Lt. Alicia Makoutz deploys as the only female pilot in the Minnesota Air Force Reserves to fly C-130 cargo planes.
There’ll be plenty to keep her busy Tuesday as she leaves on her second deployment. She’ll be flying the airplane.
Now an officer and sporting her married name on her flight suit, Lt. Alicia Makoutz is the only female pilot in the Minnesota-based Air Force Reserves and one of only a handful flying the large military cargo planes.
She and about 100 other members of the 934th Airlift Wing are scheduled to depart for a 120-day deployment that is likely to include missions in Afghanistan and Iraq.
The deployment as a pilot fulfills a girlhood dream for Makoutz, whose twin brother is also in the Air Force.
“All growing up, if you asked me what my dream job is, I’d say to be a pilot,” she said. “If you asked me now what my dream job would be? To be a pilot. Not many people can say that.”
Stationed at Bagram Air Field in Afghanistan during her first deployment, Makoutz worked on the ground in aviation resource management — military speak for tracking crew members’ training, flight hours and aircraft logs. It was her foot in the door. She learned she was accepted to flight school while in Afghanistan.
There were several flight schools, survival school and officer training school. Her husband, Chris, uprooted his business to be with her during 13 months of pilot schooling in Laredo, Texas.
Much of her training was in full-motion simulators, the higher-tech equivalent of Google maps where trainers load data for a real airfield and the student pilot makes the flight on computer screens, accurate down to the barns whizzing by in the landscape below.
But nothing compared to the first time Makoutz actually flew.
“Finally it came true,” she recalled thinking. “I do remember taking off. In the simulator you don’t have the windows down by your feet. That was the first time I actually saw the ground rush under me. I thought, ‘This is the real deal. I’m actually doing it.’ ”
She has always preferred the idea of piloting the hulking and reliable C-130s over fighter jets. She likes the teamwork required and she speaks affectionately of the deafening but reassuring hum the plane’s four turboprop engines make. At 28, she hopes to make flying the planes a career. She says she has never felt targeted because of her gender.
“It’s not a male/female thing; it’s, ‘Hey, you’re a pilot,’ ” she said. “Some people say, ‘Oh, you’re the only girl pilot over here.’ They just assume there’s negative aspects to it. I’ve never felt that way.”
But the club of female pilots remains an exclusive one. In the active duty Air Force, 720 females make up 5 percent of the 13,811 pilots. In Minnesota, another female pilot is rotating in to the reserve wing and there are two female C-130 pilots flying for the Minnesota Air National Guard.
“There are very few women in the military and much smaller female-to-male ratio in the pilot world,” she said. “It’s not an easy thing to be in. When you see one, you say, ‘Hey, we got one more,’ and just give a thumbs-up.”
Americans still going over
The deployment comes when many at home might think things are winding down after more than a decade of war. But the missions reflect the still-tenuous nature of the area. The Youngstown, Ohio-based unit the group is replacing recently delivered humanitarian cargo to thousands of Iraqi refugees isolated on a mountain after fleeing the Islamic extremist group ISIS.
For security reasons, the Air Force is vague about where the group will be stationed, but they are expected to fly missions delivering people, cargo and humanitarian aid to parts of southwest Asia, including Afghanistan and Iraq, the Horn of Africa, and other parts of the Arabian Peninsula.