Womena in Aviation: Air Force personnel dominate 15th annual group conference

 - March 29, 2007, 1:12 PM

the dark blue uniforms of more than 75 U.S. Air Force officers and enlisted personnel were generously sprinkled among the approximately 2,400 attendees of the 2004 Women in Aviation International (WAI) conference, held March 11 to 13 in Reno, Nev. The conference kicked off a memorandum of understanding between the USAF and WAI, in which each organization agreed to actively promote the other. Air Force presence included a display taking up one entire wall of the exhibitor area, and the Secretary of the Air Force, Dr. James Roche, serving as the keynote speaker at the Friday-morning opening session.

“Women in Aviation’s mission is to mentor future aviators, promote aviation as a career choice for women and encourage and support women in the aviation field,” Roche said. “These objectives are admirable, and they are practical.”

The MOU, signed during Friday’s luncheon by WAI president Dr. Peggy Chabrian and special assistant to the secretary of the Air Force Chris Patterakis, formalizes the partnership between WAI and the USAF. Through various communication channels with its membership, WAI will promote opportunities in the USAF, and the Air Force will actively promote WAI to women serving on active duty and in the Air National Guard and Air Force Reserves.

“Every individual who gains employment in the field of aviation joins a special group of citizens, those who continue to contribute to one of man’s greatest achievements–powered flight,” Roche said during his general session speech. “By providing the resources to assist Women in Aviation, and encouraging young women to consider aviation as a career choice, we [the Air Force] continue the work of aviation pioneers.”

Women in Today’s Air Force

Roche’s speech took place nearly one year after the start of Operation Iraqi Freedom on March 19 last year, when more than 100,000 U.S. troops from all services entered Iraq and toppled Saddam Hussein’s regime within 26 days. Roche reminded attendees of coalition successes in both Iraq and Afghanistan, instituting democratic governments, capturing or killing 45 of the 55 Iraqi leaders on the U.S.’s “most wanted” list, and breaking up terrorist cells both in the U.S. and in the Middle East.

“These are dramatic achievements,” Roche said. “They demonstrate the professionalism of our armed forces, and the effectiveness of our interagency counter-terrorism efforts. These successes are a tribute to the outstanding men and women of our armed forces. Without them, and their courage in conflict, none of this would be possible.”

According to Roche, more than 13,000 women serve as Air Force officers, and nearly 60,000 serve in the enlisted ranks, equating to approximately 20 percent of the entire Air Force. Roche cited examples of American women who have served in our nation’s conflicts: Dr. Mary Edward Walker, the first and only woman to win the Congressional Medal of Honor during the Civil War; the group of Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASPs) of World War II; and Major Marie Rosie, the first woman pilot to give her life in combat. He also gave several examples of heroines from the conflicts of the 21st century. “[Women’s] achievements and accomplishments during Operations Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom are noteworthy not because they were performed by women, but because of the significant contributions to operational successes.”

One story involved an A-10 pilot, Capt. Kim Campbell, who had her aircraft badly shot up during a close air-support mission in Iraq. Despite enemy ground fire that took out her hydraulics, and a surface-to-air missile (SAM) that destroyed much of her aircraft’s tail, Campbell was able to get her airplane back to Tallil Air Force Base in Iraq. “Only after exiting the cockpit did she recognize the full extent of the damage to her airplane,” Roche said. “Her wingman was effusive in his praise of her coolheaded calmness.”

Campbell received the Distinguished Flying Cross (DFC), one of eight DFCs awarded to women aviators during Enduring/Iraqi Freedom. “This is the first time in the history of our country that we’ve awarded Distinguished Flying Crosses to honor valor exhibited by women,” Roche said.

Roche also noted, “While we celebrate the success of women aviators, we must never forget those who made the ultimate sacrifice.” He went on to describe the individual circumstances under which several women were killed in the line of duty.
Roche cited first lieutenant Tammy Archuleta of the USAF 41st Rescue Squadron, who died when the HH-60 Pave Hawk helicopter she was copiloting crashed during a medevac mission in Afghanistan, killing all six airmen on board. “When she crashed, this female aviator and mother of a three-year-old son was doing exactly what her profession expected of her,” he said. “She was living by the motto: ‘These things I do that others may live.’” Roche, who broke down in tears during his speech, received a standing ovation at the end of his remarks.

