The Girls First Lt. Stav, a fighter pilot, First Lt. Noa, a combat navigator, and First Lt. Daniellie, a transport pilot. These young women finished IAF Flight School last week, the first women to grace the ‘wings’ ceremony in more than two years and told the IAF website about the hardships along the way and how they reached the finish line, even when it seemed so far away

By: Yehonatan Maroz

First Lt. Stav was the fourth female in the history of the IAF to become a fighter pilot. She received her wings almost a decade after Roni, the first fighter pilot of the IAF, finished Flight School. Before enlisting in the IAF, Stav volunteered for a year with homeless children.

First Lt. Noa finished Flight School as a combat navigator. She immigrated to Israel from Paraguay at six months old. First Lt. Danielle, the IAF’s newest transport pilot, immigrated to Israel from South Africa at age 5.

Their path to the “wings” ceremony started, just like every soldier, with a manila envelope. First Lt. Danielle, for example, never dreamed of becoming a pilot but she gave the army summons that came in the mail a chance.
“I just continued on with the tests until I was accepted into Flight School and once I was there I realized that I wanted to stay”, she explained. “I think that my first solo flight was the moment that I realized that this was something I wanted to continue to do. That flight was the first time I was completely alone in the air. Everything rests on your shoulders, what you do is what happens. There’s no one to look after you. There is where you really understand how big the responsibility is and what this profession requires”.

First Lt. Noa actually got the offer to join Flight School from her father. “Although I never thought about flying before this, I said ‘let’s try’. From the first tests, it started to pull at me. It was a world I knew nothing about”.

Turning interest and curiosity in the decision to join IAF Flight School into complete certainty, is not easy.
The chance of finishing the longest and hardest course in the IDF is less than 10%, so the statistics certainly were against them. The environment, on the other hand, was supportive.
“My family and friends told me ‘what’s good for you, do it’, I didn’t feel any opposition to joining the course”, says Danielle.
For Noa, the situation was slightly different. “There were some at first who didn’t take it seriously. They thought that being a woman in Flight School was not easy and said to me that it would be very difficult, not in the sense of ‘you won’t succeed’, but in a sense of encouragement. Eventually, as the course continued and advanced, I received only encouragement and support. I haven’t met anyone who said anything different”.

Throughout Flight School itself, no one thought that women were an exception.
“The hardest moment was in the testing flight. I didn’t feel well physically and I was in this atmosphere of testing. You feel that they’re quizzing you, and you have no idea what’s your situation, you don’t get any feedback. These things bring you to a stressful situation where you feel like you have no knowledge. The best way to survive Flight School is step by step. I simply said to myself every time that I needed to get to the next step, without looking at three years forward to the finish because it’s the only point in time that you can’t see because it’s so far away”, said Danielle. “All the time, you need to look at the small step ahead, to pass it, and be satisfied with everything you’ve done up until that point and look forward to the next step”.

The relationship between the girls was the same as the relationship between the boys. At no point did any of the women feel that they were being considered by a different perspective.
“Not one of us felt that they were looking at us differently or making different demands of us”, said Noa. “The feeling that we created was that everyone was here together and there was no different parameters for the boys or girls; it wasn’t relevant in this profession”, said Danielle.

With all of this, it’s still hard to ignore the fact that today in the IAF, very few women serve in aerial crews. How do they explain the situation, despite the ongoing struggle for equality?

“First of all, the first year of Flight School is physically challenging and it makes people worry a bit”, explained Noa. “On top of that, three years of Flight School and nine years in active duty is a lifetime. It’s not suitable for everyone and also not suitable for all women. The other side of it is really a lack of awareness. There are women that don’t know what it means to enlist in Flight School; it sounds so hard to them that they don’t even try. It’s actually something that you can change over the years. It’s seeping down slowly, but it’s impossible to make a change like that quickly. They keep sending the summons to test, and whoever passes, passes. In particular, we think that there should be no difference between men and women, not in recruitment or in testing”.

When asked if they knew that women would get to the finish line of Flight School, they burst out laughing. Despite all of their optimism and determination, it seems that even they couldn’t have known. “You never know”, said Noa smiling. “You don’t know if you have it in you or not until you do it”.