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This year's Air Force graduates is the largest class of female test pilots and engineers ever

The Class of 2020 of the United States Air Force Test Pilot School features five women, the most in its 76 year-long history.

This year's Air Force graduates is the largest class of female test pilots and engineers ever
Image Source: Twitter/ SharonHandyWMTW

Those who graduate from the United States Air Force Test Pilot School (TPS) at Edwards Air Force Base in California are some of the most highly skilled pilots and engineers. This year, the school was proud to announce that the graduating class included five women, a record number. The five graduates are best known by their call signs, Hulk, Tumble, Booster, PsiPhi, and Shade. That is, Capts. Casey Horgan, Rachel Williams, Sarah Vorgert, Kalyn Tung, and civilian Raina Duncan, respectively. The open skies are definitely nothing new to them. Right now, they are just left wondering why more women are not joining the Air Force training school, CNN reports.

 



 

 

"There was never anything I was told I couldn't or shouldn't do," Capt. Horgan shared. "I grew up with great examples of female aviators, my mom included, and all of her friends and there was no barrier there." In order to graduate from TPS, she and all her peers had to complete a flight test. The test brings together the Air Force's top pilots, engineers, and combat systems operators, and has them work on developing and testing the newest technology required in order to maintain and improve aircraft flying qualities and performance.

 



 

 

According to Technical Director David Vanhoy, TPS graduates are meticulously trained to have a "disciplined tester's mindset" so as to improve the Air Force's aircraft capabilities. He explained that the Class of 2020 was particularly groundbreaking. On average, the number of women per class is usually one to two. The most recent cohort consisted of 24 students. Now, they join a prestigious list of aviation legends, such as Gen. Chuck Yeager and Apollo 11 astronaut Buzz Aldrin. As the only Air Force test pilot school, TPS is extremely selective in its student acceptances. Only 45 of the "best and the brightest" pilots and engineers per year are admitted into the rigorous year-long master's degree program.

 



 

 

This makes the graduating women's achievements just that much greater. When they were asked why it was so important to see more women in the cockpit and involved in aviation, Horgan summarized everyone's sentiments: "Because there's no reason not to." One of the main barriers to entry for women is outdated physical requirements from the 1970s. Vorgert, the youngest graduate, explained, "There's a certain standing and sitting height requirement that females don't meet, because we're not the average 1970s male. But they've been going through the decades-old requirements and starting to open them up to more demographics."

 



 

 

TPS has had a 76 year-long history. During this time, 80 women have graduated from the prestigious school. As per the institution's records, Lt. Jane Holley was the first woman to attend the school as a flight test engineer in 1974. Then, in 1988, Capt. Jacquelyn Parker arrived. She was the first woman pilot at TPS. Vanhoy, who has been at the school for the past 11 years, is happy to see the slow but sure shift in gender demographics. "It's a challenge for ladies to break into that field," he said. "I'm glad to see a change because the skills needed to fly are not proprietary of men. Ladies can definitely multitask and handle the strains of the environment, they can fly airplanes as good as the guys can."

 



 

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