Life as a Female Pilot

Discussion in 'Life After the Academy' started by Hoodlum15, Jun 18, 2017.

  1. Hoodlum15

    Hoodlum15 Member

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    First off, if there is already a thread about this please feel free to redirect me, I wasn't able to find one after a quick search.

    Anyway, I'm a female cadet at USAFA and have been thinking a lot about my future career. I would really love to fly, possibly fighters. I was hoping for some insight into the culture surrounding that field and how it affects family life. I'm not so concerned about sexual assault type stuff, but more daily life. What kind of women make it as fighter pilots?

    Thanks!
     
  2. Anguswarrior112

    Anguswarrior112 Member

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    As a pilot in the military, there is going to be a big sacrifice as far as training and flying in combat. There are many women flying in the military and some of those fly fighters. Those who make it to fighter jets are not much different from those that fly transport. Just a different mindset and some physical requirements. My brother flew jets in the military and told me that a typical day in as a pilot isn't always flying. Your going to have to do a bunch of other ground work too. He said the female pilots were great at their job too, being in a fighter jet, your gender doesn't really matter, if you can fly the plane and have the physical requirements then you should be fine, he did mention that some female pilots however had trouble in the centrifuge as some of their bodies may not be as built as some men. As far as family wise, a pilot will be deployed to places that a family cannot travel too. I didn't see my brother for a while when he was in Afghanistan or Germany because planes in the military today are valuable in multiple roles that we use them for nearly everything. It's a stressful job, being up there by yourself in a multimillion dollar jet it is not easy, but if that's what you want to do, do it. It's a rewarding job that can provide you with many opportunities in the future and also a job that many people want but are unable to get it because of physical requirements or academic requirements. Someone like you who is a USAFA cadet should definitely strive to become a pilot if that's what you want, the Air Force Academy is a big source of Air Force pilots. Make sure you keep check on the requirements to become a pilot like vision or height wise because there are some requirements that are not in a person's control that have to be met. Good luck.

    Sincerely,

    Someone who is aspiring to become a pilot.
     
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  3. USAFA10s

    USAFA10s USAFA Class of 2012 WPAFB 10-Year Member

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    I have several female friends that are pilots, including one that flies fighters so I will try and pass your question along. I can say that there is no evidence suggesting women have more trouble with G-forces.

    Having talked to a close friend who flys C-17s I know I wouldn't want that job, and it is certainly NOT family friendly, but that's about it for my personal knowledge. I'll see what the fighter community friends have to say and get back to you.
     
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  4. Hoodlum15

    Hoodlum15 Member

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    Thank you! Do you mind expanding a little as to why you personally wouldn't want that job?
     
  5. AROTC-dad

    AROTC-dad Moderator

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  6. Wishful

    Wishful "Land of the free, because of the brave..." 5-Year Member

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    Hoodlum 15: Did Major Penney address any female fighter pilot questions/concerns when she spoke at USAFA?
     
  7. Hurricane12

    Hurricane12 USNA 2012 5-Year Member

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    I am but a lowly helicopter pilot in a different service, but I'll try to answer.

    No aviator position is "family friendly." Those two things are simply at odds with one another and there's not a ton to be done about it.
    If you're interested in starting a family right away, do not become a pilot. Your time in the squadron is limited, and being pregnant/having a newborn means you are not flying, which means you are not getting the quals you need, etc etc. I know of one female pilot (also H-1s) who managed to have a couple kids in her fleet tour and still get enough quals for credibility, but it's tough.
    Even if you just have a -2 husband/boyfriend/partner, you will spend a lot of time away from them. Even without deploying, I probably spent about 3 months away from home in my first year in the squadron doing various detachments, exercises, and cross countries. Deployment and workups are, obviously, their own very stressful beast.
    While at home, I spend normally 12 hours a day away from home between my ground job and flying. If I'm on the night train, that may mean I don't get home from work until 0200-0300. On a normal day I often won't get home until 1830-1900. Sometimes I will have to work weekends, whether for duty or to flight plan for something coming up.
    All of this just means that you will have to be deliberate with how you spend your off time and how you budget time with friends and family.
    It's all about priorities. For me, I don't want to make the Marine Corps a career but while I'm here I want to be here, progress as much as I can, and be as good as I can be. I've got time for kids and the other jazz later. If you're fine with not progressing that far as a pilot and just want to bro out and wear a flight suit (no shame, plenty of guys want that life), that's an option too.

