After nine months of preparations, Second Lieutenant Viviana Yesenia Forero Moncada of the Colombian Army Aviation Branch finished her military rotorcraft pilot course in Bell TH-67 Creek aircraft on April 6, 2018. She is the Army's first female helicopter pilot. Her training took place at the Armed Forces Helicopter School located at the Colombian Air Force’s 4th Air Combat Command in Bogotá.
“Army women are a key and strategic pillar to successfully carry out the institution’s mission. [2nd Lt. Forero] demonstrated having the same capabilities as any other pilot,” Brigadier General Juan Vicente Trujillo Muñoz, commander of the Air Assault Aviation Division of the Colombian Army, told Diálogo. “Her performance in the basic rotorcraft course was outstanding; it confirms servicewomen’s determination and perseverance.”
Due to 2nd Lt. Forero's work in military intelligence, her leadership qualities and discipline, her superiors decided to send her to pilot training at the Army Aviation School. She then entered the Helicopter School, where she became the Colombian Army’s first female helicopter pilot. "This achievement is not for me or for women in the military. It's for the Army, which can count on women in this area,” she said.
Military pilot course No. 56 had a total of 14 students: four officers from Mexico, three from Colombia, two from Guatemala, two from Honduras, two from Costa Rica, and one from the Dominican Republic. The academic program consists of five modules: usage policies; aircraft systems; flight operations; tactical, night, and night vision; and instrument flight. Each module has 22 missions.
All pilots acquired the knowledge and skills necessary to operate a rotorcraft, respond to in-flight emergency situations, maneuver and control the helicopter in diverse terrain, understand aviation terminology, and gain meteorological insight, among others. Participants successfully completed the course after passing each preparatory phase. “I feel proud and grateful to God that I completed the training, which demanded a great deal of rigor and sacrifice,” 2nd Lt. Forero, now studying at the Army Training and Retraining Battalion, told Diálogo.
One exercise that put officers’ skills and abilities to the test was night landings. “It’s a maneuver that requires high levels of concentration,” explained 2nd Lt. Forero. “It was difficult for me because of the control maneuvers and because you have to fly using the night vision system.”
Female officers are already icons to other women serving in the military. “Being the first female pilot of Army Aviation Branch means leading the way for women and comes with an enormous responsibility to uphold the reputation of women in the military,” 2nd Lt. Forero said.
The road to inclusion
The Armed Forces of Colombia began moving toward gender equality at the end of the 20th century with the incorporation of women into their ranks. At first, women served Army Aviation in administrative capacities; then, they began to do maintenance tasks on different aircraft.
Women carry out flight missions in fixed wing aircraft since 2013, and from 2018 in helicopters with 2nd Lt. Forero. “It’s all part of the Army Aviation’s process of transformation and evolution,” said Brig. Gen. Trujillo.
“Women’s full incorporation into the military is still an ongoing process in the defense sector of many countries around the world. But it can be seen as a sign of the progress made with regards to equality in different social and public spheres previously off-limits to women,” Brig. Gen. Trujillo said. “However, in the aviation branch, women participate in all facets of the work, and the number of women in our ranks keeps growing.”
Nearly 100 Colombian servicewomen perform tasks related to flights, maintenance, air traffic, aviation safety, logistics, and aviation medicine. Two women in the Army attained the rank of general. And Sergeant Major (R) Mayerlin Parra was the first female helicopter maintenance technician in Army Aviation.
“Slowly but surely, women join the Army’s different specialties. Now we need to see a female ranger [specialized in irregular warfare],” remarked 2nd Lt. Forero. “We are on the right track to inclusion, and our presence is on the rise in all spheres of military institutions.”
Transition to the Black Hawk
Since the first week of May, 2nd Lt. Forero trains to transition rotorcraft at the Aviation Training and Retraining Battalion. For two months, the Colombia pilot will strengthen her training and preparation to command a Black Hawk UH-60 helicopter.
“It’s the aircraft I want to fly, and now I will have the opportunity to do it. I am proud to be the first female Black Hawk pilot,” said 2nd Lt. Forero. After the transition, she will be able to carry out support operations for combat, combat services, and aerial assault operations as well as reconnaissance and security missions. “These heroic women prove to be up to any task,” Gen. Trujillo said.