On August 26th, Colombian Army Second Lieutenant Viviana Yesenia Forero Moncada completed her specialized training as a rotary wing pilot with the Colombian Army’s Aviation Training and Retraining Battalion. Upon finishing the basic military pilot course, she enrolled in the four-month course to fly U.S.-made UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters and became the first woman in the Colombian Army to fly these aircraft.
“It’s an honor to escort our soldiers on the ground from the air. They are the ones facing the enemy in the battlefield, and with these aircraft, we are their support,” 2nd Lt. Forero told Diálogo. “As a woman, it’s a great responsibility to show our abilities and training to serve as pilots of the most prestigious helicopters in the world.”
The Colombian forces use the UH-60 Black Hawk for day and night air assault missions to support military operations. The aircraft are also popular for medical evacuations, humanitarian aid missions, and firefighting.
In her fourth year in the Army, 2nd Lt. Forero was admitted to the Armed Forces Aviation School, February 2017. She graduated with honors at José María Córdova Military School and made her marks in military intelligence, her first mission, at which time, her superiors announced she would be enrolled in the military pilot course for rotary wing aircraft.
For Colombian Army Colonel Carlos Mauricio Salgado, commander of the Army’s Aviation Training and Retraining Battalion, the participation of 2nd Lt. Forero in the tactical and technical course for Black Hawk helicopters was a new challenge and a great responsibility. In his 14 years of experience as an instructor certified by the U.S. Army Aviation Center of Excellence at Fort Rucker, Alabama, Col. Salgado had yet to train a woman.
“When she [2nd. Lt. Forero] arrived at the battalion, I made sure she had what it took to be a Black Hawk pilot. I was impressed by her commitment to train, her level of professionalism,” Col. Salgado told Diálogo. “She asked questions all the time, she wanted to know everything about the aircraft and its systems. She spent her time off researching the aircraft. When we visited the workshops where the helicopter was dismantled, she already knew the information and all about the systems.”
From solo flight to the best helicopter
For 2nd Lieutenant Forero, her first solo flight, in which she flew without an instructor yet with a partner, stood out. The exercise marked the end of her basic training. “It was a rewarding experience. I was paired with a colleague from the Mexican Air Force. We did two flights with special maneuvers. When I landed, my family was there. I was very touched. It was the first flight for those of us who took the military basic course in the Bell TH-67 CREEK, a group with representatives of six countries.”
From that point on, she trained as a Black Hawk pilot, with 162 flight hours. The next step is to become a pilot in command, which involves 1,000 flight hours in about 5 years. Determined to accomplish her goal, 2nd Lt. Forero’s also certain of what will follow: to be the Colombian Army’s first female Black Hawk helicopter instructor.
“When I board the aircraft, I don’t think of anything else. We’re one, the mission and I. I’m connected to the success of the operation, to the flight characteristics, by visual rules or instruments,” 2nd Lt. Forero said.
Colombian Air Force Captain (FAC) Alejandra Charry Guilombo has been a UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter pilot in the Special Operations Squadron for more than two years. She was the first—and so far the only—FAC woman to command a Black Hawk.
“More and more women are now commanding this aircraft. The number seems small, but it’s growing,” Capt. Charry told Diálogo. “I’d like to welcome 2nd Lt. Forero and remind her she was chosen to pave the way. We are a generation called on to break paradigms.”
Capt. Charry has more than 2,000 flight hours, 600 as pilot in command of a UH-60. “Colombian female pilots undertake our missions with commitment, responsibility, passion, and emotion, when rescuing people, when you know you have people onboard who trust you and your military forces,” she said.
Both pilots believe the rapport with their male counterparts already changed in the Colombian Armed Forces. Personnel enjoy equal conditions, capabilities, and opportunities. As for the relationship with their superiors and subordinates, it’s rooted in professionalism and deep respect.