Breaking Barriers: First KC-46 all-female flight

A flight crew from McConnell Air Force Base, Kansas, tied back their hair, laced up their boots and made history as the first all-female flight on the KC-46A Pegasus Jan. 22, 2021.

A total of 14 female Airmen flew to the United States Air Force Academy to support an initiative to increase the number of women and minorities who join rated career fields.

Maj. Victoria McBride, Head Quarters Air Mobility Command KC-46 simulator certification pilot, Capt. Kristi Miner, 22nd Air Refueling Wing executive officer, and Capt. Michelle McMillen, 22nd Operations Group executive officer, perform pre-flight checks Jan. 22, 2021, at McConnell Air Force Base, Kansas. As of Oct. 2020, only about 838 female Airmen served as pilots, according to the Air Force Personnel Center officials. (Air Force photograph by Senior Airman Nilsa Garcia)

“The fact is that the Air Force pilot population is male-dominated, and we wanted to send the message that this fact did not mean that women aren’t capable or have more of a difficult time being a good pilot,” said Maj. Kaitlin Schafer, 344th Air Refueling Squadron chief of scheduling.

The team sought to break down cultural and personal barriers female cadets face when competing for pilot training slots. The pilots, maintenance Airmen and a maintenance officer on the flight had the opportunity to speak to cadets during a Women in Aviation question and answer panel.

“It is incredibly humbling to get to work with such amazing ladies. Getting 14 women on an airplane to share our love of flying and aviation with future Air Force officers was an experience that we’re all very proud of,” said Capt. Kristi Miner, 22nd Air Refueling Wing wing executive officer.

The panel covered a pilot’s role in the Air Force, experience as a woman in aviation and the KC-46 program capabilities. For the six McConnell pilots that graduated from the Academy, this meant an opportunity to give a first-hand perspective to the women sitting in the seats they once filled years ago.

United States Air Force Academy cadets listen to the Women in Aviation panel Jan. 22, 2021, at Colorado Springs, Colo. The panel topics covered experiences for female aviators, the role as a pilot in the Air Force, and the KC-46 program. (Air Force photograph by Senior Airman Nilsa Garcia)

“As a USAFA grad, this mission meant not only getting a chance to ‘go back where it all started’ but also a chance to speak to future pilots and tell them what I wish I had known when I was in their shoes,” said Schafer. “Honest mentorship that builds people up with guided facts and genuine intent is something I live for, and it is something I believe we were able to give.”

As of October 2020, only about 838 women in the Air Force served as pilots, according to the Air Force Personnel Center officials. A number that these women hope to see increase with in the coming years.

“This was a once in a lifetime opportunity, and I couldn’t be more grateful to have had the chance to make it happen,” said Schafer.

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