News | Dec. 19, 2023

VP-45 Conducts First All-Female Flight with Support from an All-Female Ground Maintenance Crew

By Jennifer Cragg, Naval Air Force Atlantic Public Affairs

Patrol Squadron (VP) 45 conducted its first all-female flight Sept. 21 aboard a P-8A Poseidon aircraft out of Jacksonville, Florida.

A total of 12 aircrew consisting of eight officers and four enlisted Sailors participated in a training flight above the skies of Jacksonville to train the future of Naval Aviation. In addition to the aircrew, an additional five female ground crew served various maintenance roles to ensure the aircraft met all requirements and was safe for flight.

Lt. Sarah Hoffman, aircraft commander for the flight, discussed reaching this milestone which was three years in the making for her fellow aviators, Lt. Sahara Graft and Lt. Kelsey Smallwood.

“This was such an incredible flight for us. When Kelsey, Sahara and myself checked into VP-45 almost three years ago, we hoped one day we’d be able to conduct an all-female mission flight,” Hoffman said. “We knew it would be difficult to get nine qualified aircrew to fill all of the roles and also be able to schedule us on the same flight with the many demands this job has day-to-day…so to be able to have both maintenance and aircrew be entirely female is something I’ll never forget.”

The flight was special for Hoffman, in that one of her other fellow aviators, Lt. j.g. Alissa Mcnair, hailed from the same hometown as Hoffman.
Senior Chief Aviation Machinist’s Mate Jackie Backlund certified the aircraft safe for flight. 

“I think it is pretty exciting, it is absolutely rare to see an all-female crew to execute the flight from start to finish,” Backlund said. “On our day-to-day requirements, we have maintenance to get done and we execute; however, when I found out it was an all-female flight and I was asked to release the aircraft safe for flight, I thought it was pretty awesome.”

Backlund’s role at VP-45 as the maintenance control supervisor is to ensure all maintenance operations are executed safely and efficiently for their seven P-8A aircraft and provide mission-capable aircraft for aircrew training and readiness. Backlund has been serving in the Navy for 23 years.

“Twenty three years ago I would never have imagined that this type of flight or support from the ground from an all-female team would occur,” Backlund said. 
Graft who assisted with the training flight further discussed the mentorship leading up to this point in her naval career.

“The first female instructor pilot that I had flown with has had such an impact on me because not only was she an incredible instructor pilot, but also because it wasn’t until over two years of flight training that I finally had a female instructor,” Graft said.

Smallwood, a naval flight officer, served as the mission commander, reflected on the experience several years in the making.

“It was an incredible experience to be a part of a flight with an all-female aircrew and it was even better that the maintenance team to release the aircraft was also all-female. I’m incredibly grateful to Skipper Zdunkiewicz for his support and the opportunity to be a part of this flight,” Smallwood said. “It’s one flight I will remember for the rest of my life. This was an incredible flight that I will never forget, and it is incredibly humbling and exciting to take part in a historic milestone for VP-45. I am also truly grateful to our wonderful ladies who all took part in the flight today, both flying and launching and recovering the aircraft.”

Cmdr. Michael A. Zdunkiewicz, VP-45 commanding officer emphasized the milestones achieved with their first flight.

“As a father of a daughter, all of the VP-45 women continue to pave the way to the future for not only Naval Aviation, but the Navy as a whole,” Zdunkiewicz said. “So very proud, honored and humbled by their accomplishment today and so very honored to serve with this outstanding team.”

The aircrew participating in this flight included: Hoffman, Graft, Smallwood, Lt. Eliza Austin, Lt. Ashley Heath, Lt. Savannah Clarke, Lt. j.g. Aubrey Ossenmacher, Mcnair, Naval Aircrewmen (Operator) 2nd Class Alexia Heninger, Naval Aircrewmen (Operator) 2nd Class Evelyn Valenzuela, Naval Aircrewmen (Operator) 2nd Class Paige Rossi and Naval Aircrewmen (Operator) 2nd Class Savannah Murray.

The maintenance crew consisted of Backlund, Aviation Ordnanceman 1st Class Natalie Martin, Aviation Machinist’s Mate 2nd Class Alia Teamer and Aviation Electronics Technician 2nd Class Kaitlyn Kaluzny.