Patrol Squadron 40 Celebrates Women’s History Month with “Un-Manned” Flight


OAK HARBOR, Wash. (NNS) — Patrol Squadron (VP) 40 executed a pilot proficiency flight on a P-3C patrol aircraft with a crew made up entirely of female aircrew personnel, March 27.

Women have been on board the P-3 for a large part of the aircraft’s long history. The aircraft was first operationally deployed in the early 1960s, and the Navy gained its first female P-3 pilot in 1974. Additionally, VP-40 received its first female aircrew in 1991. Women have established a prominent history of service in the aircraft, but rarely is it seen that an entire flight is manned only by women.

“I’ve never seen a flight like this during my time in the squadron, but I have always wanted to be a part of one,” said Lt. Karmann Deburkarte, an instructor tactical coordinator assigned to VP-40. “We’ve never had the number of women who could fill each of the crew positions we needed all at once.”

There are 11 required crew positions on a full tactical flight crew, including three pilots, two flight engineers, two naval flight officers, three sensor operators, and an in-flight technician.

Deburkarte, attached to VP-40 since March 2014, knew her last flight with VP-40 was approaching and brought the idea to Lt. Cmdr. Megan Donnelly, VP-40’s future operations officer and the command’s senior female pilot.

Preparing a squadron’s flight schedule is a highly logistical process, juggling the goals of the squadron with the goals of individuals.

“I asked Lt. Cmdr. Donnelly if we could do something special for my last flight and also celebrate Women’s History Month at the same time,” said Deburkarte. “She immediately pushed to make this flight a priority.”

“Once Cmdr. Shoemaker [the commanding officer of VP-40] gave it the green light, everyone was excited to make it happen,” said Naval Aircrewman Operator 2nd Class Elizabeth Elliot, one of the acoustic sensor operators on the flight.

VP-40 is made up of 292 personnel, producing 12 tactical flight crews, an administrative department and an operations department, as well as 12 maintenance branches. More than one out of every four enlisted personnel and more than one out of every 10 officers are female.

“I’m so used to being the only girl in a plane full of guys. So this kind of opportunity is rare, and I was proud to be a part of it,” said Elliot.

At the end of the day, while proud of their careers, flying is something that these women are simply trained to do.

“It was exciting in the sense that an all-female flight is so rare,” said Lt. j.g. Ali Haas, one of the pilots on the crew. “At the same time, it doesn’t feel like too big of a deal because we are all just doing our jobs. We just happen to be women.”

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