First Female KF-16 Pilot

    November 23, 2007 06:37

    A woman who dreamed of becoming a medical doctor 10 years ago has become the first female to pilot the KF-16, the Korean Air Force's state-of-the-art main fighter jet. After finishing her flight on Thursday morning, Captain Ha Jung-mi, 28, climbed out of the cockpit and stood on the runway at the 20th Fighter Wing in Seosan, South Chungcheong Province. She had just created history, overcoming the Air Force's initial reluctance to place a woman in control of the advanced aircraft.

    Ha was commissioned an Air Force second lieutenant in 2002. She piloted an A-37 attack jet until late last year when she applied to pilot a new fighter. The last 12 months were spent in training. In the Air Force's Boramae aerial marksmanship competition last year, Ha won the top prize in the low-flying division for her skills behind the stick of her A-37. But piloting the KF-16 wouldn't be so easy for her.

    First of all, she had to adjust to the higher speed of the new jet. The KF-16 can fly as fast as Mach 2.0, or 2,500 km/h. In training she took it to 450 knots/h, or 720 km/h. She found the KF-16 flying 1.5 times faster than her A-37. While training for dog fighting, she had to learn to deal with nine "Gs" of force pulling against her body in sharp turns. One G is the downward pull of gravity you feel when you're standing on the ground. Nine Gs means you would feel nine times the pull of gravity you normally feel. The extreme force can make piloting the aircraft a difficult task for a woman.

    "After training for gravity acceleration, my thighs and arms would look like they were bruised because the capillary vessels had been ruptured," Ha said. "They would only get back to normal after two to three days."

    Ha made up her mind to become a fighter pilot while a senior in high school, when Air Force officers came to her school to recruit candidates for the Air Force Academy. After listening to them talk about the life of a pilot, she "dreamed of flying in the sky, rather than following a humdrum daily routine on the ground."

    In 2001 while a senior cadet at the Academy, Ha made up her mind to fly a KF-16. As part of an intensive summer training program that year, she visited the 20th Fighter Wing where she was mesmerized by the sleek form of the fighter. She was also envious of the obvious pride of the KF-16 pilots, who are called the Falcon Family. "Ever since I was child I've always focused on the things that I want to get or achieve. It was then that I thought I would pilot one of the fighter jets myself some time in the future."

    The Air Force fully opened its doors to women in 1997 and produced Korea's first-ever female pilot in 2002. Of around 1,900 Air Force pilots, 24 women operate fighter planes, transport planes or helicopters. Only a few countries have commissioned women to operate the F-16. The U.S. has deployed female pilots to each of its F-16 flight squadrons. Taiwan and Italy have none.

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