Famous women in aviation are breaking down old stereotypes and demonstrating impeccable professional and in-personal skills.
Breath-taking professionalism of Captain Tammie Jo Shults
Tammie Jo Shults, American commercial airline captain, and a retired United States Navy fighter pilot, will definitely be remembered as one of the bravest woman-aviators.
On April 17th, 2018, Southwest Airlines (LUV) was operating a regular flight 1380 from LaGuardia (LGA), New York, to Dallas Love Field Airport (DLA). After receiving clearance, the Southwest Boeing 737-700 jet, operated by Captain Tammie Jo Shults and First Officer Darren Ellison, took off for a daily operation which was supposed to take up to 3.5 hours.
At first, the flight seemed like the thousands of other operations Captain Shults had completed in her more than 30-year career as a pilot. However, about 20 minutes after the take-off, when the jet, carrying 144 passengers on board, was climbing past 32,000 feet, it suddenly suffered an abrupt explosion that Captain Shults had never experienced in her long-term career, even in simulators, she later recalled.
The Boeing 737 started to wobble so hard that the flight crew could not even read the instruments. A few seconds after the explosion, the jet started to roll and dive towards the ground and Captain Shults quickly realized that the plane had lost an engine. The flight crew struggled to straighten up the plane as an unidentified smoke filled up the whole pilot cabin. Meanwhile, a flight deck alarm warned the crew about the rapid decompression in the cabin. Operating under emergency conditions, Captain Shults and first Officer Ellisor managed to reduce the airspeed of the jet and almost stopped the intense vibrations. They still needed to land the plane as quickly as possible.
The crew declared an emergency and the local air traffic control cleared the Boeing 737 to divert to Philadelphia International Airport (PHL). At a rate more than twice as fast as usual descent, the flight crew descended about 19,000 ft in only five minutes. That was not the only challenge. The flight crew managed to slow the jet as it approached, but being at 700 ft, it was still flying faster than during the usual landing, indicating that the landing would be particularly challenging.
However, having on a single operative engine and experiencing a strong drag to the left, Captain Shults managed to stay calm and landed the plane safely, roughly 20 minutes after the explosion.
A few weeks after the incident, Captain Shults returned back to active operations and retired from Southwest Airlines (LUV) in 2020. On December 10, 2020, she was inducted into the International Air & Space Hall of Fame.
Having flown for Southwest Airlines (LUV) for more than 20 years, Captain Shults had also been one of the first female fighter pilots in the U.S Navy, where she gained her incredible skills. It was the first aircraft accident involving Southwest Airlines (LUV) that resulted in the death of a passenger.
Shelia Fedrick: receptive intuition saves from human trafficking
Another aviation professional who deserves to be hailed as a hero is Shelia Fedrick, a flight attendant who worked for Alaska Airlines at the time.
In 2011, Alaska Airlines was operating a daily flight from Seattle-Tacoma International airport (SEA) to San Francisco (SFO). The cabin crew member instinctively felt something was wrong when she saw a young girl with dirty blonde hair sitting in the window seat on board the aircraft accompanied by a well-dressed man. The intuition did not deceive the experienced flight attendant.
After Fedrick’s unsuccessful attempts to chat with the two passengers, her suspicions that something was wrong grew stronger. The flight attendant noticed that the disheveled-looking girl was trying to avoid eye contact and was not responding to any of Fedrick’s questions. Meanwhile, the well-dressed man she was traveling with spoke willingly.
The flight attendant decided to act as usual but left a secret note in one of the jet lavatories where she put her phone number. She managed to tell the girl under her breath to go to the lavatory. The teenager found a note and wrote back asking for help. While suspecting that the girl’s strange behavior might be a sign of possible human trafficking, Fedrick urgently notified the Captain and informed him about her suspicions.
The flight crew alerted the local police and when the plane landed in San Francisco, the authorities arrested the suspicious man in the terminal. Shelia Fedrick became a cabin crew who saved a teenage girl from becoming a victim of human trafficking.
The humanity and sacrifice of Jodi Harskamp
Although it is common for crew to take care of each other during flights, Alaska Airlines Captain Jodi Harskamp showed the highest level of humanity and compassion when she donated her kidney to colleague flight attendant Jenny Stansel.
The pilot was one of many employees of Alaska Airlines who volunteered to be tested for their suitability to become donors for Stansel. The flight attendant had been fighting kidney disease for the last ten months and had already gone through seven surgeries, leaving kidney transplantation as the only chance for a normal life. Among all the volunteers, Captain Harskamp’s medical indications turned out to be the perfect match.
Captain Harskamp had to consider all the risks associated with the surgery, including a long-term recovery process, the fact of living with a single kidney, and a possibility that her personal health could not recover enough to pass the strict health standards required to extend the medical certificate, a critically important document for a pilot. It meant that the Captain took a risk of losing her license and the quality of her personal life for saving her colleague’s life.
However, Harskamp decided that the sacrifice was worth the risk. In March 2017, Captain Harskamp went through a four-hour surgery, during which her kidney was successfully transplanted to her co-worker.
Female Captains take the challenge of the North Pole
An all-female Indian pilot flight crew made history when they completed the longest non-stop commercial flight ever operated by the Indian national airline Air India. In January 2021, an all-female flight team, consisting of pilots Zoya Agarwal, Thanmei Papagari, Akansha Sonaware, and Captain Shivani Manhas, flew the airline’s longest direct commercial flight over the North Pole connecting the United States and India.
Air India’s Boeing 777-200 took off from San Francisco International Airport (SFO) on January 9, 2021. After more than 17 hours of flight, it successfully landed at Bangalore Kempegowda International Airport (BLR) on January 11, 2021. The distance between San Francisco and Bangalore reaches up to 14,000 km with a change of time zone around 14 hours. It was the longest Air India’s commercial operation flight so far, and the longest flight in the world operated by any Indian airline.
While Air India’s men pilots have previously flown over the North Pole, it was the first time when the flight was operated by an all-women flight crew. Captain Zoya Agarwal became the first woman Captain of Air India to command a commercial operation over the North Pole route. Flying over the North Pole requires extremely high levels of piloting skills and experience. The operation includes various factors such as challenging weather conditions, solar radiation levels, and the lack of availability of airports in case of a diversion.
However, the all-female pilots’ team created a new chapter in Indian aviation history and broke down the idea of seeing aviation as a male-dominated field.
— Hardeep Singh Puri (@HardeepSPuri) January 11, 2021