THE TRANSATLANTIC MAGAZINE
Two female US Air Force crews from RAF Mildenhall took to the British skies to undertake a training exercise over the North Sea on June 18, refueling B-2 Spirit bombers. The involvement of two fully female crews was a big moment. One of the crew, Staff Sgt. Samantha Shelton, explained "I don’t think I’ve ever heard of more than one all-female flight going out at a time, so it was kind of a big deal to have a formation with two fully female crews. It was awesome to be a part of."
The flights were organized by Capt. Meagan Bowman, 100th Operations Group chief of training. Capt. Bowman said "To my understanding, it was the first KC-135 all-female two-ship formation at RAF Mildenhall. For each of us, it was just another routine mission. However, we all hoped it would inspire the next generation of female Airmen to pursue careers that they may have perceived to be out of the norm."
The exercise involved providing aerial refueling support for B-2 Spirit stealth bombers from Whiteman Air Force Base, Missouri, which were flying a long-range strategic bombing mission.
Bowman applauded the female crews, saying "Though the seven women making up these two crews come from a variety of different personal and military backgrounds, they’ve come together to lead at new levels in our blue skies. This formation flight demonstrated the growing participation of female aviators and the initiative to close the gender gap. If this flight reaches and inspires just one young girl, it will have been a success."
The Air Force recently removed the requirement to have a medical waiver in order to fly during pregnancy, and the USAF noted that the crew involved in the exercise included expectant and current mothers. Noting the importance of communication when serving with the USAF, Capt. Jori Ingersoll (351st ARS pilot) offered some words of wisdom: "Between challenging training, dynamic mission sets, changing circadian rhythms, and balancing home life, women face the same difficulties as male aviators. The best way to overcome this is to communicate and understand your worth to the mission, the unit, and most importantly, your family."
According to the US Air Force, women make up 20% of the air force, whilst roughly 7% of the 351st Air Refueling Squadron are female. Bowman hopes it won't be as notable for two fully female crews to fly in the future: "Hopefully it won’t be long before an all-female two-ship formation is no longer the topic of conversation. To the women aviators who have come before us, we salute you and thank you for paving the way towards unlimited opportunities for all."
We join that salute!
If you're interested in finding out more about a career in the US Air Force, check out www.airforce.com