USNs first female F-14 pilot killed

NAVY Lieutenant Kara S Hultgreen died on October 25,1994. when her F-l4 Tomcat crashed on a landing approach to the carrier USS Abraham Lincoln operating off the southern Californian coast of the United States. Hultgreen’s back-seater, Radar Intercept Officer (RIO) Lt Matthew P Klemish, ejected and was rescued. Lt Hultgreen (29), was the first woman naval aviator to check out as a combat-ready Tomcat pilot, and the first of the USN’s and USAF’s growing cadre of women combat pilots to lose her life while flying a fighter.

Hultgreen joined the Navy in 1987, when women were barred by Congressional policy from combat-duty cockpits. She was an outspoken opponent of that policy, and strongly advocated opening all cockpits to qualified female aviators. An aerospace engineer as well as a Naval aviator, Lt Hultgreen had also been directly involved in the USN’s work towards developing aircraft cockpits more ergonomically suited to female pilots.

Before checking out in the Tomcat, she flew EA-6As with VAQ-33, one of the USN’s adversary squadrons based in Florida. It was during her A-6 days that, in October 1992, she successfully landed a crippled Intruder during a training flight after the starboard undercarriage refused to lower. Using the port main and nose undercarriage only, she brought the aircraft down with minimal damage.

Lt Hultgreen was certified combat-ready in the F-14 in July 1994 and assigned to VF-213 Black lions at the time of her accident. While she was not highly experienced in the aircraft, neither was she a complete novice in the inherently risky business of carrier flight operations. She had logged 217 hours on the Tomcat and was both day and night-landing carrier qualified, with 50 ‘traps’ (arrested carrier landings) to her credit.

It will be some time before the USN releases its formal accident investigation findings. The accident sequence however, was described by USN sources and reported in the Navy Times. Lt Hultgreen, callsign Flipper, was in the visual overhead landing circuit preparatory to trapping aboard the Lincoln. The weather that afternoon was clear and not a factor in the accident. USN sources stated that her F-14 was overshooting its turn to final approach to the carrier’s deck. The aircraft’s bank steepened and the turn tightened in an apparent attempt to correct back to final approach centreline. The jet’s sink rate increased and the aircraft hit the water about half-a-mile behind the carrier.

The USN have confirmed that both crew members ejected but it is apparent that with the aircraft low, slow, steeply banked and sinking, the ejection seats would be on the edge of their operational envelopes. As a result, the RIO made it, she did not, the deliberate sequenced delay between the two seats firing to prevent them hitting each other proving fatal for Hultgreen. Her body was later found by a Navy salvage team, still strapped to her ejection seat on the sea bed less that 100yds (90m) from her Tomcat. Lt Hultgreen was buried with full military honours on November 21 at Washington DCs Arlington National Cemetery.

Ron Lewis and Van C Sanders

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