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351st ARS female flyers conduct B-2 aerial refueling

Aircrew members pose for a photo in front of the “Boss Lady” KC-135 Stratotanker at RAF Mildenhall, England, June 18, 2020. The two female aircrews refueled B-2 Spirits over the North Sea as part of a training mission. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Joseph Barron)

Aircrew members pose for a photo in front of the “Boss Lady” KC-135 Stratotanker at RAF Mildenhall, England, June 18, 2020. The two female aircrews refueled B-2 Spirits over the North Sea as part of a training mission. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Joseph Barron)

Aircrew members from the 351st Air Refueling Squadron conduct a mission briefing before supporting a strategic bomber mission at RAF Mildenhall, England, June 18, 2020. Four KC-135 Stratotankers provided in-air refueling for B-2 Spirit stealth bombers from the 509th Bomb Wing at Whiteman Air Force Base, Missouri. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Joseph Barron)

Aircrew members from the 351st Air Refueling Squadron conduct a mission briefing before supporting a strategic bomber mission at RAF Mildenhall, England, June 18, 2020. Four KC-135 Stratotankers provided in-air refueling for B-2 Spirit stealth bombers from the 509th Bomb Wing at Whiteman Air Force Base, Missouri. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Joseph Barron)

Capt. Marissa Hartoin, 100th Operations Support Squadron chief of wing tactics and instructor pilot, left, and Capt. Jori Ingersoll, 351st Air Refueling Squadron pilot, review KC-135 Stratotanker maintenance records before supporting a strategic bomber mission at RAF Mildenhall, England, June 18, 2020. The 100th Air Refueling Wing provides rapid aerial refueling throughout the U.S. Air Forces in Europe and Air Forces Africa theater. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Joseph Barron)

Capt. Marissa Hartoin, 100th Operations Support Squadron chief of wing tactics and instructor pilot, left, and Capt. Jori Ingersoll, 351st Air Refueling Squadron pilot, review KC-135 Stratotanker maintenance records before supporting a strategic bomber mission at RAF Mildenhall, England, June 18, 2020. The 100th Air Refueling Wing provides rapid aerial refueling throughout the U.S. Air Forces in Europe and Air Forces Africa theater. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Joseph Barron)

Capt. Marissa Hartoin, 100th Operations Support Squadron chief of wing tactics and instructor pilot, left, and 1st Lt. Elizabeth Avara, 351st Air Refueling Squadron pilot, fly a KC-135 Stratotanker over the North Sea June 18, 2020. The aircrew supported B-2 Spirits from Whiteman Air Force Base, Missouri, by providing aerial refueling during their long range training mission. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Joseph Barron)

Capt. Marissa Hartoin, 100th Operations Support Squadron chief of wing tactics and instructor pilot, left, and 1st Lt. Elizabeth Avara, 351st Air Refueling Squadron pilot, fly a KC-135 Stratotanker over the North Sea June 18, 2020. The aircrew supported B-2 Spirits from Whiteman Air Force Base, Missouri, by providing aerial refueling during their long range training mission. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Joseph Barron)

A B-2 Spirit assigned to the 509th Bomb Wing at Whiteman Air Force Base, Missouri, receives fuel from a KC-135 Stratotanker assigned to the 100th Air Refueling Wing at RAF Mildenhall, England, over the North Sea June 18, 2020. The aerial refueling was conducted in support of a strategic bomber mission north of the Arctic Circle. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Joseph Barron)

A B-2 Spirit assigned to the 509th Bomb Wing at Whiteman Air Force Base, Missouri, receives fuel from a KC-135 Stratotanker assigned to the 100th Air Refueling Wing at RAF Mildenhall, England, over the North Sea June 18, 2020. The aerial refueling was conducted in support of a strategic bomber mission north of the Arctic Circle. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Joseph Barron)

Staff Sgt. Kaylene LaRose, 351st Air Refueling Squadron boom operator, refuels a B-2 Spirit assigned to the 509th Bomb Wing at Whiteman Air Force Base, Missouri, over the North Sea June 18, 2020.  Two female aircrews in a four-ship formation refueled B-2 Spirits conducting a strategic bomber mission north of the Arctic Circle. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Joseph Barron)

Staff Sgt. Kaylene LaRose, 351st Air Refueling Squadron boom operator, refuels a B-2 Spirit assigned to the 509th Bomb Wing at Whiteman Air Force Base, Missouri, over the North Sea June 18, 2020. Two female aircrews in a four-ship formation refueled B-2 Spirits conducting a strategic bomber mission north of the Arctic Circle. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Joseph Barron)

A B-2 Spirit assigned to the 509th Bomb Wing at Whiteman Air Force Base, Missouri, departs after refueling with a KC-135 Stratotanker assigned to the 100th Air Refueling Wing, RAF Mildenhall, England, June 18, 2020. The aerial refueling was conducted in support of a strategic bomber mission north of the Arctic Circle.  (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Joseph Barron)

A B-2 Spirit assigned to the 509th Bomb Wing at Whiteman Air Force Base, Missouri, departs after refueling with a KC-135 Stratotanker assigned to the 100th Air Refueling Wing, RAF Mildenhall, England, June 18, 2020. The aerial refueling was conducted in support of a strategic bomber mission north of the Arctic Circle. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Joseph Barron)

RAF Mildenhall, England --

A 351st Air Refueling Squadron training mission, which refueled B-2 Spirits included two all-female crews at RAF Mildenhall, England, June 18, 2020.

The two aircrews were part of a four-ship formation and provided aerial refueling support for the stealth bombers from Whiteman Air Force Base, Missouri, which were flying a long-range strategic bomber mission.

“It was a large formation flight for us,” said Staff Sgt. Samantha Shelton, 351st ARS boom operator. “I don’t think I’ve ever heard of more than one all-female flight going out at a time, so it was kind of a big deal to have a formation with two fully female crews. It was awesome to be a part of.”

The flights were organized by Capt. Meagan Bowman, 100th Operations Group chief of training.

“To my understanding, it was the first KC-135 all-female two-ship formation at RAF Mildenhall,” said Bowman. “For each of us, it was just another routine mission. However, we all hoped it would inspire the next generation of female Airmen to pursue careers that they may have perceived to be out of the norm.”

The crew members hold more than 10,000 combined hours of flight experience and included expectant and current mothers, as well as cross-trainees from the loadmaster, weather and airborne radar technician career fields.

“Though the seven women making up these two crews come from a variety of different personal and military backgrounds, they’ve come together to lead at new levels in our blue skies,” said Bowman. “This formation flight demonstrated the growing participation of female aviators and the initiative to close the gender gap. If this flight reaches and inspires just one young girl, it will have been a success.”

Women make up roughly 20 percent of the Air Force, and an even smaller percentage of aircrew members. Approximately 7 percent of 351st ARS flyers are female. 

“Hopefully it won’t be long before an all-female two-ship formation is no longer the topic of conversation,” Bowman said. ”To the women aviators who have come before us, we salute you and thank you for paving the way towards unlimited opportunities for all.”

The Air Force is continuously working to remove barriers that signal to female Airmen and potential recruits that becoming a parent and being an aviator are incompatible. One such change is the removal of the requirement to have a medical waiver in order to fly during pregnancy.

"Between challenging training, dynamic mission sets, changing circadian rhythms, and balancing home life, women face the same difficulties as male aviators,” said Capt. Jori Ingersoll, 351st ARS pilot. “The best way to overcome this is to communicate and understand your worth to the mission, the unit, and most importantly, your family.”