Women Who Fly

Portraits of female pilots

Susan Still, Lieutenant, United States Navy, Combat Pilot and Astronaut

(Carolyn Russo)

In her flight suit at the Patuxent River Naval Air Station, Maryland, 1993.

“I wanted to be a hairdresser when I grew up. I’d sit on the back of the sofa and my mother would sit in front of me, and as long as it didn’t involve scissors or dye, she’d let me do whatever I wanted to her hair. All the women in my life were nurses, hairdressers, or secretaries, and that’s why I thought my father would not support me in being a pilot. I can remember asking him, ‘What would you think if I told you I wanted to be a pilot when I grow up?’ expecting him to say no or disagree. He said, ‘I think that would be fantastic.’ Had he not said those words, I don’t know what would have happened to me….

Some of the most dynamic flying that I did in the Tomcat was shooting the banner [shooting at a towed target]. I mean, everything happens in a split second. You’re pulling a lot of Gs, your arms are getting tired, you’re having to get your airplane in the exact piece of sky it needs to be in, at the speed and altitude it needs to be at, and you’re using your radar to get the pipper on the bull’s eye on the banner and making sure all your switches are right to shoot the bullets, and you’ve got two other airplanes out there that you have to keep in sight at the same time. So it’s like you need about six more eyeballs and two more hands and another foot to do it all, but it’s very fun when it all comes together and everybody’s doing what they’re supposed to do. You’re going fast and it’s loud and you’re pulling a lot of Gs and you get done with the flight and you’re just sweating.”

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