2023 Gala Honoree – Lourie DeBoer

Lourie A. DeBoer

A native of Sacramento, California, Chief Warrant Officer 5 Lourie DeBoer graduated from the University of Alaska, Fairbanks with a Bachelor of Science in Mechanical Engineering in 1995 and was commissioned as a U.S. Army Warrant Officer in 1997. Designated an Army Aviator in 1998, she reported to A Company, 3-158th Aviation Regiment “Blue Stars” in November of 1998, flying as a UH-60 Blackhawk helicopter assault pilot out of Giebelstadt, Germany. During this assignment, she supported NATO’s Operation Allied Force in Kosovo, and POTUS support in Madrid, Spain.

In 2001, DeBoer joined A Company, 1-159th Aviation Regiment “Blacksheep” out of Fort Bragg, North Carolina. While there she flew in support of Operation Bahamas Turks and Caicos, a multiservice mission aimed at fighting the drug cartels in the Caribbean Basin, flew National Capital Region air security operations for Homeland Defense, and deployed to the combat theater in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom II in 2004 and again in 2005. She served during these combat tours as pilot-in-command for the commanding generals of both the Multi-National Forces-Iraq and the Multi-National Corps-Iraq, and as the only dual-tracked instructor pilot and maintenance test pilot.

In 2006, DeBoer reported to B Company, 2-2 Aviation Regiment “Renegades”, K16, Seoul, South Korea. During her time there she earned a qualification as a Demilitarized Zone pilot-in-command.

In 2007, CW5 DeBoer reported to the Maintenance Test Pilot Course at Fort Rucker, Alabama, and served as both a Maintenance Test Pilot Examiner and as an Instructor Pilot. In 2009, she was selected to be the UH-60 MTPC Track Chief, making her the first woman to hold this position for any MTPC airframe track in the U.S. Army. Prior to her departure in 2010, she completed the flight evaluations to become a Department of Evaluation and Standards Maintenance Examiner Designee.

In 2011, CW5 DeBoer reported to the 1st Cavalry Division in Fort Hood, Texas, and immediately deployed to Sharana, Afghanistan, as the Aviation Maintenance Officer for Task Force Attack, 1-227th Aviation Regiment “First Attack”. After re-deployment she served as the Aviation Maintenance Officer for the 3-227th Assault Helicopter Battalion “Spearhead” and became the 1st Cavalry Brigade Aviation Maintenance Officer (BAMO), making her the first woman to hold a BAMO position in the U.S. Army. She was later by name requested to deploy with the 1st Cavalry Division to RC-South Afghanistan in 2014.

In 2016, CW5 DeBoer completed her MBA in Project Management, was promoted to Chief Warrant Officer 5, and was selected to attend the U.S. Naval Test Pilot School. She graduated in 2018 as an Unrestricted Experimental Test Pilot and reported to the Aviation Flight Test Directorate in Redstone, Alabama to serve in the Army as a Test Pilot and maintenance examiner. While assigned to AFTD, she was the Test Director and test pilot for the UH-60V development, Degraded Visual Environment Pilotage System, UH-60A/L/M improved Upturned Exhaust System, multiple Aircraft Survivability Equipment systems and the Towed Airborne Plume Simulator proof of concept for low airspeed testing. CW5 DeBoer reported back to USNTPS this year to serve as a rotary wing instructor on the UH-60 and UH-72 aircraft,

Her personal decorations include two Bronze Stars, four Meritorious Service Medals, one Air Medal, five Army Commendation Medals, two Army Achievement Medals, two Meritorious Unit Commendations, the National Defense Service Medal, two Afghanistan Campaign Medals, the Iraq Campaign Medal, the Kosovo Campaign Medal, The Global War on Terrorism Expeditionary Medal, The Global War on Terrorism Service Medal, three NATO medals and the Korea Defense Medal.

