Murphy's Law: Killer Chick Joins the Luftwaffe

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February 12, 2008: The German Air Force (Luftwaffe) got its first female fighter pilot. Second lieutenant Ulrike Flender flies Tornado aircraft. Another female German fighter pilot is in training. Germany has had female military pilots before, during World War II, some were even test pilots. But never fighter pilots, until now.

Last year, Spain got its first female fighter pilot, flying F-18s. About four percent of the pilots in the U.S. Air Force are women, including over a hundred combat pilots. Before 1993, the majority of female combat pilots were those who flew for the Russian air force during World War II. Russia had thousands of women flying warplanes back then, 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, especially in combat. 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. Israel accepted its first female fighter pilot in 2001, after allowing women to be military flight instructors for years.

After World War II, American researchers did a lot of work to determine what personal characteristics were responsible for some pilots being exceptionally effective ("aces"), while most were not. In the course of this research, it was discovered, as some researchers suspected (no doubt in light of the Russian experience) that many women were potential aces. In due time, it was discovered that, if the same training standards were applied to male and female pilot trainees, the superior female pilots would emerge. There were some problems in the United States initially, where political pressure to get more women into fighter cockpits led to some unqualified women pilots getting killed or injured when their skills were not up to the task. Flying military aircraft is unforgiving, and generally intolerant of incompetence. All the more reason to identify your potential aces, male or female, and get them into your warplanes.

 


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