the expectations from his family after school were that he would pursue Computer Science and even did short courses on computer studies while waiting to join college. Despite attempts to justify a career path that had been flashed before him, he eventually discovered it was actually not his forte. This is especially after a time when he had accompanied a friend to Wilson Airport to pick up some brochures for CMC flying school which existed at the time. This was the inception of his piloting journey and he has never looked back since. Philip was only 19 when he started training for his Private Pilot License at CMC Flying School and later moved to Texas, United States, where he did his Commercial Pilot License at Delta Qualiflight – Meacham Field. He stayed in the US for three years, training and working odd jobs to fend for himself and spent some time as well exploring the vibrant cities of the country – owing to his passion for travel and adventure. He later came back to Kenya, but even with a license to fly commercially, Philip confessed it was never easy from the onset. His mother had been instrumental in getting him to start training as she worked hard to not only fend for him but also pay the training fees. “It cost about Sh5,500 an hour at the time for a single-engine aircraft and Sh20,000 – Sh25,000 for a multi-engine,” he mumbled in his modulated voice. The captain didn’t only rely on his mother, the hard-working school teacher, but also on his mentors for guidance and moral support; his late uncle who served in the military and Captain Ririani, the owner of Kenya Flying School. After conversion of his license and with verve to follow on his mother’s footsteps, he started ground school training for students who wanted to get the rating. He had an apprentice programme at Lady Lori Kenya and later on in various other companies then eventually trained in a personal capacity. He trained on the Cessna Caravan. Currently, as the Chief Pilot at Kenya Forest Service, he engages in a series of activities such as VIP movement (senior government officials), aerial surveillance of the conservancies, humanitarian work and forestry fire-fighting. When asked about the most memorable experience he has ever had in his many years of service, he simply said, “There is no single memorable experience. I think there are many things we experience that are memorable!” “Every pilot would tell you how great it was flying solo for instance or their first day being pilot in-command and so much more.” To him, being a pilot can make you experience both the good and the bad in ways that you cannot forget. “We have been sent to war-torn countries such as South Sudan and Somalia and experienced first-hand these things you hear about through media,” he said. He also gave an account of the incident that happened in South Sudan in 2007 when the aircraft he was flying with colleagues had brake failure and had to do a game-drive and by the time they stopped, the plane caught fire. Fortunately they managed to escape unharmed. Despite the predicaments that may come with flying, Philip has enjoyed a fair share of happy and once-in-a-lifetime moments like flying Angelina Jolie, Richard Branson and even carried the INEOS man (Eliud Kipchoge, an elite athlete) to Mombasa for a Mashujaa Day event. There is a popular saying that a candle loses nothing by lighting another candle and so Philip has been mentoring other people in the aviation industry - both relatives and friends. “I have contributed my bit making good pilots from the Cessna Caravan,” he said. He hopes to retire into farming one day: “I can’t exactly tell when I’ll retire but I believe I will fly until I can’t anymore. You see once a pilot you cannot stop looking up the skies.” His account of rising to become a great pilot and captain is a testament that sometimes life happens – there will be things that will come our way unexpectedly and change us forever and regret nothing. He wishes that people travel more in the air because it is not only enthralling but also one of the safest modes of transportation. Philip encourages parents to ensure that their children are driven by passion and not profit, should they want to join flying school. “Without passion, you cannot make it in this industry. Not only in flying, but in almost every other professional area,” he concluded.