“How Good They Really Are”

Alice Miller Two and a half years have passed since women were last on the stage at the ceremony concluding Flight School. Now, three new graduates will end the draught: First Lt. N, a combat navigator, First Lt. D, a transport pilot, and First Lt. S, the fourth female combat pilot. The IAF caught up with Alice Miller, the person responsible for opening IAF Flight School to women, in her new home in India

Gal Goldstein

Over 15 years have passed since the Supreme Court of Israel heard a petition from a 23 year old South African immigrant to Israel, Alice Miller, a female who wanted to take the tests in order to be accepted to IAF Flight School. Alice won her case in November 1995 and her petition lead to the opening of IAF Flight School to women and the long process that would pave the way for females to serve in combat positions in the IAF. Even though she succeeded in opening the doors of Flight School to women, Alice herself never crossed the threshold, having failed the medical examinations. Only four years after the highly publicized court case, the first female combat navigator graduated. In 2001, the first female combat pilot graduated Flight School.

Since December 1998, when the first female graduated Flight School as a combat navigator, more than 20 women have joined as pilots, navigators, and technicians of combat planes, transport planes, and helicopters. They all owe a debt of gratitude to Alice for her struggle with the IDF and the Ministry of Defense. This week, with the completion of a three year course at IAF Flight School, three additional women will be able to climb the steps towards the cockpit.

The IAF magazine caught up with Alice on the eve of the graduation of the three women from Flight School.

“Really? Two and a half years have passed since a female graduated? You really surprised me. I’m not in Israel and I’m not so involved with things. Congratulations to all of the girls who finished Flight School, I really admire them. I have no doubt that it was a thousand times harder for them than the boys in Flight School. I studied aeronautical engineering at the Technion (Israel Institute of Technology). We were four women in a class of 24, which was a high percentage of women then and we were the best in the class in terms of our grades. Why am I telling you this? Because when you have a female in a male dominated system, she needs to do very well. It’s not easy at all. The difficulties that she faces in Flight School don’t end there. Now they will need to join a squadron. I’m sure there will be many instances where they will need to remember how good they really are. There’s nothing you can do. Female pilots are not the norm. Not yet”.

Are you excited to hear that the new graduates include women or does it seem trivial to you?

“It seems to me that this is how it should be. There’s no reason that the integration of women in flight shouldn’t work. It exists and works throughout the world, so there’s no reason that it wouldn’t succeed in Israel. Slowly the IAF will find a way to integrate women properly and it will become logical”.

The selection of women for Flight School has gradually changed through the years. Until January 2007, women preparing to join the army that were interested in trying out for Flight School had to contact the IDF. In order to increase the number of female applicants to Flight School, the IDF decided the same year to reach out directly to women whose initial scores fit the criteria of acceptance to Flight School.

These women were then invited to a conference where they were given more information about Flight School and given further testing. The top 1,000 women are invited for a final round of selection.

Recently, further progress was made in providing equal opportunities for women when the IDF decided to work harder to close the gap between the number of men who make it to the final round of selection, which is usually about 4,5000, and the number of women, which had increased to around 1,500. The selection process will improve over the next two years as the IAF receives full autonomy over the selection process for Flight School from the all encompassing IDF Recruitment and Placement Unit. The IAF selection unit will work on creating a new selection process for women, while reducing the gap between the number of women and men in the selection process.

“Obviously, the identification process for Flight School should be the same for women and men, there’s no other way. Why should there be another way? Maybe there’s a girl who will give up immediately because it’s complicated. I know some of my male friends that didn’t want to be, didn’t dream to be pilots and they received invitations to take the tests, so they went, passed, and volunteered for Flight School, finished it and became pilots”, said Alice.

In the future, do you believe the number of male and female graduates of Flight School will be the same?

“I have no idea. I don’t know what the reason is that women didn’t succeed in finishing Flight School in the past few years. It’s something that needs to be looked at. Today I’m not involved in those issues; I’m far away and am involved in other things. Other armies, like the US and India, need to be looked at. There, women serve as pilots and can understand what mistakes were made here. It can’t be that a girl who wants to be a pilot and can be a pilot isn’t found. There are enough talented women out there”.

If there are enough male graduates of Flight School, why does there necessarily need to be women amongst the graduates as well?

“I don’t know if there are enough pilots. Some years very few people finish Flight School and some years more. There’s no question of enough. There’s no doubt that if there are a few dozen or hundred thousand candidates to choose from and suddenly you add 50 percent of the population and you multiply the numbers by two, you can get better pilots”.

Do you think that if you were in the selection process at a time when it was common to see women in Flight School that you would have finished it?

“It’s too hard to answer a question like that. It’s hypothetical”.

When you think about Flight School today, do you feel like you missed an opportunity?

“20 Years ago I thought about that a lot. Today I sit here, I look at the river of the Indian Himalayas and I am very happy that I wasn’t a pilot. When you’re satisfied with what you have, it’s hard to regret the past. Like our mothers say, when one door closes, another one opens. I have no regrets at all, not that I petitioned to the Supreme Court and not that I failed the entrance tests. It’s all part of life”.