Historic All-Female Flight Takes Place Aboard USS Carl Vinson


By Rosa A. Arzola

Five “Tigertails” of Carrier Airborne Early Warning Squadron One Two Five (VAW-125), embarked aboard the Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson (CVN 70) as part of Carrier Air Wing Seventeen (CVW-17), flew an historic flight on Jan. 25 when they participated in the Navy’s first all-female E-2C Hawkeye combat mission.

Carrier Aircraft Plane Commander Lt. Cmdr. Tara Refo, Mission Commander Lt. Cmdr. Brandy Jackson, Second Pilot Lt. Ashley Ruic, Air Control Officer Lt. Nydia Driver, and Radar Operator Lt. j. g. Ashley Ellison flew an E-2C Hawkeye- the Navy’s all-weather, carrier-based tactical battle management airborne early warning and command and control aircraft. The aircraft was also manned up by multiple female maintainers including Aviation Machinist’s Mate 3rd Class LaTasha Lawrence, Aviation Machinist’s Mate 1st Class Farzana Lively, Aviation Structural Mechanic (Equipment) 2nd Class Ana Wilson, Aviation Structural Mechanic Airman Denise Birchfield, and Aviation Machinist’s Mate 3rd Class Racheal Watson who ensured the safe launch and recovery.

“I have only had the opportunity to fly with one other female pilot,” Ruic said. “It is nice to be a part of history, not just because we are females, but because we are also close friends. It was a unique experience.”

Ellison added, “We got the mission accomplished and had fun at the same time. It was a flight I will never forget.”

“Since April 2011, when Ellison checked on board as the fifth female in the squadron, we have been attempting to organize the all-female combat mission flight. Due to operational constraints, it had not been possible until now,” stated Jackson, the squadron’s operations officer.

The Tigertails are one of twelve active-duty VAW squadrons in the Navy. Eleven are carrier-based, but as Driver explained, VAW-125 is the only fleet Hawkeye squadron with enough females to fill a complete flight crew.

The number of female Hawkeye pilots in the fleet is still small, sitting at less than 5 percent, but the number of female naval flight officers appears to be growing, Refo noted. “During my junior officer tour from 2003 to 2006, I was the first female officer and only female pilot in my squadron,” she said. “Now having five women in the same squadron with varying rank and experience, it is gratifying to witness the progression of women in the community.”

The opportunities opened up by women aviators like Capt. Sarah Joyner, the first female deputy carrier air wing commander, and Cmdr. Val Overstreet, the first female VAW commanding officer, have allowed many females to pursue their dreams with no limitations.

After the flight, Jackson expressed interest in repeating this event should the opportunity arise. “We are getting a new female naval flight officer soon, and we can’t wait for her to join us as we continue to make history as naval aviators,” Ellison commented.

Carl Vinson and CVW-17 are conducting maritime theater security operations in the U.S. 5th Fleet area of responsibility.

Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class (SW/AW) Rosa A. Arzola, USS Carl Vinson Public Affairs

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