934th Airlift Wing makes history with all-female air crew

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Victoriya Tarakanova
  • 934th Airlift Wing

For the first time since the 934 AW’s inception in 1963, one of its aircraft was piloted and operated by a team of all-female pilots and aircrew.

Female Airmen at the 934th Airlift Wing made history as they landed a C-130 Hercules aircraft on the runway on the crisp Friday afternoon of Feb. 2, 2024.

“When I first joined, I was the only female pilot here for four or five years,” said Maj. Alicia Makoutz, 96th Airlift Squadron pilot. “To get everyone together now, for the first time, is really special.”

The number of female service members in the U.S. Air Force has grown throughout the years, though as of 2020, women still make up only about 20% of all Airmen. That ratio shrinks even more within pilot or air crew roles.

“This is really rare,” said Col. Gia Wilson-Mackey, the 934th Maintenance Group commander. “There are not a lot of women aviators in the military. When I deployed in 2013, I deployed with 98 men and only one female: me.”

Having more female Airmen aboard the aircraft creates an environment that allows all Airmen to be their authentic selves, helping to build camaraderie and mentorship relationships.

“It’s an environment where you can just have a candid conversation,” said Master Sgt. Kelly Engel, 96 AS loadmaster. “We can just talk about our challenges and laugh about it.”

In addition to marking a milestone of diversity for the 934 AW and the Air Force, the flight provided an opportunity for both female and male members of the 934th Aeromedical Evacuation Squadron to conduct additional training in preparation for a scheduled deployment later this year.

“There was a lot of instruction, there were check-rides going on,” Engel explained. “The Aeromeds are getting ready to deploy really fast, so for them this was a super critical flight to get some really-needed training in.”

The total flight time was about three hours long, and the 934 AES team worked quickly in the back of the plane while the air crew kept the flight as safe and smooth as possible.

“They got everything done out there that they needed to get done, so it was a mission complete,” Engel said. 

The flight also served as the final flight, or “fini flight,” for Engel, who has spent 18 years in her position as loadmaster and is shifting to a support role.

“I couldn’t imagine a better fini flight,” said Engel. “I mean, this has never been done before.”

Airmen and leadership from all over the 934 AW came out as the plane landed to help celebrate Engel’s retirement from a flying role, which included the Air Force tradition of dousing the retiree in ice-cold water as they emerge from the aircraft.