Today’s #VeteranOfTheDay is Air Force Veteran Kathy LaSauce, one of the first female pilots in the Air Force and the first woman aircraft commander.
After graduating from college, Kathy LaSauce worked as a high school English teacher in New York. At the time, she felt like she wanted to “do more.” She was interested in serving in the military, as many men her age were then serving in Vietnam, and her brother was in the Air Force. Despite the rule that prohibited women from flying in the Air Force, LaSauce decided to enlist in 1972.
“I went to the Air Force recruiter and my timing was perfect,” she explained in an interview with The Daedalian. “Long Island, New York, had two slots for women to go to OTS [Officer Training School]. I was selected.”
Following her training at OTS, LaSauce went to Chanute Air Force Base in Illinois and became part of the first maintenance officer class to admit women. LaSauce was originally trained as maintenance personnel, but in 1975, legislation was enacted to open more military opportunities to women, and the Air Force announced a test program for training women pilots called Undergraduate Pilot Training. LaSauce and her nine fellow pilots entered the program in 1976 and trained on T-37 and T-38 supersonic aircraft at Williams Air Force Base in Arizona.
“We were considered a test program – a test program because there were political and military leaders who did not want us to succeed,” she said. “I knew that my success as a pilot and my career progression was extremely important to future generations of women who would follow after me.”
Following her graduation from the program in 1977, she was assigned to the 14th Military Airlift Squadron at Norton Air Force Base in California. LaSauce became the first female to pilot the giant cargo jet C-141 Starlifter, logging more than 3,000 hours on it throughout her service. She also became both the first female instructor pilot and flight examiner pilot.
LaSauce was later selected as the first female pilot to fly in the 89th Airlift Wing at Andrews Air Force Base, Maryland. She flew the VC-135 and upgraded to aircraft commander. Eventually, she became the first woman to command an aerial port squadron – one that supported the president of the United States. LaSauce transported important political figures like British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and French President Francois Mitterrand. In 1992, LaSauce retired at the rank of lieutenant colonel.
All 10 pilots of the first female class of 1977 were inducted into the Women in Aviation, International Pioneer Hall of Fame in 2016.
“[The Air Force] trained me, they let me use my mind, they let me use my management skills, they gave me an opportunity to show what women could be capable of, and they allowed me to serve my country to the best of my ability,” LaSauce stated in a 2020 Air Force News article. “What more could you ask for?”
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Writer: Sarah Concepcion
Editors: Merrit Pope, Annabelle Colton
Researcher: Timothy Georgetti
Graphic Designer: Kiki Kelley