Hero Southwest pilot was one of Navy’s first female fighter pilots

WPVI-TV(PHILADELPHIA) -- Tammie Jo Shults, the hero pilot who safely landed a Southwest Airlines plane Tuesday after one of its engines failed, was among the Navy's first women pilots trained to fly fighter aircraft.

"She was commissioned in the Navy on June 21, 1985, and completed flight training in Pensacola," said Lt. Christina Sears, a Navy spokesperson.

"She served at the Tactical Electronic Warfare Squadron (VAQ-34) in Point Mugu, Calif. as an instructor pilot flying the EA-6B Prowler and F/A-18 Hornet," Sears said.

"We can confirm that Lieutenant Commander Shults was among the first cohort of women pilots to transition to tactical aircraft," Sears said.

The New Mexico native remained on active duty with the Navy until 1993 when she transitioned to the Naval Reserve and retired in 2001 with the rank of Lt. Commander.

Shults was trained as a Navy fighter pilot at a time when female pilots were not allowed to fly with combat units.

After graduating from flight school in 1989, Shults served with Tactical Electronic Warfare Squadron 34 (VAQ-34) from 1989 until she left active duty in 1993.

Like the other first female Navy pilots trained to fly on the F/A-18 Hornet, Shults had been assigned to fly the fighter aircraft in an electronic warfare training squadron instead – with units assigned to aircraft carriers.

In March 1993, she was among the VAQ-34 squadron pilots interviewed by the Navy's All Hands magazine.

“In AOCS [Aviation Officer Candidate School], if you’re a woman [or different in any way], you’re a high-profile; you’re under more scrutiny,” Shults was quoted in the article.

“It would be nice if they would take away the ceilings [women] have over our heads,” Shults said.

“In VAQ-34, gender doesn’t matter there’s no advantage or disadvantage,” she said. “Which proves my point - if there’s a good mix of gender, it ceases to be an issue.”

A few months later, Defense Secretary Les Aspin lifted the restrictions on female pilots flying combat missions.

Among the awards that Shults received during her Navy career were the Navy Marine Corps Achievement Medal, the Defense Service Medal and the Marksmanship Medal (Expert.)


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