 

 

2023 Gala Honoree – Elizabeth Somerville

CAPT Elizabeth M. Somerville

Captain Elizabeth Somerville attended the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, graduating in 1999 with a Bachelor of Science degree in Aeronautical and Astronautical Engineering and receiving her commission through the NROTC program. Following flight training in Pensacola, Florida, CAPT Somerville earned her Wings of Gold as a Naval Flight Officer in October of 2000 and reported to VAQ-129 for fleet replacement training in the EA-6B Prowler.

In November of 2001, she completed her training and reported to the Shadowhawks of VAQ-141 for a Mediterranean deployment onboard USS THEODORE ROOSEVELT (CVN 71.) During this tour, she participated extensively in combat operations in Operation IRAQI FREEDOM as a Prowler Tactics Instructor.

After her tour with VAQ-141, she was accepted into the US Naval Test Pilot School (USNTPS)Cooperative Program and reported to the Air Force Institute of Technology (AFIT) in May of 2004 andthen graduated as a member of USNTPS Class 130 with a Master of Science degree in Aeronautical Engineering as part of the TPS Co-Op program.

After Test Pilot School graduation, Somerville joined the Dust Devils of VX-31 in China Lake, CA. While at VX-31, her flight test roles consisted of the test and evaluation of F/ A-18D, F/A-18F and EA-18G weaponsand aircraft software and was responsible for the initial flight test of the EA-18G Growler.

In July 2009, she once again reported to VAQ-141 as a Department Head, joining them right as the quadron completed a transition from the EA-6B to the EA-18G. During this tour, she served as Operations Officer for the upcoming maiden aircraft carrier deployment of both the EA-18G and the USS George H. W. Bush (CVN 77) in support

Somerville was selected Command the “Dust Devils” of Air Test and Evaluation Squadron THREE ONE (VX-31) in China Lake, CA. She assumed the duties of Chief Test Pilot in January 2016 and CommandingOfficer in July 2017. As the CO of VX-31, she led a team responsible for the developmental flight test for aircraft software development and weapons testing for the F/A-18 A-F, EA-18G, AV-8B. Additionally, the command was responsible for conducting Search and Rescue (SAR) with the MH-60S for the southern California and high desert region. Following VX-31, she reported to VX-23 as the Chief Test Pilot of theVX-23 Salty Dogs in Patuxent River, MD in October of 2019 and Commanding Officer in July 2021.Following VX-23 CAPT Somerville reported to her current position as Commander, Naval Test WingAtlantic in August of 2022.

2023 Gala Honoree – Sarah Abbott

CDR Sarah E. Abbott

Commander Sarah “Killface” Abbott is a 2003 graduate of the United States Naval Academy with a B.S. in Aerospace Engineering (Astronautics). Following commissioning, she attended Stanford University where she worked as a Research Assistant in the GPS Laboratory and earned a M.S. in Aeronautics and Astronautics in 2005. CDR Abbott was designated a Naval Aviator in August of 2007 and selected F/ A-18s.After flight school, she received orders to the “Flying Eagles” of VFA-122 at NAS Lemoore for F/A-18E/F Superhornet training.

CDR Abbott’s first operational fleet tour was from 2008-2011 with the VFA-2 “Bounty Hunters” based at NAS Lemoore, CA. She deployed to the Western Pacific with Carrier Air Wing 2 aboard USS ABRAHAM LINCOLN (CVN-72) in support of Operations ENDURING FREEDOM and NEW DAWN. In August 2011, CDR Abbott was selected to attend USAF Test Pilot School as a Navy exchange student. Upon completion of the experimental test pilot syllabus, CDR Abbott reported to the VX-31 “Dust Devils” at NAWCWD China Lake, CA. In October of 2015, she checked in as a Department Head with the VFA-147 “Argonauts” located in Lemoore, CA. She deployed with the Carrier Air Wing 17 in 2017 aboard USS NIMITZ (CVN-68) in support of Operation INHERENT RESOLVE.