    Again, not a fighter pilot, but I'm in a very male-dominated "meat-eating" community and am the only female in my squadron. 90% of the time it's fine. I've had some "yellow light" sexual harassment incidents and one definite "red light." The yellow light stuff I was able to handle informally. The red light resulted in an investigation where I had the full support of my command and (more importantly) my peers and other pilots.
    I would say that there is a negative stigma against females in the Marine Corps at least, but it's not that hard to beat. Be good at your job, better than your peers if you can, and work hard and no one will give you that hard of a time.
     
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  8. UHBlackhawk

    UHBlackhawk Member

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    My wife and I did not fly fighters. She flew OH-58D's, an armed scout/recon platform. She was the second female to fly it and the first to command a -58D troop.
    I've taught females to fly, everything from troop transport helicopters to civilian aerobatics.
    As written above, I would say your mind set and abilities have more to do with your ability to fly different platforms than your gender.
    The best students I've had have been females to include the only "natural" pilot I ever taught; I've found, generally, they handle G loading better than males though granted we are not pulling as much or as long in civilian aerobatic trainers as they do in fighters. In addition, I have not met a female pilot yet who displayed the "machismo" dangerous attitude. Female pilots rarely buzz their significant others' house.
    The only general weakness I've seen in some female students is an initial lack of confidence, but I have no idea if that is genetic or culture. Once they are convinced that they can fly, they overcome this and do very well.
     
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  9. Hoodlum15

    Hoodlum15 Member

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    Thank you so much for all the responses! I really appreciate all the insight, regardless of branch or airframe. Coming from a completely civilian family, this is a whole new world for me so it's nice to get a little better understanding of what I might be signing myself up for. I would like to eventually have kids, but I know several AF families who successfully waited until later in their careers.
    I'm less concerned with my ability to fly (although only time will tell whether I should be or not) and more concerned that I'm channeling my efforts towards a career path in which I will fit with the culture and my peers.

    Again, thank you all for responding!
     
  10. UHBlackhawk

    UHBlackhawk Member

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    My wife has had a successful career as a military officer while we have raised two children (though she gave up flying to be a military doctor).
    As with most careers, it will involve compromises. You can't be pregnant while on flight status (at least that use to be the case). So females who wish to have a family have to time their pregnancies with nonoperational assignments. My wife was a pilot when we started our family and she did this by taking nonflying staff positions.
    Also understand that someone will need to compromise their career unless you want a nanny raising your kids. Nothing wrong with a good nanny, but my wife and I decided against this route. After soul searching I decided to put my career on the back burner and raise the kids.
     
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  11. USAFA10s

    USAFA10s USAFA Class of 2012 WPAFB 10-Year Member

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    There are a number of reasons, many of which are discussed in the thread that AROTC-dad pointed out. The major reasons I didn't want to be a pilot in the first place had more to do with the desire to have a job where I was constantly solving new problems, not following a checklist and repeating the same activities day to day. I think I could have been happy as a test pilot, but the physics career field was a much better fit in the end. There is also my extremely introverted personality. My friend who flys C-17s is an extreme extrovert and loves constantly traveling, interacting with the crew, and going out and exploring foreign countries. These are all things that I find stressful and while I can enjoy them, I wouldn't want them to be part of my daily life.

    I spent 3 weeks shadowing the maintenance officer for a fighter squadron (F16s) for my Ops Air Force experience and it made it clear to me I would not enjoy that lifestyle. Much of their time is spent in the squadron doing paperwork and training which is fine if you really want to fly fighters, but the thrill of flying in an F16 was just not worth the daily slog for me. It's hard to explain the culture itself, but to give you an idea of why I know I wouldn't enjoy it, I am the kind of person that REALLY doesn't enjoy events like combat dining ins. Not a good fit for a fighter squadron. Hope that helps.

