GRAND FORKS AIR FORCE BASE, N.D. — In recognition of Women’s History Month, members of the 69th Reconnaissance Group decided to break a record. Two of them, in fact.
On March 29, an RQ-4 Global Hawk aircraft belonging to the 348th Reconnaissance Squadron landed after being aloft for 34.3 hours, the longest flight without air refueling on record for a military aircraft.
Additionally, the flight was accomplished with an all-female flight and support crew, with more than 50 women working together to accomplish the mission, dubbed “Flight of the Lady Hawk.”
The idea for the flight was the brainchild of 348th RS Commander Lt. Col. Amanda Brandt. Following her assumption of command, Brandt found that there were several female pilots due to join the unit.
“I started to do the math [and found] we probably had enough that we could do an endurance flight,” she said. And what better time to set up a mission with an all-female crew than Women’s History Month, she asked herself.
The proposal was quickly accepted by 69th RG Commander Col. Lawrence Spinetta.
“He was immediately positive about it,” Brandt recalled, “the only obstacle was making sure we had enough pilots.”
One of the RQ-4 pilots who took part in the mission, identified only as 2nd Lt. Kourtney for security reasons, noted the fact that second lieutenants don’t normally find themselves in the role of aircraft commanders.
“It’s mind-blowing,” she said, “for so early in our careers to have so much responsibility given to us.”
Brandt considers this record-breaking flight as distinct from previous records set by female aircrews.
“I’ve seen many of these flights and they’ve always had to reach out to other squadrons or units,” she said. “This time, I said ‘We can do this with our squadron.'”
The weather, maintenance, and other personnel also knew they were becoming part of something unique.
“I’m so excited to be a part of this,” said Senior Airman Cassie Gilbert, 348th RS scheduler, who was responsible for selecting the pilots to fly the mission and ensure they would not be on crew rest or leave and that the flight itself would not conflict with others on the squadron’s schedule.
Gilbert is expecting a daughter and knows what she’ll tell her child about the “Lady Hawk” flight.
“I was part of a great new squadron and part of something that will be great for the Air Force,” Gilbert said.
While Brandt is justifiably proud of the accomplishment her squadron has achieved, she looks forward to a time when such things are no longer unique. Compared to when she first entered the Air Force 17 years ago, Brandt said it’s no longer abnormal for her to hear a female air traffic controller giving her clearance to take off, or to receive a weather report with a female Airman’s signature.
“We’re not too far from the day when an all-female flight is not special,” she said.