FORT WORTH, Texas – Air Education and Training Command hosted a fly-in event in Fort Worth, Texas, Sept. 18-21, 2019, one that brought together a small sorority of Air Force aviators ranging from fighter to cargo pilots, boom operators and load masters to special aviation operators.
The AETC Women’s Fly-In Event took aim at recognizing, valuing and leveraging the differences and similarities which make the Air Force better and stronger, a diversity that is necessary to become a more lethal force.
The annual fly-in is intended to accomplish that goal by giving networking opportunities designed to enhance professional contributions and motivate the next generation of female aviators.
Approximately 110 participants flew in for the event from places as far as Japan, Hawaii and across the United States. Women of all ages, ranks and career paths had a few minutes together to talk and learn from each other with the goal of gaining a mentor, mentee or a just a fellow aviator who can share knowledge and experience of being a woman in aviation – as they can be few and far in between.
Lt. Gen. Brad Webb, commander of Air Education and Training Command, gave opening remarks and addressed the rated-flyer diversity issue. The general said although he hasn’t had much experience flying with women during his career, his goal is to be an advocate for women aviators and listen to their needs.
In addition to Webb, other guest speakers included: Lt. Gen. Jacqueline Van Ovost, Headquarters Air Force director of staff; Maj. Gen. Jeannie Leavitt, Air Force Recruiting Service commander; Col. Samantha Weeks, commander of the 14th Flying Training Wing, Columbus AFB, Mississippi; and Lt. Col. Shelly Mendieta, Air Force Warfare Center Operations director.
Mendieta began her speech with statistics about women in aviation.
“In 2018, there were 465,513 pilots in the U.S.,” she said. “24,197, or 5.2%, were women. 66,345, or 20%, of the Air Force are women. Of those, there are 655 flying pilots, 308 combat systems officers or navigators and 217 air battle managers, 64 fighter pilots, and 40 weapons systems officers.”
These statistics show how small of a group women are in the military. Because of that, Capt. Alaina Dent, Sheppard Air Force Base 80th Flying Training Wing T-38 instructor pilot, said she believes it’s important for women to stand together.
“This event is significant because it provides us with the ability to connect with women in rated jobs and network with the women around us who are so successful,” she said. “To get big things done, we need to reach out and ask for help. If I ever need something, I know I can call any of these ladies and they will be there.”
The aviators also participated in a female fitment event during an aircrew flight equipment seminar. A team of anthropometric data collection specialists took body measurements of the women to calculate averages and ultimately create uniforms and body armor that are more flattering and functional for the women who wear them, as ill-fitting uniforms can create problems for combat effectiveness.
“I’m just at the cusp of the seating height for the aircraft,” Dent said. “I have a different body type than what the flight suit was designed for. With the flight suit being long in my torso area, I’ve noticed an issue with bunching during my flights. The team is looking to solve these issues that cause discomfort and disadvantages by understanding the range of body types that are actually wearing these uniforms. Because when we look and feel the best, we perform the best.”
The final day of the event was spent volunteering at the “Girls in Aviation Day” event held by the North Texas Chapter of Women in Aviation International at the Frontiers of Flight Museum at Love Field in Dallas. These are held across the country, but Dallas is the biggest event with more than 3,000 attendees.
The women volunteered to speak on panels, facilitated flight simulators, assisted with iPad air traffic control games, explained airfield operations, answered questions and, most importantly, served as examples for all the young women attending.
“There are a lot of little girls out there who don’t know that being in aviation, whether that’s as a pilot, flight attendant or a boom operator, is something they can do,” Dent said. “Seeing all these amazing women in uniform can really put the image in their head and inspire them.”
Young women having these experiences and being able to imagine themselves as a woman in aviation is extremely important, as the Air Force needs as many strong women on the team as possible, no matter which part of the total force – active, guard or reserve – they choose to serve in. Leavitt drove that point home during her speech.
“Our job is to inspire, engage and recruit the next generation of Airmen,” she said. “When we find talent in society, whether that be physical strength, moral strength, mental strength, grit or determination, I want to find the best match, full or part time, in or out of uniform.”
She said the service needs to stop making it so complicated when it comes to getting people in the right place at the right time to serve.
“One team. One Air Force. Many components,” she said.