Celebrating Women's History Month: All-Female Flight Crews

Posted on Mon, March 28, 2016
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Women’s History Month in the United States began as Women’s History Week in 1982. The event was expanded to the entire month of March in 1987. Throughout the past month, the Smithsonian Institution and the National Air and Space Museum, have sponsored many events for Women’s History Month. On March 28, 1988, just the second official Women’s History Month, an all-female Air Force flight crew flew a Lockheed C-5 Galaxy across the Atlantic Ocean to commemorate the month.

 Group photograph of the first all-female flight crew of a U.S. Air Force Lockheed C-5 Galaxy. This crew flew a European channel mission March 28 to April 4, 1988, originating at Dover Air Force Base, Delaware, and ending at Rhein Main Air Base, Germany, as part of that year's U.S. Air Force Women's History Month celebration. Top row, left to right: SSgt Elizabeth Tejera, loadmaster; A1C Marian E. Kellogg, loadmaster; Sgt. Belinda Byrns, loadmaster; TSgt Gail Moore, loadmaster; MSgt Stephanie Leatherman, flight engineer; Sgt. Joan Mullen, loadmaster; MSgt Frances Cardaci, flight engineer; A1C Diane McLendon, loadmaster; SSgt Carol Reese, flight engineer; A1C Tina Klein, crew chief; Ssgt Vicky Feeny, loadmaster Bottom row, left to right: Lt Catricia Mills, maintenance officer; TSgt Donna Lehmann, loadmaster; Capt Karen Torres, copilot; Westbrook; Capt Mary Vanderveere, copilot; Capt Anne Armstrong, copilot; and Capt Carol Ramsey, flight surgeon. Still others were not pictured: A1C Natalie Ziehwein, photographer; Deborah Healy and Judy Dean Clifford, research artists for the Air Force art collection; and Margie Hester, Dover AFB Public Affairs. Image: NASM 9A08694

 

The C-5 crew that flew from Dover Air Force Base in Delaware consisted of 17 women from the 436th Military Airlift Wing and the 512th Military Airlift Wing (Reserve-Associate), as well as two artists and a photographer. The commander of the flight was Captain Gayle I. Westbrook, who had already made Dover history as the wing’s first female C-5 pilot in 1985. Two years later, she was the first female C-5 pilot to be certified as an aircraft commander.

The seven day airlift mission for the C-5 crew took them from Dover to Charleston Air Force Base, South Carolina; RAF Mildenhall, United Kingdom; Incirlik Air Base, Turkey; and, finally, to Rhein-Main Air Base in Germany.

These women followed a similar flight path to the Air Force’s first all-female flight crew to fly an overseas mission in May 1983 (just one year after the first Women’s History Week). Seven women from the 18th Military Airlift Squadron flew a Lockheed C-141B from McGuire Air Force Base, New Jersey, to Lajes Field in the Azores, completing the flight at Rhein-Main Air Force Base. The exercise, in addition to evacuating seriously ill American service personnel and family from West Germany to treatment in Washington, DC, was designed to demonstrate the importance and growing presence of women in airborne operations.

 First all-female crew to cross the Atlantic, flying a C-141B from McGuire Air Force Base, New Jersey, to Rhein-Main Air Force Base, Germany. Left to right: Capt Guiliana Sangiorgio, commander; Capt Barbara G. Akin, pilot; 1stLt Terri A. Olinger, copilot; TSgt Donna L. Wertz, flight engineer; SSgt Denise J. Meunier, flight engineer; Sgt Mary K. Eiche, loadmaster; and A1C Bernadette C. Botti, loadmaster. Image: NASM 7B07363

 

In a New York Times article, Capt Guiliana Sangiorgio, the commander of the mission, stated: “I don’t know if this earns us a place in the ‘Guinness Book of World Records,’ but it’s a big first for the service, and certainly a big accomplishment for us.” She continued, “But the novelty of women flying will wear off in time, and we’ll be better off when it does.”

Copilot 1st Lieutenant Terri Ollinger reflected, “The Air Force has come a long way in accepting women in job fields where only men have been considered in the past. The Air Force has a long way to go yet in continuing to place women in positions of responsibility and career fields, but everything has to start with a crawl before it can move on to a run.” Thirty years later, in 2016, it has just been announced that Air Force General Lori Robinson has been nominated to head U.S. Northern Command, the first American woman to ever head a combatant command.