Meet the role model Captain of the Queen of the Skies: Obet Mazinyi

He is a familiar face within the community of four-engined aircraft lovers, recognized by both young aviators and airline veterans alike. For fans of the Boeing 747, or ‘Queen of the Skies’ as it is commonly known, Captain Obet Mazinyi is a respected senior instructor, examiner, and check captain. Today, he becomes the latest recipient of the AeroTime Aviation Achievement Award for his dedication to the aviation community, for his efforts promoting pilot education, and for being an inspiring role model for the next generation of aviators.

Based in Hong Kong, Obet has spent more than 31 years with the Cathay Pacific Group. Today he commands a social media audience of 70,000 followers and is well regarded for his dedication to the Boeing 747-400 and 747-800, with an impressive list of events on his CV including meeting the ‘father of the 747’ himself, the late Joe Sutter.

But Obet’s journey to the 747 began continents away at the Zambia Air Services Training Institute at a time when a career in aviation was considered rare and unconventional in Southern Africa.

“My first foray into aviation was when my parents moved from what was then Southern Rhodesia to Zambia, because of all the issues that were going on, obviously,” recalls Obet. “What happened was, they took me to a school that was conveniently placed about two kilometers away from Lusaka International Airport. So, at break time I’d spend my time watching aeroplanes from the break field, my friends were running around, playing and I was watching aeroplanes. From then on, basically, I just wanted to fly, you know, I just wanted to fly.”

Given the perceptions around aviation careers at the time, Obet faced a number of challenges.

“Today the conversation on aviation is growing, but it’s not one of those careers that people talk about in a broad sense. Even basic forms that you fill in at any agency or medical institution or anything, if you look at all the careers that they put there, aviation is not one of them. In those days, you can imagine in Zambia, let alone Zimbabwe, aviation was sort of left as the preserve of the people that came from Europe and so on. They were the ones that could fly airplanes. Basically, Africans couldn’t, that was the sort of thinking in those days.”

However, Obet overcame the scarcity of opportunities in aviation when he secured a scholarship at a Zambian college that was offered to just 10 students from a pool of thousands of candidates. This later led to him completing his PPL and furthering his pilot training in the United Kingdom. “I’ll never forget those interviews,” says Obet. “They wanted 10 people and there were 3,000 of us.” 

A leap of faith

After acquiring his UK commercial pilot’s license and instrument rating in 1981, he joined the national airline of Zimbabwe at the end of 1982. In Air Zimbabwe, Obet rose to the rank of captain and training captain on the BAe146-200 and then the Boeing 707. It was in 1989 that he came to a career crossroads which was to lead him closer to his dreams of flying the Boeing 747.

In that year, Obet left Air Zimbabwe to take up a role in the Far East to captain a newly acquired Boeing 707 for Air Hong Kong. This opportunity came about at a Christmas dinner through a former colleague, Captain Dave Warburton, who was previously the chief training captain in Air Zimbabwe but was headhunted to become the Chief Pilot of Air Hong Kong.

“I met Captain Dave, and I asked him, ‘oh, what are you doing here?’ He said, ‘I’m here on holiday’. I then casually asked him if there were any jobs on the market, and he said, as a matter of fact, we just got a new 707 and we’re looking for pilots. Are you still flying the 707? he asked, I said yes. And he said to me, are you serious about coming to the Far East if I offer you a job because we are looking for people like you that are already qualified. I said, of course.”

While this decision attracted criticism from his colleagues because Air Zimbabwe was growing and becoming more successful, Obet was focusing on the bigger picture. He says: “I wanted to go somewhere where I knew I’d fly around the world and where I knew I would get to fly the Boeing 747, which is what I really wanted to fly.”

31 years later

More than three decades later and Obet has made his name, not only with Cathay Pacific Airways and veteran aviators but with many Boeing 747 lovers who see him as a role model for the Queen of the Skies.

In 2016, he had the opportunity to meet the ’father of the 747’ himself, the late Joe Sutter, and in that meeting they talked about the aircraft’s retirement. “We asked Joe, what do you think about the airlines retiring the 747? And he spoke highly on its safety aspect for transatlantic flights, but he also said he was disappointed to see it go, of course, because it was his baby. But at the same time, he was pleased that the 747-8 was still going strong and being ordered by airlines.”

Also during the meeting, Obet says that “Joe also hinted that if he were a young 19-year-old again today, he would delve into the innovations of the medical field and nanotechnology, as that is where he thought the world was headed.”

In addition to his duties as a Boeing 747 pilot, Obet plays an active role in giving back to the industry and inspiring aspiring aviators coming up the ranks through his social media presence. 

In the early stages of his Instagram presence, he began with a curious and fun approach as he discovered the platform.

“I actually started off with just one of the funny videos of me running on the main deck of the 747, from the back to the front. I just said, let me show people how big this aircraft is and try and run from the back of the aeroplane to the front in a shorter time than Usain Bolt just as a joke. That’s essentially how it started. And I posted that, and then I had thousands of views.”

Inspiring the young and being inspired by female aviators

Today, Obet shares educational videos of the 747’s operations which inspire and encourage young aviators daily. He says: “I thought I’d give back somehow, or find some way of giving back. People do different things, they do charities, they help other people in different ways. So, I thought I’d do this and share some knowledge and help aspiring youngsters come up and gain the knowledge and at least get them encouraged into coming to the industry.”

Obet’s message to young aviators is through this African proverb: “Kumhanya Hakusi kusvika” which translates to “getting there in a hurry doesn’t mean you’ve arrived”. His intent from this statement is to motivate aviators who aspire to be captains that “there is a responsibility to flying an aircraft and there is no substitute for experience”.

However, Obet also finds inspiration from the young upcoming female aviators of today. He says: “I’m inspired a lot by the young women coming up in aviation, they inspire me the most because they’re doing things that are amazing and showing how aviation has been denied the professionalism of young women, by them being restricted in the past. When I look at their professionalism, their dedication, I think that the industry has lost out by not having the input from female pilots, and professionals in engineering and air traffic control and so on. We have lost a lot over the years, and we’re catching up now, but they give me a lot of inspiration.

AeroTime Aviation Achievement Award

AeroTime CEO, Richard Stephenson OBE, was delighted to present Obet with a coveted AeroTime Aviation Achievement Award. The accolade recognizes his dedication to the aviation industry, his efforts promoting pilot education, his focus on supporting his colleagues and for being an inspiring role model for the next generation of aviators. As a recipient of this award, Obet joins the ranks of other aviation professionals from around the world being recognized for their outstanding and inspirational work.

Stephenson said: “Our Global Executive Committee wanted to say a very big thank you for your contribution to the industry over a lengthy career.  Your efforts have inspired many already and you continue to inspire the next generation of aviators and we really wanted to congratulate and thank you for all that you do. This award is clearly well deserved and I hope it serves as a reminder of the gratitude of those you have supported throughout your career.”

Obet said: “Thank you very much. I’m really, really pleased to receive the award, but I’m humbled at the same time to be acknowledged and to have you feel that sort of way about my efforts to promote aviation and inspire the youngsters. Thank you. Thank you very much.”

AeroTime Aviation Achievement Award Obet Mazinyi

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