By Airman 1st Class Quay Drawdy, 18th Wing Public Affairs
/ Published April 04, 2017
U.S. Air Force aircrew members from the 909th Air Refueling Squadron stand in front of a KC-135 Stratotanker March 30, 2017, at Kadena Air Base, Japan. The 909th ARS has one of the largest all female aircrews in the Air Force with a total of 13 active members.(U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Quay Drawdy/Released)
Boys and girls throughout the United States visit airshows with their families to watch pilots do what they do best: fly.
Nowadays, those pilots come in a variety of types from a wide range of backgrounds, but it wasn’t always that way. It’s important to take a step back every once in a while to remember the men and women who came before and made changes to the way things were done, effectively making history.
In the month of March, however, particular attention is paid to the struggles, trials and successes of the women who made that history a reality, as well as those who are making history today.
The 909th Air Refueling Squadron at Kadena Air Base, Japan, has been active for over 45 years, providing service as the Pacific Air Forces’ lead in refueling United States and allied aircraft. In addition, they provide vital medical evacuation and even cargo transportation. The squadron also has 13 active female aircrew members.
“When I was a kid, I saw an airshow with my family,” said Maj. April Brown, a 909th ARS pilot. “I couldn’t help but think the pilots were some of the coolest people in the world. When I told my parents how awesome they were they told me I could be one, too. It was pretty much the moment that made up my mind.”
Despite societal advances, females in aviation still face some degree of unwanted attention.
“Women pilots stand out more, good or bad,” said Brown. “Blending in is almost impossible.”
The stigma and attention is smoothing out in a noticeable way, however.
“We’re all just pilots doing our jobs,” said Lt. Col. Nichelle Somers, a 909th ARS pilot. “I’ve been doing this for around 15 years and I can see how much the stereotypes and the culture of sexism has improved. It’s to the point where the first time I flew with an all-female aircrew, we didn’t even know until about 30 minutes into the flight. It doesn’t affect us as much as it used to.”
Being a part of an all-female aircrew isn’t without its merits.
“It’s a great support network,” said Maj. Marci Walton, a 909th ARS pilot. “We’re there for each other when we need it. We can talk, ask questions and often help each other. Not many of us have had a squadron quite as close as the 909th.”
With a close unit behind them, the aircrew of the 909th ARS doesn’t expect anything special, instead focusing on the mission.
“I was extremely proud when I got my wings,” said Brown. “I’ve been flying for over 10 years and have no intention of stopping. Male or female, we’re all just pilots doing our job and I can’t wait to continue doing mine.”