Women in Aviation - GW reflects on Women's History Month

Story by Seaman Julie N. Vujevich

Date: 04.30.2017
Posted: 12.30.2017 21:53
News ID: 260995

By Mass Communication Specialist Seaman Apprentice Julie Vujevich, USS George Washington Public Affairs

NORFOLK (March 30, 2017) These days, women in aviation is nothing new. Women were flying aircraft before they were able to vote. Harriet Quimby became the first licensed woman pilot in the U.S. in 1911. After that, civilian women were flying over the North Pole, around the world, and through the sound barrier. Despite these accomplishments, the U.S. military continued to resist women pilots until the 1970s.

In 1973 the Navy took the first step, selecting eight women to enter the military pilot training program. By the end of 1974, six women earned their wings and became naval aviators.

Barbara Allen Rainey, Rosemary Bryant Mariner, Judith Neuffer Bruner and Jane Skiles O’Dea were the first four of the six women to earn their wings as naval aviators.

Although women were eventually allowed to be pilots in the military, they continued to face hardships such as gender quotas, combat exclusion laws, and from 1976 to 1993, female pilots were excluded from the cockpits of combat aircraft.

It took more than 60 years for the U.S. military to recognize and train women as pilots and another 17 years afterward to permit them in combat aircraft. Although the struggle for women’s progress in the military has been slow-going, recent years have shown headway. Women can now serve on submarines, all combat roles are available to women, and a group of women are expected to enter Navy SEALs training this year.

Barbara Allen Rainey

Barbara Allen Rainey was the first of her class to earn her Gold Wings and was designated the first female naval aviator in U.S. history in a ceremony Feb. 22, 1974, at Naval Air Station Corpus Christi, Texas.

Assigned to fly Grumman C-1 Traders with a transport squadron in Alameda, California, Rainey became the first jet-qualified woman in the Navy flying the T-39 Sabreliner.

Rainey transferred to the U.S. Navy Reserve in November 1977. She remained active in the Reserves and, while pregnant with her second daughter, Rainey qualified to fly the Douglas DC-6.

In 1981, Rainey was accepted for recall to active duty due to a shortage of naval flight instructors. She was assigned as a flight instructor to Training Squadron 3 (VT-3) based at Naval Air Station Whiting Field, flying the Beechcraft T-34C Mentor.

On July 13, 1982, Rainey and her trainee, Ensign Donald Bruce Knowlton, crashed while practicing touch-and-go landings at Middleton Field near Evergreen, Alabama. Rainey and Knowlton were both killed in the crash.

Rosemary Bryant Mariner

Rosemary Bryant Mariner was designated a naval aviator in June 1974. She was among the first female military aviators to fly tactical aircraft, the Douglas A-4E/L Skyhawk, in 1975. In 1976, she converted to the A-7E Corsair II, the first woman to fly a front-line light attack aircraft.

In 1990, Mariner became the first military woman to command an operational aviation squadron and was selected for major aviation shore command. During Operation Desert Storm, she commanded Tactical Electronics Warfare Squadron 34 (VAQ-34).

Mariner was president of the Women Military Aviators organization from 1991 to 1993. She later retired after 24 years of military service, a veteran of 17 carrier landings with over 3,500 military flight hours in 15 different naval aircraft.

Judith Neuter Bruner

Judith Neuffer Bruner became the first Navy pilot to fly through a hurricane. Bruner was assigned to the P-3 aircraft commonly used for submarine patrol and weather surveillance, including hurricane reconnaissance. She was the first woman to pilot the P-3, and later became the first female P-3 aircraft commander, ultimately attaining the rank of captain.

Bruner served a total of 28 years in the Navy. Her 10 years of active duty included numerous flying assignments and a tour at the Pentagon. During her 18 years in the Navy Reserve, she held three commanding officer positions and also served as the director of the Navy’s Science and Technology Reserve Program. Bruner retired from the Navy in 1998.

Bruner currently serves as a senior manager at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center. She began her career with NASA in 1981, working first as a contractor for Unisys Corporation as a senior systems analyst on the Hubble Space Telescope mission. She formally joined NASA in 1989, working two years as the ground system implementation manager on the Earth Observing System satellite missions and was later selected to head the Spacecraft Control Center Branch. Bruner was assigned responsibility for the development and implementation of all satellite control centers for missions at the Goddard Space Flight Center.

Jane Skiles O’Dea

Jane Skiles O’Dea was designated a naval aviator in April 1974.

During her Navy career, O’Dea spoke of her frustration with Congressional mandates that prevented military women from serving in combat. Due to no-combat rules, female pilots’ opportunities for career advancement were limited.

“It’s very discouraging to know the best you can play on is the junior varsity team, no matter how good you are,” said O’Dea in a 1984 interview.
As a naval aviator, she logged over 3,000 hours before she retired at the rank of captain on April 11, 1997.

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