Sources: Navy had different standards for women pilots
From Military Affairs Correspondent Jamie McIntyre
June 9, 1997
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Women were treated differently from men in one of the Navy's first units to include female fighter pilots, Pentagon sources, citing an unreleased internal report, told CNN.
The Navy's Inspector General found no intentional discrimination, but criticized how the integration of women was handled in Carrier Air Wing 11, a San Diego-based aircraft carrier unit, sources said.
"I think the biggest concern among the men was whether or not the women would meet the standards -- the same standards that they were meeting," said Lt. Loree Hirschman, an S-3 Viking pilot.
A fatal accident three years ago sparked charges from some quarters that female pilots were being pushed into the cockpit before they were ready.
As a result, critics said, Lt. Kara Hultgreen died in October 1994 after being unable to land her F-14 with a stalled engine safely on the deck of the carrier Abraham Lincoln.
The five women flying fighter planes on that maiden voyage did seem to be struggling -- not only did Hultgreen die, but three others were grounded for poor flying, including the only other F-14 pilot, Lt. Carey Lohrenz.
But Lohrenz defends her skills. "I never had an accident. I never had a mishap. I never had a hook-slap. There were no dangerous in-flight issues that anybody could point to," Lohrenz said.
But her commander at the time insisted she was grounded because she presented a danger, and that her gender had nothing to do with it.
"There is no question in my mind that this individual should not be flying, based on her performance and nothing else," said Capt. Dennis Gillespie, former commander of Air Wing 11.
The Inspector General's report did not find any pattern of discrimination, nor did it substantiate claims of some female aviators, such as Lohrenz, that women were made to meet tougher standards, sources said.
They said the report does criticize Gillespie for insensitivity, ordering unnecessary pregnancy tests and holding separate meetings with female officers, fostering a feeling of separate treatment.
While not ordering a return to flight status for Lohrenz, the report does recommend another look at her record, sources said. She said she would like to fly any plane again.
And the sources said the report does question why higher standards were not applied to a male pilot, Lt. Cmdr. Stacey Bates, who died last year in an F-14 crash in Nashville, Tennessee.
Hot-dogging to show off for his parents, Bates killed his navigator and three people on the ground. He had been allowed to fly despite a previous crash, and prior landing problems.
The Navy was navigating uncharted waters when it introduced women into its combat fighter squadrons back in 1994, but it insists that after a rocky start it's been mostly smooth sailing.
The men and women who now make up Carrier Air Wing 11 have just returned from a cruise aboard aircraft carrier Kitty Hawk, and say it was one of their best deployments ever.
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