Ayesha Farooq became the first operational fighter pilot in the Pakistani Air Force
Bessie Coleman was the first African American pilot to obtain a pilot certificate
Keren Tendler was the first woman to complete the airborne mechanics course
Zahara Levitov was not only a brave warrior, but also a groundbreaking woman
Lieutenant Yael Rom is the first female pilot to cross enemy lines
Zahara Levitov, a pioneering combatant and a groundbreaking pilot, died in 1948 in a crash in Jerusalem. The IAF site marks 67 years since her death and presents other key women in the world of aviation
Zahara Levitov’s life characterized her generation: she was born in 1927 in Tel-Aviv, joined the Israeli “Youth Guard” at the age of 10, graduated from high school and gave up medicine to join the “Palmach” (the elite fighting force of the underground army of the Jewish community in pre-state Israel, the “Hagana”). After the death of her partner, while staying in New-York, Levitov met with a “Hagana” envoy who convinced her to join a secret pilot course in California. This unexpected proposal changed her life completely and later made her a national hero.
Zahara Levitov was not only a brave warrior, but also a groundbreaking woman. Over the years, many determined women have succeeded to break the glass ceiling and change the world of aviation. Presented in front of you are just some of those key female figures.
The First to Cross Enemy Lines
Lieutenant Yael Finkelstein Rom was one of the first female aviators in the Western world to have completed a full military pilot course and to reach the rank of captain in the first half of the 20th century. She was also the first woman who wore the IAF’s pilot’s wings when she completed the fifth IAF pilot course alongside 17 men.
During the 1956 “Kadesh Operation”, the 29-year-old Lieutenant Yael was one of the two pilots in the “Dakota” that led the paratroopers force toward the “Mitla Pass”, and the first female pilot to carry out operational flight inside enemy territory. Lieutenant Rom’s story of success encouraged many other women to join the pilot course and instilled motivation in youngsters who dream of joining the aviation world.
Against All Odds
On 15 July 1921, against all odds, Bessie Coleman was awarded with her pilot certificate. The challenges she faced were obvious: Coleman was a woman, an African American, and the first of all African Americans, men or woman, to obtain a pilot certificate.
Over the years Coleman dreamed of founding the first flight school it the USA where African Americans could also learn how to fly. At the end of April 1926, only a step away from fulfilling her dream, Coleman’s “Curtiss” biplane crashed while she practiced for one of her last airshows. Her short flying career inspired young African Americans over the years, and there are many who look up to her till this day.
Female Aviators in the Muslim World
It seems that breaking the glass ceiling is even harder in the Muslim world, but some women have still made progress. At 23, Niloofar Rahmani was awarded with the International “Women of Courage Award” two months ago. Rahmani acted against terrorist organizations and even relatives who threatened her life and fought to become the first female pilot in the Afghan Air Force since it was taken over by the Taliban in 2001. While the tradition forbids women to fly injured or dead soldiers from the battlefield, Captain Rahmani violated the orders when she discovered injured soldiers when landing during a mission. She flew them to the hospital and informed her commanders of her actions. They decided not to take punitive measures.
Two years ago, Ayesha Farooq became the first operational fighter pilot in the Pakistani Air Force. “In our society, most of the women don’t even think about doing something like flying a plane”, she says. Following the event, the amount of women in the Pakistani army has significantly risen.
Technician with Angel Wings
Master Sergeant Tendler fulfilled a dream as she became the first woman to complete the CH-53 airborne mechanics course. During the 2006 Second Lebanon War, CH-53 helicopters landed combat soldiers deep inside Lebanese territory. Moments after completing its task, one of the soldiers-carrying helicopters was hit by a missile fired by Hezbollah. Master Sergeant Tendler and the other four crew members on the aircraft were killed.
“The F-35 doesn’t notice the sex of the pilot”
Lt. Col. Christine Mau’s story is of great importance to the gender equality efforts. Lt. Col. Mau is the first female F-35 pilot in the world. She says that “the F-35 doesn’t notice the sex of the pilot”, but special skills are definitely required in order to fly it. Lt. Col. Mau was appointed 33rd Fighter Wing Operations Group deputy commander after serving as an F-15 pilot in Afghanistan. She also took part in a special historic sortie executed entirely by women – from the pilots to the technicians and planners.