Air Force

June 1, 2012

Angels over Kyrgyzstan

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by Senior Airman Lynsie Nichols
374 Air Expeditionary Wing public affairs
Angels deploy to
(Left to right)Airman 1st Class Tracy Johnson, boom operator, Maj. Kristen Westby, pilot and 1st Lt. Melissa Evans, co-pilot, all with the 22nd Expeditionary Air Refueling Squadron, pose in front of a KC-135 Stratotanker before taking off for a refueling mission April 19, 2012, Transit Center at Manas, Kyrgyzstan. Johnson and Westby are deployed here from the 93rd Air Refueling Squadron at Fairchild Air Force Base, Wash. Evans is deployed here from the 912th Air Refueling Squadron at March Air Reserve Base, Calif. (U.S. Air Force photo/Senior Airman Lynsie Nichols)

TRANSIT CENTER AT MANAS, Kyrgyzstan — With only 19 percent of the Air Force being female and of that, only five percent of those females being pilots, it is not often that you hear of an all-female flight crew, especially while being deployed.

“Angel flight,” an all-female aircrew deployed to the Transit Center at Manas, Kyrgyzstan, had the opportunity to fly an in-flight refueling mission together on a KC-135 Stratotanker.

In the late hours of April 19, Maj. Kristen Westby, pilot, 1st Lt. Melissa Evans, co-pilot and Airman 1st Class Tracy Johnson, boom operator, successfully refueled three coalition forces F-16 Fighting Falcons.

Westby and Johnson are deployed from the 93d Air Refueling Squadron Fairchild Air Force Base, Wash., while Evans is deployed from the 912th Air Refueling Squadron, March Air Reserve Base, Calif.

This flight was special for Westby, a pilot for 12 years and Johnson, a boom operator for two years, because it was the first all-female flight for both of them.

“I love flying together, Maj. Westby is like a big sister and role model to me, so it has been pretty awesome,” Johnson said. “I also enjoy flying with 1st Lt. Evans, she’s pretty cool, so it made the “angel flight” that much more exciting.”

Westby, who has more than 2,500 flying hours, said, “It’s a lot of fun to fly with “just the girls.” We love our regular crew but sometimes it’s nice to be able to have girl talk,” she said. “It’s just fun and different.”

Johnson and Westby deployed together with a male co-pilot from their home station, while Evans deployed with a male pilot and boom operator. Even though flying together isn’t something the three females do very often, this was an opportunity to learn from one another.

“I feel it’s important to have female role models to learn something new from their perspective,” Westby said. “It’s important to take the opportunity to learn from other crews and take those experiences with you.”

Johnson agreed, “I think it’s important to remember the past and how hard women have worked to do what we do today,” she said. “I think it’s a great way to pay tribute to the people who worked so hard to get us where we are at today.”

During the mission, the crew delivered 18,000 pounds of fuel. Each aircraft received an average of 6,000 pounds.
Even though the crew has a tough job to do, they also take the time to enjoy each other’s company.

“We had so much fun having our girl talk and not worrying about the guys rolling their eyes,” Westby said. “It also helped that we had all worked together at some point before, so things were not awkward, we just fit right in with each other.”




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