Michigan Woman Reminisces Being Among the First Female Air Force Pilots

Ten women flew into history as part of the first coed graduating air force class 35 years ago.

The hats weren’t right, flight suits didn’t fit, and nobody believed they could do what men could. But Mary Livingston of Manistique, Michigan (located on the upper peninsula) became one of 10 ladies to graduate with the first coed class of Air Force pilots over 30 years ago.

Air Force Pilot, Mary Livingston

Back then, Mary was a 25-year-old engineer who was taught to fly when she was 16. Now, she’s 60 and a retired lieutenant colonel, married to a fellow former Air Force engineer and pilot. “We knew we were part of the test group. We were blessed with the opportunity to fly for the Air Force and to provide a road map,” Livingston said about the opportunity as one of the first female Air Force pilots. “I wanted someone to look at me and what I had done and go, ‘Now what? There’s no problem with other women being pilots.’”

To get into the pilot program, Livingston and her fellow females had to pass a physical, an officer qualification test and a pilot navigation test, which mostly consisted of spatial orientation. And even then, those 10 women knew their options were limited to only flying the tankers that refueled the planes midair, cargo transports or working as flight instructors who taught the very men who’d go into combat.

Air Force Jets and Flag

At 5-foot-4, Livingston barely made it into the program, since the planes were designed to accommodate a certain height, the same as the flight suits. She and her cohorts faced plenty of animosity from teachers and classmates, but also from jealous wives and complete strangers.

After graduating, Livingston became a pilot instructor, and later an Air Force Academy economics instructor, detachment commander and recruiting squadron commander. She retired in 1994 to raise her daughter.

US Air Force

The abolishment of the draft and the growing popularity of the woman’s rights movement is what finally drove the military to allow women in significant numbers. Livingston’s classmate Kathy LaSauce remembers those days a little different with everything from being shunned to being forced to wear a Playboy patch on her flight uniform.

But Livingston, LaSauce and their female classmates hung in and stood up to the constant scrutiny and helped change the stereotype for all aspiring females going into any area of the U.S. military. Whether male or female, one thing all Air Force members have in common is their love and pride for the country and desire to support and honor the American Flag.

Credit: Detroit Free Press

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9 Replies to “Michigan Woman Reminisces Being Among the First Female Air Force Pilots

  1. I flew w/ Mary at Columbus AFB in the 70’s and can testify to some of the hardships she had to endure. I considered her a good pilot, probably better than me, but mostly I valued her as a good friend.

  2. Hi there Lt Daniels! Strangely enough I came across this site while I was looking for sources for pictures of the women pilots.

    I also tried to convey in the article that there were many that supported us!!! I still have the instructor pictures from our flight if you would like a copy.


    1. Mary Livingston and Christine (Schott) Lockert-I work with Mary Donahue. She is retiring this month from Air Force Civilian Job (20 plus years) and moving back to Boston to live with her sister. Someone in the office recommended I track the magnificent 10 down since she did not want anything extravagant. My goal was to get email addresses to allow you to send me letters of congratulations..

      Mary Donahue is still a firecracker! I say that lovingly!

      Can you please email me -carmita.barnescooke@googlemail.com or carmita.b.cooke.civ@mail.mil w/ any contact info..

      Thus far, I have found
      Carol Scherer – Found her on Linked In. She is a American Airlines Pilot. Has been for 29 Years and 10 months.. WOW
      Christine (Schott) Lockert -Ashland, TN (YOU)-Found you on this blog. Thank God for blogs..
      Connie Engel-Her daughter works her in the building w/ me Maj Giggy-Have not reached out yet.
      Kathleen Rambo-Cosandi-Naples Fl -Found a mutual friend of hers -Peggy
      Phillips on Facebook. Her daughter is Meaghan Camp says she is proud of her on Facebook blog commemorating the date- 2 Sept 1977 (First AF Reserve to undergo Pilot Training).
      Kathy L Sauce-She is here in Alexandria VA (Whitepages provided her landline/cell is subdued)- I wander if Mary Donahue knows..
      Susan Rogers-Beautiful Woman-Passed Away- : ( Found her parents (Vera and Cecil) in Lewes, Delaware) via Family Tree Now. Wander if they have info for her husband (Harold Regele)??? Who knows. ; ) Only God does..
      Sandra M Scott (KC-135 Pilot)- Was she a hell raiser? LOL! All I could find was US District Court Case w/ her name at the rank of Major vs Chief National Guard Bureau. Did not find any contact info.. There is a beautiful pic of her is on pintrest.com. Says she is from Forest Grove, Oregon. Found a Richard M Scott that lives two hours away in Gresham, Oregon. He has her listed as relative on Been Verified. Initial matches her, but not sure if it her..
      Victoria Crawford- I got her names tied up with an actress when doing my research. I do not have her middle initial to do a deeper dive. She and all of you are listed on This Day in Aviation Article. There are few Linked In VC’s as well.
      YOU-Mary Livingston-Distinguished Lt Col Mary M. Livingston-WOW!! Proud of you! Great pic! I have you as living in Manistique, MI and was living in Indiana.

      That’s it- I promise I am not some crazy person, but seriously love Ms. Donahue and would love for you ladies to send her a not of encouragement.

      Life is short

      God Bless- Contact me.. : )

  3. Hi Mary!

    Love this article! I’ll never forget when you came over to my house so I could interview you for a college assignment, then I ended up following in your footsteps!

    I would love to catch up with you-I’m still living in San Antonio! Had a wonderful few years in the Air Force then flew for US Airways, until I was furloughed. I’m serving in music ministry now at Community Bible Church, where my husband, Ray, is the worship pastor. Every blessing to you! Andrea Kowalsky Jones

  4. Mary,

    Been trying to find you. Do you know about the WAI inducting us into the Hall of Fame? Please contact me!
    I was in that class Chris Schott (now Lockert). Can anyone contact her and have her contact me at tnbeelady@mac.com

  5. Mary, I was doing some research and your name came back to me. I was one of your PIT instructors at Randolph. Capt Gregg Havens at the time. Now just Gregg, T-1 simulator instructor at Columbus AFB. I also retired as a LtCol at Dover flying C-5s for the rest of my career after my T-37 FAIP/PIT tours. If you ever come to Columbus in the next few years, please come in to see pilot training in 2016.

  6. Hello Col Livingston. I was on the Web and saw your site. Over the years, Julie and I were wondering how you and your family were doing. Did you ever start that book store? Surprized you moved from Indiana to Michigan. We are both retired. After retiring from the Air Force I entered the Education Arena both at an Admissions Director and then as a College Director. We are spending our retirement years in New Smyrna Beach, Florida. Traveling as much as we can and spending time with our 10 grandchildren. I want to say it was a pleasure serving under you. You are the best commander I have had in my 26 year career. Merry Christmas to you and your family and we would like to hear from you.

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