Historical Figures

Lotfia ElNadi, air pioneer

Egyptian pilot, Lotfia ElNadi (لطفية النادي ‎‎; 1907 – 2002) was the first Arab and African woman to earn a pilot's license. She takes her classes in secret, and has to work as a secretary at the school to finance her training.

Pilot in secret

Lotfia ElNadi was born on October 29, 1907 into a middle-class family in Cairo, Egypt. Encouraged by her mother, while her father Matbaa Amiriya did not see the point, Lotfia went to secondary school at the American Girl's College of Cairo . She particularly learns languages, the main lessons being Arabic, English and French.

Discovering that an aviation school has just opened in Cairo, Lotfia decides to enroll despite her father's reluctance. Not having the means to pay for the lessons, she works as a secretary at the school in exchange for her registration fees. To counter her father's objections, she allegedly lied to him by pretending to attend study groups when she was actually taking flying lessons.

The race from Cairo to Alexandria

In September 1933, Lotfia ElNadi obtained her airplane pilot's license, after only 67 days of lessons in the company 33 male students; she is the first patented Arab and African woman. Faced with the favorable attention she received from the press, her father's anger quickly died down and he agreed to fly with her over the pyramids.

In December 1933, Lotfia joined an international race linking Cairo and Alexandria; of the 28 competitors, she is the first on the finish line. Not having, as she should, flown above one of the ground indicators at mid-race, she was not declared the winner but received a prize and many congratulations, including that of the feminist Huda Sharawi. Subsequently, Lotfia took part in other races and learned aerobatics.

The end of a career

Lotfia ElNadi flew for five years, until an accident that damaged her spine and cut short her career as an aviator. Her medical treatments led her to settle in Switzerland, then in Canada with members of her family. In 1989, she returned to Cairo to participate in the 54th anniversary of civil aviation in Egypt, and was awarded the Order of Merit from the Egyptian Aerospace Education Organization.

Lotfia ElNadi died in 2002 in Cairo.