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NEWS | March 2, 2021

Women in Flight: 12th FTW exec talks about her love of flying

By Benjamin Faske 12th Flying Training Wing Public Affairs

In 1987, Congress passed Public Law 100-9, which designated the month of March as “Women’s History Month.”

Since then, each president has issued a proclamation to celebrate the contributions women have made in the United States. The 12th Flying Training Wing will highlight one female pilot each week in March by having them answer a series of questions about their Air Force careers.

This week highlights Maj. Vanessa Beaudreault, the 12th FTW wing executive officer, a 2010 U.S. Air Force Academy graduate who grew up in Plano, Texas. She currently flies with the 560th Flying Training Squadron and has flown the T-38, U-28, and PC-12 aircraft. 

Why did you join the Air Force?

It came about when I was applying for colleges. I was going to either go to school in Texas, get a sports scholarship or go to a military academy. My parents and other family members have previously served in the military. My sister was already at the Air Force Academy, so that is how the idea came about.

I love making lists, so I made a pro-and-con list. There were a number of reasons, such as “free” education from one of the best colleges in the U.S. and opportunities like jumping and soaring and being in Colorado. Also, there is a guaranteed job after graduation, uniforms – I wore uniforms all my life and it makes things so much easier – as well as playing Division 1 volleyball and I also liked the military structure.

When I found out I got into the Academy, I immediately called my sister. Before I could say that I was going, she started telling her friends “my sister is coming to the Academy.”

What made you want to be a pilot?

Growing up in a family of six, we typically drove for vacations. In high school, my sister and I flew to see our grandparents in California during the summer. We knew we sounded like little kids instead of teenagers, but it was super exciting. However, it hadn’t crossed my mind that I could be a pilot.

During Operation Air Force in the summer of my freshman to sophomore year at the Academy, I went to Ellsworth Air Force Base, South Dakota. In high school, I wanted to be an architect, but at the Academy, the closest option was a civil engineer.

I visited the civil engineering squadron while I was there and the next day, I went to the B-1 squadron. A previous academy graduate was the aircraft commander and he gave me an opportunity to taxi the B-1 to the hold short line. I wasn’t able to get a flight, but even being able to taxi the B-1 couldn’t compare to anything else I had done. From then on, I knew what I wanted.

What challenges did you face as a female pilot?

I am of average height for a female, but shorter than most male pilots. The first time I strapped into the T-38, I didn’t adjust my seat height, so I couldn’t reach the rudder pedal adjustment handle. 

But seriously, I think it is all about timing. The women who went through pilot training before me are really are the ones who faced and overcame challenges. I have been pretty lucky in that the people I have trained with never treated me differently because I’m a woman. 

My husband, Matthew, is also an Air Force pilot. We have flown all the same aircraft and been in the same squadrons and done all our deployments together, for a combined total of 14. I can’t say it has really been different between us.

We do compete and people like to joke about who is the better pilot. I will say that male and female brains work differently, so one of us may excel in different areas than the other. I bring this up because I think there is an advantage to being married to another pilot.

What do you love most about flying? 

Do you ever have bad days and there is one person that you can go to that helps brighten your day? Flying is the same concept. You are on the ground and the weather is gloomy, but then you take off and bust through the weather to clear skies.

In my mission design series, the mission was exhilarating. It got your heart rate going and the adrenaline rushing.

We were there to get the friendlies/Eagles home safely or make sure the bad guys were found, so they couldn’t hurt anyone else.

Flying at night is amazing as well. If you are downrange, that is when it gets exciting. If you are wearing night-vision goggles, you can see shooting stars, which is kind of cheating! Watching the afterburners light at night during takeoff is amazing.

Any advice for other aspiring female pilots? 

Apply for it. My family really pushed and encouraged me to apply even when I was getting advice from counselors that I wasn’t good enough. My dad always taught me never to pull yourself out of the running for something.

Any interesting stories to share about flying in the Air Force? 

While teaching at undergraduate pilot training, you get to see the day’s people are the happiest – learning to land the plane, going solo or doing well on a sortie.

It’s rewarding when one of your students is struggling with a maneuver and you give them a different technique to try and when they return they are super excited to tell you it worked!

I remember while being a Nacho’s Flight Commander, there was one particular student who was struggling and getting down on themselves. I had a chat with them about looking for the positives (or lack of negatives) in their sorties, debriefs and grade sheets and use that to build their confidence.

To build confidence, I once made my students go to an escape room and figure out how to work together as a team. I learned later how much that meant to them.

When I deployed, there was a large-scale ground operation going on for a few days with multiple sets of friendlies on the ground. Some days were quieter than others.

On this particular day, I was overhead and unable to see the ground due to the cloud ceiling but I was relaying between the JTAC (joint terminal attack controller) and the JOC (joint operations center).

There were troops in contact and they were taking a turn for the worse. Unfortunately, the helicopter overhead had to split time between two operations and his time was running out. You could hear it in the JTAC’s voice that if he lost that close air support his team would be in trouble.

Luckily, we were able to get the helo to stay and I’ll never forget the gratitude we received after that from the JTACs on the ground.