In 2017, CDR Abbott joined the NAVAIR team as an Aviation Engineering Duty Officer (AEDO) and served as the PMA-242 Military class desk, providing technical guidance and tactical insight to eight diverse IPTs in the Direct and Time-Sensitive Strike Weapons portfolio. She participated most significantly in the development of the Advanced Anti-Radiation Guided Missile Extended Range (AARGM-ER) ACAT 1 development program from System Requirements Review (SRR) to Engineering and Manufacturing Development (EMD) contract award and Critical Design Review. In 2020, she joined PMA-259 as the AIM-9X Deputy Program Manager, where she managed cost, schedule, and performance for the production, development, and sustainment of the AIM-9X family of Air-to-Air missiles. Following this role, she worked as the integration lead for a critical capability for the Air Wing of the Future. In October of 2022, CDR Abbott took over as the F/A-18 E/F Superhornet Deputy Program Manager at PMA-265.

CDR Abbott has over 1900 hours in 31 different aircraft over 300 arrested carrier landings. Her personal awards include a Meritorious Service Medal, two Strike/Flight Air Medals, two Navy Commendation Medals, and various campaign and unit awards.

2023 Gala Honoree – Erin Miller

Erin Miller

Erin Miller is the proud granddaughter of Elaine Danforth Harmon, a Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASP) member during WWII. Her grandmother’s last request was to be laid to rest at Arlington National Cemetery (ANC). After she died in April 2015, this request was denied by the US Army which runs ANC. Erin led a grassroots, social media, and direct lobbying campaign to fight the decision. This campaign was a success.

The Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASP) was a women pilots’ organization, whose members were officially United States federal civil service employees. Members of WASP became trained pilots who tested aircraft, ferried aircraft, and trained other pilots. Their purpose was to free male pilots from combat roles. Despite various members of the armed forces being involved in creating the program, the WASP and its members were given no military standing.

The records of the WASP program, like nearly all wartime files, were classified and sealed for 35 years making their contributions to the war effort little known and inaccessible to historians. However, there were unofficial historians, like WASP, Marty Wyall, who collected scrapbooks and newspaper clipping about what the WASP members had done and what they had gone on to do. Wyall also suggested in 1964, at a Ninety-Nines convention, that the remaining WASP members should meet up with one another every other year.

On May 20, 2016, President Obama signed H.R. 4336, the bill introduced in Congress by Representative Martha McSally (AZ-2) in January 2016, which then became a law to recognize the service of WASP as eligible for ANC officially. The funeral was held on September 7, 2016, at ANC. This was followed by a family memorial service at the Women in Military Service for America Memorial, where Erin, her mother Terry, her sister Tiffany, Air Force pilots Lt. Col. Caroline Jensen and Maj. Heather Penney and Representative Martha McSally spoke to honor Elaine’s life and service. Erin is a licensed attorney in Maryland. She has a J.D. from the University of Maryland School of Law, a Master’s in international studies from the University of Leeds (UK), and a B.A. in History from the University of California, San Diego

2023 Gala Honoree – Ellen Ochoa

Ellen Ochoa

Ellen Ochoa’s 30-year career at NASA culminated in serving as Director of NASA’s Johnson Space Center from 2013 to 2018, leading the human space flight enterprise for the nation. She became the first Latina to go to space when she served on a nine-day mission aboard the shuttle Discovery in 1993. She has flown in space four times, logging nearly 1,000 hours, leading onboard scientific activities, operating the robotic arm, and serving as flight engineer during the launch, rendezvous, and entry phases of the mission.

Dr. Ochoa became the first Hispanic woman to go to space when she served on a nine-day mission aboard the Space Shuttle Discovery in 1993. The purpose of the Shuttle mission was to study the Earth’s ozone layer. A veteran of four space flights, Ochoa has logged nearly 1000 hours in space. She was a mission specialist on STS-56 (1993), was the payload commander on STS-66 aboard Space Shuttle Atlantis (1994), a mission specialist and flight engineer on STS-96 again aboard Space Shuttle Discovery (1999), and STS-110 once again aboard Space Shuttle Atlantis (2002).

