This month marks the first anniversary of Lady Hawk Day in the city of Grand Forks, ND. Mayor Mike Brown established the day in recognition of the “Flight of the Lady Hawk,” the longest flight without air refueling on record for a military aircraft, led by an all-women team.
The idea for the record-breaking flight came from 348th RS Commander Lt. Col. Amanda Brandt last year when she found out that there were several women pilots joining her 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 training mission with an all-female crew than Women’s History Month?”
So on March 29, 2014, Lt. Col. Brandt, along with Lt. Col. Catherine Todd, Maj. Mary Marshall, Capt. Natalie Winkels, 1st Lt. Joli Chaisson and 2nd Lt. Kourtney Kugler teamed up to pilot the RQ-4 Global Hawk (a remotely piloted aircraft (RPA)), flying it 34.3 hours nonstop back and forth across North Dakota.
The RQ-4 Global Hawk is the largest RPA in the Air Force inventory with a 130 foot wingspan, the equivalent size of a Boeing 707 airliner. It’s known as a high-altitude, long range, Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance aircraft.
And in addition to the six women pilots managing the remote flight, the more than 50 support staff and ground crew were also women.
According to Lt. Col. Brandt, what differentiates this particular record from others like it, is that all of the women pilots included in the mission came from the same squadron. Historically, groups have had to reach out to other squadrons or units to get enough women together to achieve a record.
And while Lt. Col. Brandt is proud of the record-breaking flight, she also hopes that one day all-female feats will no longer be historic, but a regular occurrence.
“It’s just kind of interesting to me that there would be a first for women for anything still, in this day in age.” She added, “We’re not too far from the day when an all-female flight is not so special.”
WYSK learned about Flight of the Lady Hawk from Capt. Natalie Winkels, one of the pilots who participated in the historic mission. She reached out to us to share the group’s incredible accomplishment and to “show aspiring young men and women out there that women are setting world records.”