Listening to the audio recording of Southwest Airlines flight 1380 declaring an emergency and requesting permission to land in Philadelphia, it was a little jarring to hear a woman’s voice from the plane. Tammie Jo Shults spoke with great confidence and pride as she took the 737 into a controlled dive in order to put it at an altitude that was safe with cabin depressurization. She put the bird on the ground intact, and for that, she is being lauded as a hero.
But this isn’t the first time Shults earned that title. She was also the first woman F/A-18 pilot in the Navy.
Cindy Foster, a classmate of Shults’ at MidAmerica who graduated the same year, said Shults enlisted in the Navy and was met with “a lot of resistance” because of her gender. She’d always had a love for flying, and she chose the Navy only after the Air Force denied her a chance to become a pilot, Foster said.
“So she knew she had to work harder than everyone else,” Foster said. “She did it for herself and all women fighting for a chance. … I’m extremely proud of her. She saved a lot of lives today.”
Foster said that not only was Shults among the first female fighter pilots, she was the first woman to fly an F/A-18 Hornet for the Navy.
It is nothing new in the aviation industry for airline pilots to be former military pilots. In fact, that is very much a preferred training ground for the profession. But it is stunning that that pilot who just happened to be controlling the stick during Tuesday’s accident was a pioneer in her own right within the military at large. Doing what Shults did on Tuesday under pressure and as textbook as possible took guts and grace at the same time.
Really, she is a hero in more ways than one.