Former female Air Force pilot now flies SOFIA

Female pilots are still rare in the aviation industry and that’s also true at NASA.

At NASA’s Armstrong Flight Research Center in California, former U.S. Air Force pilot Elizabeth “Liz” Ruth flies NASA’s Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy.

The aircraft is a modified Boeing 747SP with the world’s largest airborne astronomical observatory.

Research pilots are a blend of courage, boldness and a curiosity to push boundaries in the pursuit of knowledge. By flying SOFIA, Ruth represents for many women that they can follow their dreams, like the uniqueness of flying a 747 that studies the universe.

“I always wanted to be a pilot because flying meant adventure and service to my country,” Ruth said. “Even though pilots were mostly men, I knew I would go through the same world-class training and have to meet the same standards of excellence as every other pilot. Once you earn your wings, everyone is equal in the sky.”

Before joining NASA as a research pilot, she was a pilot for United Airlines. It was in the Air Force, however, where Ruth gained the knowledge and background to advance. She was an instructor pilot, check pilot and aircraft commander for the T-38 and T-43 from 1981 to1989. She concluded her military career with the rank of captain.

“Don’t let anyone tell you no and be willing to do what it takes to be a pilot,” Ruth said. Though it’s fun, it takes a lot of determination and dedication.”

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