By Army Pfc. Jasmine N. Walthall
Special to American Forces Press Service
March 18, 2009 - If a pilot ever finds himself in the cockpit of a North Carolina Army National Guard UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter with a female aviator, he will have no doubt who she is – there's only one. Army Maj. Michele P. Harper became a pioneer of the sky when she graduated from flight school in Fort Rucker, Ala., 16 years ago, becoming the only female Black Hawk pilot in the North Carolina Army National Guard. She's held onto the distinction ever since, but is hopeful that will be changing soon with some up-and-coming female pilots.
"It makes me feel good to have done something that many females have not done," said Harper, a Hendersonville, N.C., native. "But at the same time, I wish more females would go for a nontraditional military role. I mean, it is flattering to say, but I definitely would not mind flying with some females."
According to Harper, whose male colleagues tease her about women allegedly being bad drivers, and therefore worse pilots, women are known to have better landings because they touch down more softly.
"Females always want things to be nice and pretty, and we take that into our flying as well," she said. "Pilots are always complimenting me on what a nice landing I have."
Harper may fly Black Hawks now, but she got interested in flying with her eyes on a much bigger 'bird.'
"I have always and still want to be an astronaut," said the mother of a 17-month-old son, Soren. "Before you apply to the space program, you have to be a pilot first, and I was always at the airport getting on any aircraft that they would let me."
Harper is deployed to Iraq as Task Force 449 Aviation Brigade's administrative officer. Her job consists of overseeing all personnel actions for the Task Force, including pay issues, awards and orders.
"It's the best job," she said. "I have an awesome staff. I love to help people, because I am a people person."
However, for Harper, there is no better experience than the time she spends in the sky.
"I get to see the world," Harper explained about her love of flying. "I get to see so many different things that others may never see. Last night, when everyone else was sitting in their rooms or walking around their office, I was flying over Babylon. How many people can say that? I get the same feeling at home flying over the Blue Ridge Mountains or on the coast. All those places that are inaccessible in a vehicle, I see."
Currently, two women are in training to be pilots, and if Harper gets her way, it will not be long before she is part of an all-female mission.
"The males would not even know what to say," Harper said with a laugh. "They are so afraid to even have two females up front because they have never seen more than one, but it is time to shake them up a bit."
(Army Pfc. Jasmine N. Walthall serves with the North Carolina Army National Guard's Task Force 449.)