Female Fighter Pilots and the Combat Exclusion Policy


U.S. Air Force General McPeak, U.S. Air Force Chief of Staff, holds a Press Conference 

In 1993, the United States Armed Forces lifted the Combat Exclusion Policy, a 45-year-old practice prohibiting women from serving in combat roles. The change only pertained to aviation positions and it wasn’t until 2013 that the policy was lifted from all assignments. The U.S. Air Force marked the revision with a press conference in which General McPeak introduced the new guidance and highlighted three female pilots who would go on to pilot in combat situations. A special edition of “Air Force Television News” distributed the press conference to members of the military. The clips below are from that newscast and the entire news story can be found in our online catalog here: Air Force Television News Special Edition

General McPeak announces changes to the Combat Exclusion Policy

The Combat Exclusion Policy was enacted in 1948 as part of the the Women’s Armed Services Integration Act. After World War II, more women expressed interest in serving in the military and the act enabled them to serve as permanent, regular members of the armed forces during times of peace. But long before 1948, women were piloting aircraft as civilians and military liaisons, pushing the boundaries of aviation alongside their male counterparts. In 1903, the same year as the famed Wright Brothers Kitty Hawk flight, Aida de Acosta became the first woman to fly a powered aircraft solo. In the 1920’s Bessie Coleman and Elinor Smith became famous for the daring stunts they performed. And Amelia Earhart is just as famous now for her achievements as she was at the time of her disappearance.

A brief history of female military pilots

Before lifting the Combat Exclusion Policy, the military dedicated many years to testing the effects potential combat situations would have on females. Their testing and conclusions are discussed briefly in the below clip from “Air Force Television News.”

Studying physical and psychological affects of combat on females

During his press conference, General McPeak introduced three pilots who were to become members of the first group of female combat pilots. Jeannie Leavitt became the U.S. Air Force’s first female fighter pilot and the first to command a combat fighter wing and is still currently serving as the commander of the Air Force Recruiting Service at Randolph Air Force Base. Sharon Preszler retired in 2006 after 20 years of service. After the combat ban was lifted in 1993, Preszler became the first female active-duty fighter pilot, flying sorties over Iraq as part of Operation Northern Watch. Martha McSally became the first female pilot in the Department of Defense to fly in combat after being deployed to Kuwait in January 1995. She is also the first female in the U.S. Air Force to serve as the commander of any combat aviation squadron to include fighters and bombers.

Introductions of Leavitt, Preszler, and McSally 

You can learn more about special media records featuring women in the military here: Women in the Military

The entire Air Force Television News story can be found in our online catalog here:
Air Force Television News Special Edition






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