By Ms. Christy Barnett, ATECSeptember 22, 2017
When Chief Warrant Officer 2 Sylvia Grandstaff joined the U.S. Army in 2009, her goal was to become an Experimental Test Pilot, or XP, stationed at the U.S. Army Redstone Test Center, also known as RTC.
Not only did Grandstaff achieve her dream to fly, she also made history as the first female Warrant Officer, or WO, XP in the U.S. Army and will be stationed at RTC for the next four years.
"Looking back now I feel I always wanted to be a pilot. I joke sometimes that flying found me," said Grandstaff, who recently completed 11 months of training at Naval Test Pilot School.
There have been only three other female XPs in the Army. Next year another female WO will begin training at the United States Naval Test Pilot School.
Growing up in Houston, Grandstaff says she developed a love of flying from her parents, starting with gliders. "My parents are from Poland and gliding is very popular in Eastern Europe," Grandstaff said. She joined a glider club when she was 13, where she continued to excel, eventually becoming a glider instructor in college.
Flying was not always on Grandstaff's career path. She initially wanted to become a doctor and was well on her way. By 2007, she had received a Bachelor's Degree in (Medical) Anthropology from Rice University and began her first year at Baylor College of Medicine.
During that time, Grandstaff met, Hugh, husband of eight years, who is a lifelong aviator. The two met through flying, became engaged, and married at an airport. In fact, it was the gift of one helicopter flight from her husband that really changed her life.
"That was the trigger I needed," Grandstaff explained "After that flight, I thought [to myself] people do this and they are happy doing this...I knew a Warrant Officer XP at RTC, and that fall, I called him and asked how I could get his job."
Grandstaff left Baylor College of Medicine, joined the Army, and enrolled in the Warrant Officer Training Program. In the U.S. Army, a WO is a designated Subject Matter Expert in their chosen field. By choosing the WO route, Grandstaff ensured her Army career would always include flying.
"It's worked out sooner than I expected,"Grandstaff said. "Things fell together pretty well. Even though I don't have an engineering degree, which is the usual background for an XP, my pre-med science classes were enough. I was able to work on medical research while in med school and that helped with the technical writing aspect. As far as being prepared for the flying, two deployments to Afghanistan helped that along."
"I'm looking forward to becoming settled and experienced in this role," Grandstaff said. "People seem to love this job. They get out of the Army or retire and they get hired on as a contractor or Army Civilian. It's good to see people really like the organization that much -- that they stay, for a long time."
Although Grandstaff's future may be uncertain, for now she is enjoying her time at RTC while completing her training flights before conducting her own test missions. In the meantime, Hugh is currently training to become a commercial airline pilot.
"He has never held me back at all; he has always propelled me upward and forward," said Grandstaff. "I'm really grateful to have a spouse that supportive."
Regardless of where she ultimately lands, one thing is for certain, this former med student is glad she ended up in the air and landed at RTC.
"Flying chose me. I tried all these other things to do, but I've always circled back to it."