Major Marjorie Mukay of the Philippine Air Force never thought she would become a pilot. Looking back, she wants to become a doctor, but destiny must have brought her to fly the C-130 Hercules instead, thus becoming the first-ever C-130 female pilot-in-command in the Philippines.
Growing up in a typical middle class family in a far-flung barangay in Tabuk Kalinga whose parents didn’t even finish college, Marjorie worried that she won’t be able to finish college as she is the second child in a brood of six.
Nonetheless, Marjorie’s parents valued education very much that her mother who didn’t even finish third grade would regularly check her progress at school, exam scores, and seat works; and her father, who only finished high school and completed secretarial vocational course through self-support, would even teach her in her home works at night.
Here comes PMA
Her family’s situation pushed Marjorie to enter Philippine Military Academy instead so she can avail of its free education and sure employment after graduation.
“That would really ease my parents’ burden in supporting my siblings’ education,” admits Marjorie.
She was also challenged at the thought that PMA is a male-dominated institution so she took the challenge.
“Training in PMA was hard only initially. But comparing myself with my other female classmates, I can say that I have an edge physically. I had a hard life in the barrio, kumbaga sanay ako sa hirap,” Marjorie quips.
Upon entering in PMA, she doesn’t even have an idea about the branches of services – Army, Air Force, or Navy. Her only goal then was to graduate. Not until she met a female officer wearing a flight suit that she took the interest of becoming a pilot as well and joined the Philippine Air Force.
“I learned later on that she is a pilot. That inspired me to join the Philippine Air Force. Aside from the word itself, Air Force sounds astig to me. I wanted to become a pilot, too,” she shares.
Becoming a female pilot
Marjorie initially signed up to become a helicopter pilot so she can land the Huey in their backyard at the province. Huey is the only aircraft she knew since childhood.
But being female in the Air Force is not at all easy as there weren’t enough female pilots who stay in the Wing longer.
“Unlike in other flying units of the PAF where there are a number of female pilots, the 220th Airlift Wing had only a few female pilots and most of them did not stay with the Wing longer,” explains Marjorie.
But she took the challenge even when some people discouraged her of her height and the so-called many “limitations” of female. Usually, when female pilots get pregnant, they cannot fly in nine months to a year and when they get back, they have to undergo retraining.
“They also said I needed to have a strong physique to be able to control the aircraft in case of emergency and the likes (mostly pertaining to the weaker physical capability of a female),” says Marjorie.
Some senior officers would even tell her about uncertain decision-making capability of female, but those and other remarks only challenged her more.
“I admit I am not a superwoman who can perform flawlessly in flying. I had a hard time too learning the rudiment of flying the C-130 but I see to it that I excel or do better in the other aspects like in the academics,” she says.
Male vs female pilots
Basically, there is no difference between male and female pilots. Based on requirements before qualifying for upgrading from a co-pilot, the considerations are pure flying-related.
Marjorie explains, however, catering to some requirements (like lavatory) of the female aircrew remains a challenge to the organization, especially during long hauls. (Note: C-130 is a multi-crew aircraft and there are other female crews). Other than that, there’s no issue if the pilot is a male or a female.
When it comes to training of C-130 pilots, there’s a standard set by the unit. In her case, she was checked out as a co-pilot on November 10, 2010 and had flown with relatively the entire instructor pilots and other pilots of C-130.
She’d also been to various flight missions as a co-pilot and that she considered as a form of training, too.
“During the course of my training as a PIC (Pilot-in-Command), I admit again that I needed extra effort alongside with the extra effort too of my instructors. I felt that I am not the only one pressured but I just think they are too. Maybe because of the thought that I am the first female to be trained as a PIC,” says Marjorie.
While it is expected, there are times when flight operations happens almost every day, especially if when there is a calamity so she has to wake up early in the morning and retire late at night.
“No more time for exercise or beauty regimen. But when I have time, I run and I play badminton. Honestly, I do not follow any beauty regimen,” reveals Marjorie.
As to someone she looks up to as a role model, Marjorie doesn’t have one. Regardless of one’s gender, she admired people and leaders who have a strong political will.
“But I admire most those women who outweigh their male counterparts, with all else equal,” says Marjorie.
She says it is but natural to the Filipino culture to doubt the capabilities of women, but women should always take this “macho” culture as a challenge in whatever fields they are in.
“Make it a point to excel. You may not outweigh your male counterparts but for them not to look less of a woman’s capability,” advises Marjorie.
Apart from her many-to-mention flight experiences, routine flight missions that enabled her to land in the southernmost part and the westernmost part of the country including an Island at West Philippine Sea, what made being a pilot special to Marjorie is this:
“I got to serve best the people whom I swear to serve and protect.”
At present, Marjorie is the Executive Officer of the 472nd Avionics Maintenance Squadron of the 220th Airlift Wing, Philippine Air Force. She also holds a Pilot-in-Command (PIC) qualification in the Nomad type of aircraft, a smaller type fixed wing aircraft.