Flying toward hurricanes is their job, but when they took off over the weekend, they were making history.
As part of the first hurricane hunting mission piloted by an all-female flight crew, Lieutenant Commander Rebecca Waddington and Captain Kristie Twining’s flight to Hawaii marked a major milestone for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
The female pilots regularly fly above and around hurricanes at more than 40,000 feet. When they flew toward Hurricane Hector in Hawaii last weekend, it was the first time two female pilots had shared a cockpit on a NOAA hurricane mission.
“While we are very proud to have made history yesterday by being the first all-female flight crew, we are more proud of the mission we are doing and the safety we are providing for people,” said Waddington, who has been a pilot with the NOAA Corps for eight years.
Since the NOAA Hurricane Hunters program began in the 1960s, no two women had ever piloted a plane together, according to NOAA public affairs officer David Hall.
‘I hope it inspires young women’
As a member of the NOAA Hurricane Hunters, Waddington’s team flies a specially-equipped, high-altitude research jet above and around hurricanes and tropical storms.
In the air for hours at a time, Waddington’s team helps build a vertical profile of the atmosphere near a storm by dropping data collection devices from the aircraft and collecting information about the temperature, humidity, pressure and wind speed at different elevations to be used in storm forecasts and tracking models.
On their eight-hour flight, Waddington said she and Twining circumnavigated Hurricane Hector, a strong category 4 storm. Other than the female camaraderie, the mission was just like any other, Waddington said.
“We have a team of fantastic pilots whether male or female,” she said. “We all get along, we train together, we are very standardized and we are a very cohesive team.”
Most of all, Waddington says she hopes the historic flight will encourage other women to be pilots.
“I hope it inspires young women to show them what is possible and what they can do,” she said.