WASHINGTON — One of Congress’ military aviation veterans is pushing for her colleagues to honor a fellow female veteran for her actions to land a passenger plane whose engine exploded mid-flight this week.
Rep. Martha McSally, R-Ariz., introduced a resolution Thursday commending Southwest pilot Tammie Jo Shults “not only for her commitment to the safety of the passengers on her plane, but for paving the way for women in military and commercial aviation.”
In a statement, McSally said the move is important to highlight Shults not only for her recent actions but her impressive life of work.
“Captain Tammie Jo Shults is nothing sort of an American hero,” she said.
“The Air Force and the Navy made a big mistake when they decided not to let her fly in combat, but her courage and her calmness under pressure from all of her years of fighter pilot experience is a reminder that the airplane doesn’t care if you are a man or a woman as long as you have the qualifications and the training to complete the mission.”
One person was killed and seven more injured Tuesday when a twin-engine Boeing 737 flying to Dallas lost an engine after leaving New York. Passengers and aviation experts praised the pilot’s calm demeanor and skillful flying in landing the damaged plane in Philadelphia without further injury to the 148 other passengers.
Since then, Shults’ military experience has drawn headlines and praise. She was commissioned in the Navy in 1985 and became one of the service’s first female fighter pilots, and the first woman ever to pilot F/A-18 Hornets. But military officials barred her from flying in actual combat missions.
Instead, she became a renowned military aviation instructor. She retired from the reserves in 2001.
Shults’ co-pilot on the Southwest flight was also a former military aviator: Air Force veteran Darren Ellisor. The pair released a statement Wednesday saying they were “simply doing our jobs” during the accident and “our hearts are heavy” over the death of a passenger.
McSally, who retired from the Air Force as a colonel in 2010, flew combat aircraft above Iraq in the mid-1990s and called Shults’ military career an inspiration.
“Not only did she pave the way for women like me in aviation, but husbands, wives, mothers, fathers, sons, and daughters are alive today because of her,” McSally said.
Leo covers Congress, Veterans Affairs and the White House for Military Times. He has covered Washington, D.C. since 2004, focusing on military personnel and veterans policies. His work has earned numerous honors, including a 2009 Polk award, a 2010 National Headliner Award, the IAVA Leadership in Journalism award and the VFW News Media award.