On June 4, 1974, then 2nd Lt. Sally D. Murphy became the first female U.S. Army helicopter pilot to graduate from flight school and receive her wings, paving the way for countless more women to join the ranks in aviation.
As we approach the 37th anniversary of women in Army aviation, we can look back and see just how far they have come. From Murphy being the Army’s first female aviator to women flying in combat operations since 1989, women’s roles in aviation have only continued to grow over the years.
While aviation might not have been the first choice for Capt. Abigail Blount, an AH-64 Apache pilot with 602nd Aviation Support Battalion, 2nd Combat Aviation Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division, it quickly became her mission to become a pilot.
“When I initially joined ROTC, I wanted to pursue a path in the Infantry,” said Blount. “I was told I could not serve in the infantry, so I asked if there were any other combat options for females and that is when I first learned of the AH64D Apache. I was immediately determined to become an Apache pilot.”
For Capt. Holly Sovine, Alpha Company commander of 2-2 Assault Helicopter Battalion, 2nd Combat Aviation Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division, joining the military and being a UH-60M Black Hawk pilot was in her blood.
“I joined the Army in February 2011,” said Sovine. “The Army served as a means for me to attend college while also serving my country and fulfilling a higher calling. My father was also a UH60 pilot, so it is incredibly rewarding and satisfying to share this profession with him.”
Even with the inclusion of women in the Army aviation branch, women only make up less than 15 percent of its force. Since commissioning in May of 2014, Blount has rarely encountered other female pilots let alone higher echelon commanders.
“When I joined the Army, I had never met a female pilot,” said Blount. “When I asked, I was told there weren't that many. Often, when I fly with pilots, they will tell me it's their first flight with a female. It took five years for me to meet a female lieutenant colonel, and I have yet to meet a female chief warrant officer four.”
Although the number of female aviators seems slow-moving, Sovine says that this change is moving in the right direction.
“Army aviation has become more accessible to women as well as to individuals from all walks of life,” said Sovine. “I feel that we are rapidly becoming a more inclusive organization and aviators are paving the way ahead.”
Sovine describes her experience being both a pilot and a commander as rewarding.
“Even as a new company commander, I feel that command has already been one of the more rewarding duty positions I've held during my service,” said Sovine. “I am hopeful and excited to be able to be part of something larger than myself and also being able to positively and directly impact the lives of those around me.”
“Aviation is always a learning environment,” said Blount. “Whether it’s a junior enlisted maintainer, an experienced operations noncommissioned officer, a new pilot, or a chief warrant officer five instructor pilot, there is always something you can learn from each other. I love being surrounded by professionals that take pride in their work, and I have met so many of them within this branch.
What advice would you give a new female pilot that you wish someone would've told you?
“All soldiers are required to maintain certain standards, but beyond that, what is most important is that you are passionate about your work, dedicated to self-improvement, and humble through failures,” said Blount. “Be eager to learn, easy to teach, willing to help wherever you are needed, and confident that you have earned your place alongside your male peers. You will make mistakes, you will be wrong, you will struggle, just like your male peers. What makes a good pilot, soldier, leader, or professional, is resiliency, persistence, and humility. If you are afraid to fail, you will never push yourself to achieve what you're truly capable of doing.”