Hero Pilot Who Saved Southwest Flight Was One Of The Navy’s First Female Fighter Jockeys


It should come as no surprise that the heroic pilot who landed a stricken Southwest Airlines 737 after its engine exploded and shattered a window is former Navy fighter pilot.

Tammie Jo Shults, who was reportedly at the controls of Flight 1380 during the April 17 in-flight emergency, was one of the Navy’s first F/A-18 Hornet pilots and left the service in 1993 as a lieutenant commander, the Washington Post reported on Wednesday. The plane's co-pilot is also reportedly a veteran: Darren Ellisor served in the Air Force, according to Newsweek.

Growing up, Shults dreamed of becoming a military pilot, but the Air Force showed no interest in her. So she eventually became a Navy aviator, the Post reported. During training, she still had to overcome the military’s bias against female pilots.

A Southwest Airlines plane sits on the runway at the Philadelphia International Airport after it made an emergency landing in Philadelphia, on Tuesday, April 17, 2018.The Philadelphia Inquirer via AP/ David Maialetti.

“In ACOS [Aviation Officer Candidate School], if you're a woman ... you're under more scrutiny,” then-Lt. Shults told the Navy’s “All Hands” magazine in 1993.

At the time, Shults was assigned to Tactical Electronic Warfare Squadron 34, an electronic aggressor squadron, “All Hands” reported. She said gender was not an issue within her squadron, but female pilots still faced limited opportunities in Navy aviation.

“It would be nice if they would take away the ceilings [women] have over our heads,” she told the magazine.

Southwest Airlines declined to officially say that Shults was the pilot of Flight 1380. “We are not sharing details about the flight crew, though we couldn’t be more proud of their actions,” a company spokeswoman told Task & Purpose on Wednesday.

Attempts to reach Shults were unsuccessful. She was commissioned in June 1985 and served on active duty until March 1993, according to her official personnel record, provided by the Navy. Shults continued to serve as a reservist until August 2001. Her military awards include two Navy Marine Corps Achievement Medals, the National Defense Service Medal and the Pistol Marksmanship Medal (Expert).

Flight 1380 passengers have praised how Shults skillfully landed their plane after it depressurized and how she greeted each passenger after they were safely on the ground.

Audio recordings of Shults talking to an air traffic controller show she kept her calm while bringing the damaged plane in for a landing.

“We have part of the aircraft missing so we’re going to need to slow down a bit,” she told air traffic control. “Could you have medical meet us there on the runway as well? We’ve got injured passengers.”

When the air traffic controller asked if the plane was on fire, Shults responded carefully and respectfully: “No, it’s not on fire but part of it is missing. They said there is a hole and someone went out.”

Rep. Martha McSally, a fellow fighter pilot, praised Shults as a “bad-ass” who showed extraordinary courage when the lives of more than 100 passengers and crew were at risk.

“I am so proud of her,” said McSally, R-Ariz. “The world is seeing that the attributes that both or men and women have as they go through military training to be a pilot are those where we are trained over and over again and over again to make sure we know exactly what to do in the most harrowing of circumstances.

“We make good decisions. We fly the airplane while we’re working through checklists. We analyze situations. We figure out how to safely on the ground and minimize any damage – and we do it in our sleep. The training that we go through from our first day of flight school is just to be able to do it unconsciously in case anything happens and she really demonstrated that in this emergency.”

McSally is a trailblazer herself: She is both the U.S. military’s first female pilot to fly a combat mission and the first woman to command a fighter squadron in combat, according to her online biography. She said it is cruel that Shults was not allowed to fly fighters in combat because of the law at the time.

“They should have,” McSally said. “Her courage and her calmness under pressure that she showed from all of her years of experience is just a reminder that it doesn’t matter if you are a boy or a girl; the airplane doesn’t care if you have ovaries or not, as long as you have the qualifications and the training you’re going to be able to complete the mission – and she did that yesterday.”


UPDATE: This story was updated on April 18 with comments from Rep. Martha McSally and news that co-pilot Darren Ellisor is reportedly an Air Force veteran.

It has been a deadly year for Green Berets, with every active-duty Special Forces Group losing a valued soldier in Afghanistan or Syria.

A total of 12 members of the Army special operations forces community have died in 2019, according to U.S. Army Special Operations Command. All but one of those soldiers were killed in combat.

In Afghanistan, Army special operators account for 10 of the 17 U.S. troops killed so far this year. Eight of the fallen were Green Berets. Of the other two soldiers, one was attached to the 10th Special Forces Group and the other was a Ranger.

Read More Show Less

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Documents from the Pentagon show that "far more taxpayer funds" were spent by the U.S. military on overnight stays at a Trump resort in Scotland than previously known, two Democratic lawmakers said on Wednesday, as they demanded more evidence from the Defense Department as part of their investigation.

In a letter to Defense Secretary Mark Esper, the heads of the House of Representatives Oversight Committee and one of it subcommittees said that while initial reports indicated that only one U.S. military crew had stayed at President Donald Trump's Turnberry resort southeast of Glasgow, the Pentagon had now turned over data indicating "more than three dozen separate stays" since Trump moved into the White House.

Read More Show Less
Sigourney Weaver as Ellen Ripley from 1979's 'Alien' (20th Century Fox)

Editor's Note: This article by Gina Harkins originally appeared on Military.com, a leading source of news for the military and veteran community.

QUANTICO, Va. -- Marines who spend much of their day lifting hefty ammunition or moving pallets full of gear could soon get a helping hand.

The Marine Corps is close to signing a deal to test an exoskeleton prototype that can help a single person move as much as several leathernecks combined.

Read More Show Less
NEC Corp.'s machine with propellers hovers at the company's facility in Abiko near Tokyo, Monday, Aug. 5, 2019. The Japanese electronics maker showed a "flying car," a large drone-like machine with four propellers that hovered steadily for about a minute. (Associated Press/Koji Sasahara

'Agility Prime' sounds like a revolutionary new video streaming service, or a parkour-themed workout regimen, or Transformers-inspired niche porno venture.

But no, it's the name of the Air Force's nascent effort to replace the V-22 Osprey with a militarized flying car — and it's set to take off sooner than you think.

Read More Show Less
In this March 12, 2016, file photo, Marines of the U.S., left, and South Korea, wearing blue headbands on their helmets, take positions after landing on a beach during the joint military combined amphibious exercise, called Ssangyong, part of the Key Resolve and Foal Eagle military exercises, in Pohang, South Korea. (Associated Press/Yonhap/Kim Jun-bum)

Task & Purpose is looking for a dynamic social media editor to join our team.

Our ideal candidate is an enthusiastic self-starter who can handle a variety of tasks without breaking a sweat. He or she will own our brand's social coverage while working full-time alongside our team of journalists and video producers, posting to Facebook, Twitter, Instagram (feed, stories, and IGTV), YouTube, and elsewhere.

Read More Show Less