For the first time, two female pilots will fly aircraft belonging to Ecuador’s 11th Transport Wing.
In January 2018, Ecuadorean Air Force (FAE, in Spanish) first lieutenants Vanessa del Rocío Puga and Diana Estefanía Ruíz Solís became the first female pilots to join the 11th Transport Wing. The pilots graduated from the Level II Twin Otter Transport Operational Pilot Course at Cotopaxi Air Base. On March 20th, the officers began operational missions in remote areas around the country.
“We now have two female pilots who fly transport equipment. It’s a source of pride for women to fly in the unit and demonstrate all their abilities,” FAE Lieutenant Colonel Edison Puga Castro, 11th Transport Wing commander, told Diálogo. “Women’s participation in military transport aviation is of fundamental importance.”
From November 2017 to January 2018, the pilots trained intensively alongside male officers, which included time in the Twin Otter aircraft flight simulator. All participants concluded the training satisfactorily and achieved FAE’s required standardized score.
“To be the first female pilots of the 11th Transport Wing’s 1113th Squadron is an honor and a source of pride,” said 1st Lt. Puga. “We not only demonstrate every day that we can do it, but we also open doors so that women who come after us can do it better.”
“Thanks to the course and many challenges, we are ready to fulfill the mission any time and any place,” 1st Lt. Ruíz said to Diálogo. “To complete the missions, we have to use all five senses in the plane, inside the cabin, to operate in any emergency situation,” 1st Lt. Puga added.
In Ecuador, pilots work in situations where access is difficult because they operate on unprepared runways, high-altitude airports, and difficult weather conditions. “Military aviation [in Ecuador] takes place in a special terrain. It takes place in the Andes and three additional regions of the country, which makes aviation in the country special,” Lt. Col. Puga Castro said.
The 11th Transport Wing moves armed military personnel and equipment for different security and defense missions in Ecuador. It also carries out air reconnaissance work throughout its national territory as part of the fight against illicit activity. The unit provides support during emergencies and natural disasters. It also implements operations to benefit of the community.
“After March 20th, , our entire squadron will participate in the Wings for Integration operational mission, moving people and cargo to hard to reach areas in the eastern part of Ecuador, also known as Amazonia,” 1st Lt. Ruíz said. “The population of these communities can only travel by air or river; they need our air resources to move around. The Air Force brings hope to that region.”
Lt. Col. Puga Castro pointed out that FAE’s 11th Transport Wing was critical during the April 2016 earthquake. Pilots and airmen carried out hundreds of troop transport and humanitarian aid flights, and brought food and medicine to affected cities.
“The eastern zone of Ecuador [comprising seven provinces], is home to several native communities that are isolated from any help. With these aircraft, we helped the population improve their quality of life and integrate with society,” 1st Lt. Puga said. “Wings for Integration will operate in that region of the country until our Air Force signals another mission,” 1st Lt. Ruíz added.
Female pilots in FAE
To achieve the presence of women in military tasks wasn’t easy. In 1966, FAE opened its doors to the very first woman. In 2000, the Superior Military Aviation Academy received its first female candidates for special officers in social communication, finance, medicine, and architecture. Many years went by before the institution opened its doors to women in aviation missions in 2007.
FAE implemented institutional changes to create the conditions that would allow for the inclusion of women. Transforming some legislation, infrastructure, rules, laws, and regulations was necessary so women could thrive with all the guarantees and rights that would ensure their proper training.
“Ever since female personnel entered FAE, they faced challenges,” Lt. Col. Puga Castro said. “In military operations, physical demands placed on a woman and on a man can’t be the same, but, with flying, it’s different. The demands are the same, and women have to do everything men do.”
“Living with our male colleagues is a challenge,” 1st Lt. Puga said. “However, we are used to it now and give our best every day to continue to integrate with each other and live together in a friendly way.”
Today, FAE has women in a number of branches of aviation such as transport, helicopter rescue, and combat aviation. “Women now have the same opportunities as male officers to rise to the highest ranks in the Air Force because they are military academy graduates. Female pilots can join the FAE command or the Armed Forces command in the future,” Lt. Col. Puga Castro said.
Inclusion is not just a matter for the armed forces, but for society itself. “The doors of FAE are open; the decision now rests with Ecuadorean women. The path is set for them to follow,” 1st Lt. Puga concluded. “Women only have to decide and perform as best as they can with professionalism, effort, and dedication,” 1st Lt. Ruíz added.