From 2007, after retiring from spacecraft operations, Ochoa served as Deputy Director of NASA’s Johnson Space Center, helping to manage and direct the Astronaut Office and Aircraft Operations. On January 1, 2013, Ochoa became the first Hispanic and second female director of the Johnson Space Center

Dr. Ochoa is the recipient of many awards including NASA’s highest award, the Distinguished Service Medal, the Presidential Distinguished Rank of the Senior Executive Service, the RNASA National Space Trophy, and eight honorary doctorates. She is in the Astronaut Hall of Fame, the Government Hall of Fame, the California Hall of Fame, and the International Air & Space Hall of Fame.

Prior to her astronaut and management career, Dr. Ochoa was a research engineer and holds three patents for optical systems. She earned a Ph.D. and M.S. in Electrical Engineering from Stanford and a B.S. in Physics from San Diego State University. She is a member of the National Academy of Engineering and a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA), the National Academy of Inventors (NAI), and the Optical Society of America (OSA).

2023 Gala Honoree – Vicky Benzing

Vicky Benzing

Vicky Benzing’s love for flying began as a child in Watsonville when she flew with her uncle in his plane. She discovered a passion for skydiving in college and shortly after informed her parents she wanted to be a pilot. She then began learning to fly in a family friend’s 1940 Taylorcraft.

Vicky Benzing’s talents spread across the aviation spectrum; she is an accomplished pilot, skydiver, air racer, and aerobatic performer. Her appreciation for all things aviation is shown not only through her diverse talents but also through the aircraft she performs at shows around the country. She flies her powerhouse vintage 1940 Boeing Super Stearman aerobatic biplane and her unlimited aerobatic airplane, a candy-colored Extra 300S.

Vicky began her aerobatic training in 2005 under air show legend Wayne Handley, but her aviation career extends far beyond that. She has been flying for more than 30 years and holds an Airline Transport Pilot certificate, as well as commercial ratings in helicopters, seaplanes, and gliders.

Aside from performing around the country, Benzing is also a fearless air racer. In 2015 at the National Championship Air Races in Reno, Nevada, Benzing was named the fastest woman in the history of the races, flying at a speed of over 469 mph around 50 feet off the ground.

“It’s really cool to be able to earn the respect of the other racers. I do it because I enjoy the camaraderie and being part of such a historic event,” she said of the championship races.

When talking about doing an airshow performance with her vintage Stearman, she has said, “I do stunts similar to what the WWII cadets would have done when they were learning aerial maneuvers, things like loops and rolls and hammerheads,” Benzing said. “I perform right at show center, right in front of the audience, down low, with lots of noise and smoke.”

When commenting about her life of flying, Vicky has said, “It was love at first flight, let me tell you. It’s been a passion throughout my whole life.”

2023 Gala Honoree – Tammie Jo Shults

 
Known for being one of the first female fighter pilots to serve in the United States Navy, following active duty she became a pilot for Southwest Airlines. She retired from Southwest Airlines in 2020.
 
Tammie started her career as a naval aviator as a flight instructor in T-2 Buckeye. She then trained and qualified to fly the A-7 Corsair II and joined VAQ-34, a Tactical Electronic Warfare Squadron. This squadron was the first operational air squadron to be commanded by a woman, CAPT Rosemary Mariner.
In December 1995, she was promoted to lieutenant commander then transitioned to the Navy Reserve, where she flew the EA-6B Prowler and was one of the first women Naval Aviators to fly the F/A-18 Hornet. In August 2001, she retired from the Navy.
 
After leaving the Navy, Shults joined Southwest Airlines as a pilot, flying a part-time schedule of 8–10 days per month so that she could also raise a family following her marriage to fellow naval aviator Dean Shults.
 
