by Bryan R. Swopes of This Day in Aviation and by Capt. Kenya Pettway, Air Education and Training Command Public Affairs
UPT Class 77-08 featured the first female officers to graduate in the Air Force Undergraduate Pilot Training Program (U.S. Air Force). The ten women trained with 36 male classmates and received their Silver Wings on September 2nd, 1977.
In 1975, the Chief of Staff of the Air Force announced the establishment of a test program for female pilots and navigators. Although women had already proven their ability to fly military aircraft, such as the WASPs in World War II, this test program would establish a precedent for the future of female pilots in the U.S. Air Force. The candidates were all serving Air Force officers from various career fields, including a nurse, engineer, and maintenance officer.
This was the first time, nearly three decades after the birth of the Air Force as an independent air arm, that women were allowed to join the service on a par with the men and enter pilot and navigator career fields. On September 26, 1976, these 10 women, alongside their male classmates, began UPT at Williams Air Force Base near Chandler, Arizona, and cemented their place in history.
Accumulating more than 210 flight hours in the T-37 Tweet and T-38 Talon, they successfully completed UPT and went on to achieve more historical feats in their Air Force careers, pioneering the way for future generations of women to follow. The 10 women who formed this first contingent of female Air Force pilots included: 2nd Lt. Kathleen Rambo, 1st Lt. Victoria K. Crawford, Capt. Mary E. Donahue, Capt. Connie J. Engel, Capt. Kathy LaSauce, 2nd Lt. Mary M. Livingston, Capt. Susan D. Rogers, 2nd Lt. Carol A. Scherer, Capt. Christine E. Schott and 1st Lt. Sandra M. Scott.
Mary E. Donahue – Donahue became the first woman to serve as an instructor pilot assigned to the U.S. Air Force Academy, where she taught senior cadets to fly the T-41 trainer and was an educator in the department of mathematical science.
Susan D. Rogers – Flying a C-141 Starlifter, Rogers evacuated victims of a bombing attack on a U.S. Marine Corps barracks in Beirut, Lebanon on Oct. 23, 1983. Sadly, she died of cancer in 1992, but left behind a legacy of excellence.
Christine E. Schott – Schott was the first woman to solo in the Northrop T-38A Talon at Williams AFB, Arizona. She later became the first woman to qualify and serve as an aircraft commander on the C-9A Nightingale medical transport and command its first all-female aircrew.
Connie J. Engel – Engel, the class leader, was the first in her class to solo in the T-37 Nov. 30, 1976, earning her one of the three Distinguished Graduate awards, the Officer Training Award for exhibiting “high qualities of military bearing and leadership” and the Air Training Commander’s Trophy as the top graduate. Following graduation, she became the first female T-38 instructor and flew the T-38 chase for the space shuttle program.
Kathy LaSauce – LaSauce became the first female pilot to command a C-141 and the first woman to serve as a presidential support pilot. She joined the Air Force in 1972 and received one of only two slots available for women to attend Air Force Officer Training School. After graduating OTS, LaSauce was selected as one of the first female officers in aircraft maintenance, a newly-opened career field for women at that time. Her experience in aircraft maintenance helped her gain one of the 10 slots for women to enter pilot training.
Sandra M. Scott – Scott became the first female tanker commander to perform the alert duty for the Strategic Air Command. She joined Air Force ROTC at Oregon State University in 1970 after school officials had opened the program to women only a year prior. Following her commissioning in 1973, she was stationed at Tyndall Air Force Base, Florida, for weapons controller training where she was first exposed to aviation. After completing her first assignment, she went to King Salmon Air Force Station, Alaska, where she met pilots who were conducting alert missions. When the Air Force announced its test program, she applied and was accepted.
As of January 2021, women make up 21% of all Air Force members. Of the 328,255 active duty members, 68,470 are women, with 806 who serve as pilots, 347 navigators, and 233 air battle managers, according to Air Force’s Personnel Center officials.
There is no denying the trailblazing women of class ‘77 – ‘08 were set up in such a way that failure would have been easy. But that’s not what Airmen do. Through grit and determination not only did they succeed – they excelled!
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