    Overall I wouldn't worry about being a woman in the flying community beyond the obvious issues if you plan to have a family that others have hit on. From talking to friends and from my experience just in the Air Force (in the science community, which is probably about 10-15% female right now...) rarely has my gender been an issue with the exception of a few uncomfortable green dot/SAPR training sessions where I was the only woman. I would rank the fact that you are a woman far below almost every other factor that will go into your happiness in the flying community, especially if you are used to working with and in groups consisting mostly of men (as is likely the case at USAFA still, even with the increasing number of women).
     
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  12. Hoodlum15

    Hoodlum15 Member

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    Thank you so much! That really helps clear up some of my questions and alleviate some of my concerns. Thanks for taking the time to write all that out.
     
  13. pleber16

    pleber16 USNA 2016 5-Year Member

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    Female currently going through Navy Primary here.

    First on the G tolerance thing, everything I've heard is that females actually tend to fare better in that field. Something about lower body build. Also, the trend in the T-6 at least is that usually guys have more of a tendency to get airsick, females not so much.

    Obviously I can't speak specifically for the AF, but I can speak for training so far Navy side. As far as the flight instructors (active duty, mostly O-3s, in the plane) I have not noticed any different treatment because I'm a female. However, the sim instructors (many of which older retired military) honestly can be hit or miss with that. Nothing outrageous, I've never had any big issues, but from time to time I've picked up on being talked down to a little bit, and not for my lack of knowledge. But again, no major issues.
     
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  14. UHBlackhawk

    UHBlackhawk Member

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    My wife got a pink slip day 1 of instruments in the sim. Her IP was a Viet Nam vet. She did not get it for her oral or written, but because her IP said "she could not fly instruments". I was an IP at the time and was furious. No duh. No one is able to fly instruments day 1. I've never heard of anyone getting a pink slip day 1 unless they ball up the knowledge or have a bad attitude. I wanted her to request an IP change but she refused. She felt people would say she could not cut it. So she struggled with this guy who refused to teach her, but somehow made it through. To this day she hates instrument flying.
    When she went through the OH-58D transition she met some of the same stuff (she was the second female to go through). Her primary IP was great, but one day she had a guest IP and got a pink slip because she did not know how much oil was in one of the gear boxes. The thing had a site gauge to show full, and she could not service it as a pilot, but the IP wanted to prove she did not belong.
     
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  15. AROTC-dad

    AROTC-dad Moderator

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    Gender bigotry is still bigotry. :mad2:
     
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  16. USAFA10s

    USAFA10s USAFA Class of 2012 WPAFB 10-Year Member

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    This is true, there are still a decent number of usually older guys who will still have a problem and be jerks (normally I'd use a stronger word). I see it when I present my research at conferences, so it's not unique to the flying community, but things ARE getting better. My year group and a little older are now the IPs and as we all move into more leadership positions, I do believe we will help bring the culture of the Air Force (w.r.t women) out of the dark ages.
     
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  17. DrMom

    DrMom 5-Year Member

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    Good Morning-
    I am not a pilot; however, I have been heavily engaged in gender integration into previously closed career fields in the DoD. As part of that work, I met with Sheryl Sanberg--and read "Lean In"--as a busy cadet I will save you the challenge of reading hte book and give you the BLUF (Bottom Line Up Front)--DO NOT CHANGE YOUR CAREER PLANS FOR A HUSBAND AND CHILDREN YOU DO NOT HAVE.

    I will say it again...you want to fly jets and are qualified to fly jets. DO IT! Do not listen to the voices that say it is not family friendly.

    We find that young women frequently remove themselves from opportunities because of their 'future husbands and children.' However, the scope of work, the family friendly benefits, and your own opportunities may change dramatically over the next 5-10 years. So...my only suggestion is think about what you want to do and do it. (The husband and children will follow--and you will figure it out like so many other women before you.)

    Gender bias? You are strong or you wouldn't be where you are now. You will be strong when you get to wherever you go next. As the dinosaurs age out and retire, there is less bias.

    Good luck making your decision.
     