John Digby, president of ChevronTexaco Global Aviation, which sponsored the opening session, also remarked on the heroism shown by females flying in the Air Force, citing 27-year-old African American F-16 pilot Christine Duke, who flies with the 37th Fighter Squadron at Hill Air Force Base, Utah.

“Her story is an example of the change that has occurred over the past few decades,” Digby said, noting that Bessie Coleman, the world’s first black female pilot, had to travel to France in 1919 to receive flight training and obtain her pilot’s license because no American pilots would train her. “It never dawned on Christine that she couldn’t achieve her dreams of becoming a pilot in the Air Force. Women have earned the right to lead and be active participants in this dynamic industry.”

Digby also cited one of ChevronTexaco’s female corporate pilots, who was hired in 2000 and flies to 180 countries around the world. “She’ll tell you that taking off and landing is not the greatest thrill. The greatest thrill of being a corporate pilot is experiencing all the cultures she gets to meet in different countries.”

General-session attendees also heard from female astronaut Kay Hire, who flew as a mission specialist on STS-90 in 1998. Hire gave a brief synopsis of NASA history, leading to the Feb. 1, 2003 break-up of Columbia, which “forced NASA to reexamine ourselves, our safety, our procedures and our mission.” She proceeded to tell the audience about NASA’s new vision for space exploration, which includes returning the space shuttle to flight by March next year, completing the core of the International Space Station by 2010, returning to the surface of the moon by 2015 and human exploration of Mars at an unspecified date.

“We have a new spirit of discovery,” Hire said. “It’s time to take the next steps to explore space and expand the limits of human presence.”

Women in Aviation International handed out more than $450,000 in scholarships and grants to nearly 50 female candidates during the conference. Scholarships ranged from cash awards to type ratings and initial flight training.

Bombardier awarded pilot training scholarships in the CRJ200 to Amy Eddins of Memphis, Tenn., and Mia Leutwiler of Campbell, Calif.; CRJ200 technical training to Kendra Willis of Seminole, Fla.; Learjet 45 technical training to Lynette Ashland of Cincinnati; Challenger 604 maintenance training to Andrea Monticue of Oak Hills, Calif.; and Challenger 604 pilot training to Danielle Smiley of Toronto. CAE SimuFlite awarded Beechcraft King Air C90 initial flight training to Kelli Cowart of Douglasville, Ga.; and Citation initial flight training to Pam deCastro of Oakland, Calif.
United Parcel Service (UPS) also contributed $25,000 to WAI’s International Scholarship Endowment Fund during the convention.

Approximately 45 women attended the Women in Corporate Aviation (WCA) annual membership meeting. The Friday-evening meeting addressed several organization issues, including honoring its Cornelia Fort Memorial Scholarship winner, Elizabeth “Bethe” Stemming from Gimli, Canada. Having earned her Class III instructor rating, Stemming is currently working on her multi-engine and instrument ratings and plans to become a corporate pilot.

WCA also elected a new secretary, Karin Proctor, a Challenger 600 captain for Advance PCS in Southlake, Texas, to its list of officers. Tyson Foods Falcon 50EX pilot Ava Christine Sumpter is WCA’s president for the second year in a row. A reception sponsored by NBAA followed the WCA meeting.

Sumpter moderated a panel of seven women representing corporate pilots, aircraft technicians and lawyers held Saturday afternoon and attended by nearly 150 people. The WCA-sponsored panel mainly discussed tactics for finding, obtaining and keeping jobs in the currently depressed economy, stressing the importance of networking and having both business and technical knowledge.

Boeing’s St. Louis facility presented a professional development seminar entitled “Leaning into Aviation, An Interactive Learning Experience.” About 165 conference attendees participated in the three-hour session, designed to teach lean manufacturing principles.

Developed five years ago to train shop personnel in the F-18 program at St. Louis, the “Leaning into Aviation” program was picked up by Boeing’s C-17 manufacturing group, then run for Air Force personnel at Lemoore and Tinker Air Force Bases. Due to the complexity of the exercise, Boeing volunteers endured approximately eight hours of training before coming to Reno to lead the exercise at WAI.