Colonel James Gitahi was born and raised in a village in Kitale. Born in a humble background, Gitahi never imagined that one day he would fly the country’s heads of state.
Gitahi flew former Presidents Daniel Arap Moi and Mwai Kibaki from 1992 to 2010, when he retired from the Kenya Air Force.
No one in his family had ever stepped into an aviation school, and flying planes was just but a fantasy until he saw a plane at an airstrip. The seed of flying a plane was ingrained in him after seeing the aircraft.
It was not long before he came across an advertisement that the Kenya Air Force (KAF) was recruiting. He applied and succeeded.
“The first time I got near a plane was at the KAF training college. Learning to fly a plane requires a lot of resources, which my family could not afford.”
His biggest breakthrough was in 1984 when he became a co-pilot to Colonel Hussein Farrah, who served under Moi’s era.
The two got a chance to fly the president because they belonged to a special squadron that flies VIPs.
Farrah retired in the early 90s, leaving Gitahi at the helm. Gitahi reportedly flew Moi for 17 years and Mwai Kibaki for eight years.
He was the first to fly the Fokker 70 Extended Range presidential aircraft, which was purchased during his tenure.
“While flying the president, together with my co-pilot, I had to bear in mind that we were holding the fate of the country on air. At times I would go and brief the presidents. These interactions made me realize that a president is just like an ordinary person,” he stated.
He retired in 2010 in an emotional ceremony that marked the end of his 44 years career. After retirement, he joined Farrah at Blue Bird Aviation, where he worked for 12 years.