Murphy's Law: Couples in the Cockpit


June 17, 2007: It was bound to happen eventually. Ever since the Department of Defense began training woman as combat pilots three decades ago, and then allowing them to fly combat missions in 1993, it's only been a matter of time before two pilots, married to each other, would find themselves flying a mission together. This happened recently when two F-15 pilots in Alaska, found themselves next in line to fly a two aircraft scramble mission. It was only a practice mission, but was otherwise identical to the many such missions that are flown when a Russian recon aircraft approaches American air space.

Carey and Blaine Jones (Major and Captain, respectively) have been married for 42 months, and assigning couples to the same unit is fairly common, if both have job skills that the unit can use. The Joneses are both F-15 pilots, and carried out the scramble mission without a hitch on June 6th.

One reason women were eventually allowed to fly in combat was that many of the pre-1993 female combat pilots were used in Op-For (opposing forces) exercises, as "enemy" pilots. Some of these women proved to be formidable, and, as a result, many male pilots sought to get these hot-shot pilots flying with them, rather than against them.

Before 1993, the majority of female combat pilots flew for the Russian air force during World War II. Russia had thousands of women flying warplanes during this period, and several of them became aces. Most of the women flew combat support aircraft, partly because many of the warplanes back then did not have power-assisted controls, and required a lot of physical strength at times. But where this was not a factor, many of the Russian female pilots demonstrated a talent for winning air-to-air battles. Russia stopped using female pilots when the war was over. The same thing had happened during World War I, when the few female pilots were dismissed once the fighting was over. This did not change until the 1970s, and since then many nations, even Moslem ones, have used female military pilots.

Even with all the powered controls, female fighter pilots still have to spend a lot of time in the gym, building up upper-body strength. This is mainly to deal with the occasional high G (gravity) forces they encounter when making tight turns at high speeds. The new flight helmets, which weigh over four pounds, also require strong neck pilots. So it's probably no accident that female fighter pilots look something like female swimmers.




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