RAF Mildenhall, England --
A 351st Air Refueling Squadron training mission, which refueled B-2 Spirits included two all-female crews at RAF Mildenhall, England, June 18, 2020.
The two aircrews were part of a four-ship formation and provided aerial refueling support for the stealth bombers from Whiteman Air Force Base, Missouri, which were flying a long-range strategic bomber mission.
“It was a large formation flight for us,” said Staff Sgt. Samantha Shelton, 351st ARS boom operator. “I don’t think I’ve ever heard of more than one all-female flight going out at a time, so it was kind of a big deal to have a formation with two fully female crews. It was awesome to be a part of.”
The flights were organized by Capt. Meagan Bowman, 100th Operations Group chief of training.
“To my understanding, it was the first KC-135 all-female two-ship formation at RAF Mildenhall,” said Bowman. “For each of us, it was just another routine mission. However, we all hoped it would inspire the next generation of female Airmen to pursue careers that they may have perceived to be out of the norm.”
The crew members hold more than 10,000 combined hours of flight experience and included expectant and current mothers, as well as cross-trainees from the loadmaster, weather and airborne radar technician career fields.
“Though the seven women making up these two crews come from a variety of different personal and military backgrounds, they’ve come together to lead at new levels in our blue skies,” said Bowman. “This formation flight demonstrated the growing participation of female aviators and the initiative to close the gender gap. If this flight reaches and inspires just one young girl, it will have been a success.”
Women make up roughly 20 percent of the Air Force, and an even smaller percentage of aircrew members. Approximately 7 percent of 351st ARS flyers are female.
“Hopefully it won’t be long before an all-female two-ship formation is no longer the topic of conversation,” Bowman said. ”To the women aviators who have come before us, we salute you and thank you for paving the way towards unlimited opportunities for all.”
The Air Force is continuously working to remove barriers that signal to female Airmen and potential recruits that becoming a parent and being an aviator are incompatible. One such change is the removal of the requirement to have a medical waiver in order to fly during pregnancy.
"Between challenging training, dynamic mission sets, changing circadian rhythms, and balancing home life, women face the same difficulties as male aviators,” said Capt. Jori Ingersoll, 351st ARS pilot. “The best way to overcome this is to communicate and understand your worth to the mission, the unit, and most importantly, your family.”