LITTLE ROCK AIR FORCE BASE, Ark. – An all-female aircrew assigned to the 189th Operations Group flew to Abbottsford, Canada, Oct. 5 to participate in the annual Girls Fly Too, Women in Aviation symposium.
The crew, including pilots Lt. Col. Kenda Garrett and Maj. Janelle Guillebeau, navigator Lt. Col. Sarah O'Banion, flight engineer Master Sgt. Erin Evans, and loadmasters Tech. Sgt. Nicole Beck and Senior Airman Ashlyn Hendrickson, stopped in Colorado Springs on the way up to Canada and picked up the Wing of Blue female jump team, jump master and staff.
"The jump was really challenging," said O'Banion. "I gotta say, though, we had an awesome all-female 189th Herk crew. We were able to get them at their minimum altitude of 2,500 feet and drop the jump team at their target."
The 189th OG does not have many female aviators in the unit. However, the group was able to gather one full crew to accomplish the mission with their crew chief Staff Sgt. Jessica McGilton, of the 189th Maintenance Group. In a predominately male career field, the representation of female aviators was created to inspire future female aviatrix.
Female aviators, while somewhat commonplace now, were almost unheard of during the early days of aviation. Pioneering women from Amelia Earhart, who was the first female aviator to fly solo across the Atlantic Ocean, to Brig. Gen. Jeannie Marie Leavitt, the first female fighter pilot in the U.S. Armed Forces, have established a firm base for girls who dream of flying.
"I hope the girls that came out here see us doing this job and realize that it's not just a male-oriented career field, but it's something that anyone can achieve if they're passionate about it," O'Banion said.
Until World War II, women were barred from flying for the U.S. military. The only women pilots allowed to fly were civilians known as the Women's Auxiliary Ferry Squadron, also known as WAFS, and others representing the Women Air Force Service Pilots or WASP.
In 1942, 28 women aviators were officially designated as WAFS or WASP, earning their civilian pilot training wings at government expense through civilian pilot training programs at colleges throughout the U.S. Although this transition was a huge step, it was not until the 1970s, during the women's movement, that females became official military aviators.
Today, about 6 percent of the Air Force aviation community is female.