Pilot Who Landed Damaged Southwest Airlines Plane Is Revealed

Zachary Stieber
By Zachary Stieber
April 18, 2018US News
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Pilot Who Landed Damaged Southwest Airlines Plane Is Revealed
(MidAmerica Nazarene University Alumni & Friends/Facebook)

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The heroine pilot who landed the damaged Southwest Airlines plane on Tuesday was revealed the be one of the first female fighter pilots for the U.S. Navy before becoming a commercial pilot.

Tammie Jo Shults was the first woman to fly F-18s for the U.S. Navy and one of the first female fighter pilots ever for the military branch.

Cindy Foster, who attended MidAmerica Nazarene University with Shults, told the Kansas City Star that Shults met with “a lot of resistance” because of her gender, and turned to the Navy after the Air Force denied her entry.

“So she knew she had to work harder than everyone else,” Foster said. “She did it for herself and all women fighting for a chance. … I’m extremely proud of her. She saved a lot of lives today.”

According to an article no longer online but posted in a fighter pilots forum, Shults was not allowed to fly combat while in the Navy but did become an “aggressor pilot” in Navy squadron VAQ-34 and a flight instructor.

She discussed the difficulties of having a ceiling on her career in a Navy magazine article (pdf) from 1993.

“In AOCS [Aviation Officer Candidate School], if you’re a woman [or different in any way], you’re a high profile; you’re under more scrutiny,” Shults said.

She noted that changes for women to gain as much knowledge about the aviation community were limited.

“It would be nice if they would take away the ceilings [women] have over our heads,” she said. “In VAQ-34, gender doesn’t matter, there’s no advantage or disadvantage. Which proves my point – if there’s a good mix of gender, it ceases to be an issue.”

Shults piloted Dallas-Bound Southwest Airlines Flight 1380 on April 17, successfully navigating the twin-engine Boeing 737 that departed New York onto a runway in Philadelphia after an engine blew.

Shrapnel also left the plane without a window, and the catastrophe left one passenger dead and another seven injured.

But passengers said the situation could have been far worse and praised Shults for her deft skill and keeping cool under pressure.

“She has nerves of steel. That lady, I applaud her. I’m going to send her a Christmas card—I’m going to tell you that—with a gift certificate for getting me on the ground. She was awesome,” passenger Alfred Tumlinson, a Texas resident, told The Associated Press. “The lady, the crew, everything, everybody was immaculate. They were so professional in what they did to get us on the ground.”

Shults’s husband, Dean Shults, is also a pilot for Southwest, according to brother-in-law Gary Shults.

“She’s a formidable woman, as sharp as a tack,” said Gary Shults, a dentist in San Antonio. “My brother says she’s the best pilot he knows. She’s a very caring, giving person who takes care of lots of people.”

 

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