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  18. lotsofbooks

    lotsofbooks 5-Year Member

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    This is a delightful thread and I really like the post directly above. My AF daughter is a third generation female college grad, but there's no comparison to the opportunities she has now considering previous generations. My mom had a business degree, but if you were female back then (post war) , the diploma said 'secretarial science' as a major, and perfect fast, even, smooth typing (on a manual) was a really important part of the program (!) She tried to go back for her MBA but there was no child care, just the other neighbors, and my brother got in a rock fight on the street (bloody face) on her first and only day of grad school .. So that was that... She channeled her very strategic planning skills to do her 'stay home' job to an amazing level. (She told me she paid off their new home in just 5 years, (on one income) She worked at the local thrift store so she got first pick of the items, and frequently retailored the clothes to fit us...I so regret she died too young to enjoy the GKs achievements. My generation and friends mostly went to college but we were still definitely aimed towards the women's professions. (four years of college, and you better get a job) (teaching , hospital work ) Many of my very most capable friends cut their own education short as they wanted more of a 'family friendly' pathway. Some of them ended up supporting their family unexpectedly with only their income. (which made it a lot harder) ie my super smart friend was on the wait list to medical school but she just bagged it, and enrolled in nursing school as a sure thing and fewer years of school. Her husband sadly had a stroke at a young age and she became the primary breadwinner for her family of five. I told my kids that you never know what the future holds, that you may end up needing every penny of your income...so don't settle for less...

    My AF daughter is nearly the spitting image of her grandmother and has a lot of the same attributes. I listened to her first boss give her an award and he said she was the best organized and capable junior officer he had seen in 20 years . I was thinking that she was so much like my mom, who,due to her gender and generation, never had any opportunities for this kind of recognition. It took two subsequent generations (and the military) to appreciate these skills and not take them for granted. I'm sure most of the capable young women today are descended from other capable women who would have loved to have some of these career options. Don't settle for less! Take every opportunity! You (and your ancestors) deserve it!
     
  19. UHBlackhawk

    UHBlackhawk Member

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    I don't know. If you want to have a family someone will have to do with less. This smacked my wife and me in the face when I was deployed to Central/South America and called home. Some friends answered the phone. When I asked why they were visiting they said I obviously had not heard (the days before widespread internet). Her unit had been deployed to the Middle East and they were there to take care of our daughter until one of us got back. I exchanged some letters with my wife. Something had to give if strangers were not to raise our daughter. One of us had to put their career on the back burner.
    In our case it was me. I left active duty and went into the Guard. Because you know they NEVER deploy and it's only one weekend a month, two weeks during the summer. :rolleyes:
    Well, wouldn't you know? 9/11 happened and I was recalled and sent to Iraq while my wife was in the middle of medical school. With two kids. She made it with some help from friends/family, but a few years later when I was looking at another recall while she was in residency we realized something had to give. The kids couldn't scrub into surgery with her. So I retired.
    As the kids got older I did start to go back into the workforce full time, but I always put that second until recently as they left the house.
    There is nothing second rate about raising a family and it's much more important than a full 401(k). I think we are often tough on past generations and try to put our mores and beliefs on them when they lived in a different and more labor intense age. In a time when a refrigerator was called an "ice box" because you had to get ice delivered to keep stuff cool, just getting groceries and preparing food was a full-time job. No precut frozen chickens or other prepackaged food. No microwave. No freezer until maybe after WWII. "TV" dinners, those prepared meals we just throw into a microwave or oven didn't really come out until the 1950's So women stayed home and ran the household.
    It took time as society modernized for those structures and the attitudes that went with them to change. My mom really wanted to follow her dad and go to law school, but it was tough enough in 1950 as a single female to get into law school. Married? Forget it. Not happening (though in fairness even married men were often excluded from law school).

    But these are all bridges one can cross as he/she comes to them. Each step of the way one will need to evaluate their life both as an individual and, if it comes to it, as a spouse and maybe even a parent.
     
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  20. StPaulDad

    StPaulDad Member

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    I think this is a really important point. Today family life starts later than ever, leaving more time for getting into a career before tackling the family option. My father was 42 at my college graduation and we had our fourth child the year I turned 42. One more way life is different than a generation ago.
     
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