110 years of experience fueling all-female flight

  • Published
  • By Rachel Herrod
  • 446 Airlift Wing

A collective of 110 years of flying experience took off here on March 29, 2023.

This mission was flown by an all-female crew assigned to the 446th Airlift Wing here.

Staff Sgt. Edith Rosas, a loadmaster assigned to the 313th Airlift Squadron, was excited to be part of this flight.

“Aircrew is definitely a male-dominated career field,” Rosas said. “It’s not often we get to fly together like this, so it’s really special to get to do so.”

According to an Air Force Reserve database, only 7 percent of Air Force Reserve pilots are women. However, among Air Force Reserve loadmasters, approximately 13 percent are women.

Lt. Col. Rachel Metzgar, a pilot also assigned to 313 AS and the aircraft commander for the flight, recalled her early years of wearing the flight suit and the insight she gained over her 25 years of flying.

“In the beginning of my flying career, I put a lot of pressure on myself to fit in and be ‘one of the boys’,” Metzgar said. “But what I’ve learned over the years is I can be my authentic self, and that is what brings the most value to any organization and helps me be the best pilot I can be.”

It has been almost 50 years since then-Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. David C. Jones launched a test program that would enable women to enter pilot training. Ten women earned their pilot wings in 1977.

“Generations of women have come before me and paved this path,” said 1st Lt. Megan Foster, a pilot assigned to the 728th Airlift Squadron and one of two new pilots on the training flight.

One can expect for mentorship and encouragement to abound on the training flight when more than a century of flying experience enter the blue skies near the end of Women’s History Month.

Lessons learned, best tips and tricks, and overall excitement filled the air in the C-17 Globemaster III aircraft, especially for 2nd Lt. Cassidy Pickrell, a new pilot assigned to the 313 AS.

“It was a blast getting to learn new things and getting more experience,” Pickrell said. “It is always fun to learn from those that have the same energy as you and are excited to teach you.”

“I certainly had that today on this flight full of incredible women I was excited to learn from.”

Currently, nearly 1,300 female pilots across the approximate 400,000 Air Force members stand on their shoulders and work diligently to encourage more to follow in their footsteps.

For Tech. Sgt. Oskanna Hartle, a loadmaster assigned to the 728 AS, she saw footsteps at an age that were closer to home.

“For me, it was a little different because growing up, I saw my mom put on a uniform and heard about her experiences,” said Tech. Sgt. Oskanna Hartle, a loadmaster assigned to the 728 AS. “Now, I have both my mom and mother-in-law as role models in the military, but I know not everyone has that like I did, so I like getting to do this and to be that for younger girls today.”

The training flight incorporated a few unique elements that allowed senior pilots time to teach and talk through air refueling methods, low-level flying, and waypoint finding, offering their advice and experiences to the two lieutenants.

This ‘unmanned’ training mission also executed in-flight refuel training with a KC-135 Stratotanker aircraft assigned to the 940th Refueling Wing at Beale Air Force Base, Calif. An all-female crew also flew the tanker.

Diversity has many layers, offering different viewpoints and life experiences, all valuable to the 446th Airlift Wing’s mission.

Master Sgt. Jennifer Tilson, a loadmaster assigned to the 728th Airlift Squadron, saw diversity and inclusion start at the top of her squadron.

“My chief has done such a phenomenal job when it comes to diversifying and increasing the female presence in our squadron,” said Tilson.

Tilson continued, “I get to see younger generations come through our squadron, and I hope to have an impact on their passion and experience in the Air Force.”

The women on the crew were all excited to have this flight and training opportunity fueled by ‘girl power,’ but they all agreed that they enjoy serving with all Airmen.

“We all have unique talents and ways we look at the world, flying and problem-solving,” Metzgar said.

“These diverse outlooks are what brings strength to our service, and I hope future generations of military members, no matter gender, race, or ethnicity, can realize the same.”

Since 1995 Women’s History Month, which is observed all of March, has celebrated women's contributions to the United States and recognizes the achievements women have made throughout American history in various fields.