It was an awkward situation for a young woman from northern India.
As the US Army and US Marine Corps were building their new Global Hawk aircraft, she wanted to fly it for the first time.
It was a chance to experience the US air force’s newest fighter jet and a chance for her to fly on its very first mission.
“I wanted to be a part of this incredible moment,” she says.
“We’re building a new generation of aircraft and we’re all excited to get them in service, and we wanted to have the opportunity to fly with them.”
So she enlisted the help of an army team and flew with them on their first mission in the early 1990s.
The story is told in the book “The Story of Global Hawk: An Army and Marines Story.”
For a woman who wanted to get a leg up, this was a life-changing experience.
She flew for the US army and the US Marine corps, and flew a number of missions for the army’s air force.
But it was the Army’s helicopter that she fell in love with.
“The helicopter was the one that I fell in with,” she recalls.
“This was the helicopter that was built for the soldiers.
And it had a very powerful engine.
And, of course, I loved it.”
Her life changed forever.
“As a female, I had a lot of questions,” she said.
“How do I become a helicopter pilot?
How do I fly an airplane?
And what would happen if I had to take the wrong step?
And that’s what the story of Global Hawks is all about.
And the people who built it, they really took care of me.”
Global Hawk was the most advanced aircraft in its class at the time, and its first missions were extremely challenging.
It took her two years to fly for them on missions in Pakistan.
She was so excited to fly the Global Hawk, she thought, this is where my future lies.
She wanted to prove that she could do it.
“That’s what I really want to do now.
I want to be an air traffic controller,” she remembers.
“And I think that’s the reason I want this to be my life’s work.”
But she didn’t expect that she would become a pioneer for women.
She and her fellow female air traffic controllers in the US Air Force were just getting started in the aviation industry, and their first jobs were as air traffic control agents.
In the US, women were still limited to jobs that were considered “menial.”
They were not allowed to be in charge of ground crews, they were not permitted to fly helicopters, and they weren’t allowed to fly combat missions.
“You can’t be a groundman and a helicopter captain,” she recalled.
“There are certain jobs that you can do and certain things you can’t do.
The job of a ground crew, she said, “is just to be on the ground, to make sure that everything’s running properly, to take care of the airplanes, to have a safe job.” “
But, of all of those things, I would like to be able to do the flying that I do,” she added.
The job of a ground crew, she said, “is just to be on the ground, to make sure that everything’s running properly, to take care of the airplanes, to have a safe job.”
It was her job to keep the planes flying and to keep them flying safe, but it was a different job for her.
“It’s not just that, as a female pilot, you’re on a mission, but you have to do it safely,” she explained.
“Because there are always risks, there are risks associated with every mission.”
After she had flown more than 60 missions with the US military, the US Navy came calling.
She received an offer to be their first female helicopter pilot, but she refused.
She didn’t want to make a sacrifice that would make her career harder.
“My career is on the line.
My future is on that line,” she explains.
“So, I just said no.”
“And then we had this conversation,” recalls the US Naval Academy’s director of flight operations, Lt.
Col. Stephanie Ewing, who flew Global Hawks on the US side of the Gulf War.
“What was going on in that conversation?
I’m a female.
And we had a discussion, and I said, ‘I will be able, you know, I will be a helicopter crew officer in the Navy.'”
“And she said yes, that’s absolutely going to happen.”
The first flight Global Hawk flew, in 2003, was a training mission.
In an effort to teach the young female pilots, she had them do a demonstration of what she described as “flying the aircraft.”
After the mission, the pilot took a few pictures of her, and the story goes that the photos were taken in front of her house.
But in reality, it was an actual test flight of the helicopter.
The US Army asked the pilots to fly another flight, in 2006.