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.
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.
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.
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