A hero for all citizens

Pilot Tammie Jo Shults — one of first female Navy fighter pilots — showed the USAF

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The pilot who successfully landed the Southwest Airlines flight that suffered a catastrophic engine failure this week certainly demonstrated why women definitely belong in U.S. fighter jets.

Just how masterfully Tammie Jo Shults, the pilot of the badly crippled Southwest Airlines Flight 1380, handled the problem of an engine exploding at 30,000 feet is winning admiration from thousands of her fellow pilots — and all Americans.

For any pilot in this situation the most difficult and urgent thing is to judge is how responsive the airplane is to their commands. An airplane as crippled as this one becomes difficult to handle. With only one engine working and damage to the other causing unusual air drag, the pilot must correct for asymmetrical power and drag—the airplane naturally tends to swing away from its direct course.

This is where Captain Shults’ background came into play. She is an ex-Navy pilot and one of the first women to fly the “Top Gun” F-18 Hornet. Landing supersonic jets on the decks of aircraft carriers is one of the most demanding skills in military aviation. Now, flying on the one engine called for her to use all of her seat of the pants instincts to nurse the jet to the runway.

Normally a 737 on final approach deploys its wing flaps to their full extent, to reduce landing speed to around 140 mph. But Captain Shults’ skills and experience forewarned her  an airplane flying that slowly with its flaps fully extended and with asymmetrical power could become fatally unstable in the final stage of the landing, so she used a minimal flap setting to maintain a higher speed and stability — taking the risk that the landing gear and particularly the tires could survive a higher speed impact.

The landing was perfect and, once slowed, the jet came to rest on a taxiway.

When Stults announced as a high school senior she wanted to be a pilot, a retired colonel told her, “there are no professional women pilots.” When she applied to train to be a pilot in the Air Force, she was rejected. The Navy gave her the break. It was a very smart move — particularly for everyone aboard Flight 1380.