Female aviators honored during US, Japan ‘Fly Girls’ event

U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Christopher Hubenthal)
U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Christopher Hubenthal)

Female aviators honored during US, Japan ‘Fly Girls’ event

by Tech. Sgt. Christopher Hubenthal
374th Airlift Wing Public Affairs

YOKOTA AIR BASE, Japan -- More than 100 middle school and high school students attended the annual ‘Fly Girls’ aviation event hosted by the 36th Airlift Squadron, as part of International Women’s Day, March 8.

During the event, members of the 36th AS, 459th AS, and U.S. Air Force flying units from Kadena Air Base, Japan, partnered with the Japan Air Self-Defense Force to teach students about the contributions women have made and continue to make in aviation.

“This event helps showcase to our young students how well females work in our air service industries, and we’d like to showcase how well the U.S. Air Force works with the Japan Air Self-Defense Force,” said 1st Lt. Elizabeth Gilliam, 36th AS C-130J Super Hercules pilot. “We had students come up to us and tell us how excited they are to pursue a career in aviation.”

Visiting students were able to fly on military aircraft during incentive flights on a UH-1N Huey, C-12 Huron, and a C-130J flown by an all-female aircrew. Attendees were also able to tour aircraft static displays and engage with U.S. and Japanese aircrew during informal breakout sessions throughout the event.

“I got to fly with about 40 students on a C-130J,” said U.S. Air Force Tech. Sgt. Teara Sapp Becker, 36th AS evaluator loadmaster. “I got to see their excitement when we were opening the ramp and door.”

“The most rewarding experience was watching all the students come back from the flight and saying ‘that was amazing, I loved that, it was so much fun,’” Gilliam added. “I remembered what that was like for me when I was in that same position … I got to see that spark.”

This year’s ‘Fly Girls’ event also marked the 80th anniversary of the founding of the Women Air Service Pilots, which provided aircrew an opportunity to educate students on a historical milestone made by female aviators.

“During World War II, these women were pioneers who flew aircraft, so it seemed like a great tie in for International Women’s Day to talk about our history in aviation and where we are today,” said Sapp Becker.

For some participating JASDF members, like 1st Lt. Ayane Takatori, 401st Tactical Airlift Squadron C-130H Hercules co-pilot, events like these are vital in paving the way for the future of female aviators and the enduring U.S.-Japan alliance.

“This is a valuable opportunity to have cooperation between Japan and the U.S., and I am honored to participate in this International Women’s Day event today,” said Takatori. “I am happy to help broaden these students’ future careers by showing how women can work as pilots and show the strong ties between Japan and the U.S. We don’t have many female pilots in the JASDF, but now younger generations of pilots are increasing. I hope to have more female pilots like me. I’m just happy younger generations are interested in aviation.”

Throughout the day, U.S. and Japanese aircrew were able to engage with students to share their experiences and provide insight on what it takes to be a female aviator, to mentor Yokota’s youth on the important role women play in aviation, the defense of Japan and support to operations across the Indo-Pacific.

“It was amazing to see the excitement they had and to know that I might have played a small part in their life today,” said Sapp Becker. “Being a mom is part of who I am, but I’m also a military member and a wife. There are so many titles that not only females wear, but also our male counterparts. It’s amazing to showcase and bring attention to all these titles our members have and how we can make those meld together in such a way to make our U.S. Air Force and our JASDF be amazing.”

Photo Caption:
Students talk to Senior Airman Megan Irvin, 36th Airlift Squadron loadmaster, to learn what it’s like to serve as aircrew for the C-130J during a ‘Fly Girls’ aviation event at Yokota Air Base, Japan, March 8, 2023. More than 100 middle school and high school students were able to take part in a C-130J incentive flight flown by an all-female crew, tour U.S. Air Force and JASDF aircraft, and listen to U.S. and Japanese aviators’ personal experiences as aircrew during the event. ‘Fly Girls’ served as an opportunity for participants to celebrate International Women’s Day and educate Yokota’s youth about the contributions women have made and continue to make in aviation.

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