On April 17, 2018, as captain of Southwest Airlines Flight 1380, a Boeing 737-700 full of passengers, the aircraft suffered an explosive engine failure with debris causing severe damage and rapid decompression of the aircraft. The plane was in big trouble and did not want to continue flying. Tammie and her copilot were able to keep control of the jet and land it safely. If you would like to do further reading about Tammie Jo Shults, she has a terrific book out called Nerves of Steel.

2023 Gala Honoree – Eileen M. Collins

Eileen M. Collins is a former astronaut and a retired U.S. Air Force colonel. She retired from the Air Force in Jan 2005 and from Nasa in May 2006 after a 28-year distinguished career. A former military instructor and test pilot, Collins was the first female pilot and first female commander of a space shuttle.

During her early career as a pilot in the U.S. Air Force, Collins flew the T-41 Mescalero, T-37 Tweet, T-38 Talon, and the C-141 Starlifter. Then, she was selected for the USAF Test Pilot School at Edwards Air Force base. 

At Edwards, she flew several types of aircraft, including the Lockheed Tr-1, P-3 Orion and the C-130 Hercules, the de Havilland Canada UV-18 Twin Otter, the Boeing KC-135 Stratotanker, Cessna A-37 Dragonfly, Learjet 24, Beechcraft King Air, General Dynamics F-16 Fighting Falcon and the F-111, McDonnell Douglas F-4 Phantom II, Vought A-7 Corsair II and the Goodyear Blimp. Collins graduated from the Air Force Test Pilot School at Edwards Air Force Base, California in 1990.

She was selected by NASA and became an astronaut in July 1991. After tours at Kennedy Space Center (shuttle launch and landing) and Johnson Space Center (shuttle engineer and capsule communicator), she flew the space shuttle as the pilot in 1995 aboard Space Shuttle Discovery. She was also the pilot for Space Shuttle Atlantic in 19971, where her crew docked with Russian Space Station MIR. Collins became the first woman commander of a U.S. spacecraft with a mission aboard Space Shuttle Columbia in 1999, the deployment of the Chandra X-Ray Observatory. Her final space flight was as commander of Space Shuttle Discovery in 2005, the “Return to Flight Mission” after the tragic loss of Columbia. She has logged more than 6,651 hours in 30 different types of aircraft and more than 872 hours in space as a veteran of four space flights. 

Collins currently serves on several boards and advisory panels, is a professional speaker and an aerospace consultant. She is married with two children. 

Collins is also a member of the Air Force Association, Order of Daedalians, Women in Aviators, Women in Aviation International, U.S. Space Foundation, the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics, and the Ninety-Nines. 

Rhea Seddon

In February 2020, the Palm Springs Air Museum honored Rhea Seddon for her outstanding achievements in space as a NASA Mission Specialist. Her portrait was added to the Museum’s “Wall of Fame.”
 
Margaret Rhea Seddon had been awarded her doctor of medicine (MD) degree in 1973. She did her internship at the Baptist Memorial Hospital, Memphis and three years of residency at the University of Tennessee hospitals in Memphis. While there, she was the only woman in the General Surgery Residency Program.
 
In 1978, she applied for and was accepted into NASA as an astronaut candidate. Within a year, she started training as a mission specialist for her first Space Shuttle mission STS-51-D. The mission took place in April 1985 with the Space Shuttle Orbiter Discovery. Her second mission was STS-40 in June 1991 and was a dedicated space and life sciences mission with the Spacelab on board the Space Shuttle Orbiter Columbia. Her third trip into space was in October and November 1993, again with the Spacelab Life Science module on board the Orbiter Columbia.
 
Her work at NASA also included the development of the Space Shuttle Orbiter and payload software, the Shuttle Avionics Integration Laboratory, Flight Data File, Shuttle medical kit and checklists for launch and landing. She was a rescue helicopter physician for the early Shuttle flights and a support crew member for STS-6. She served on NASA’s Aerospace Medical Advisory Committee, as Technical Assistant to the Director of Flight Crew Operations, and as a Capsule Communicator (CAPCOM) in the Mission Control Center. In September 1996, she was detailed by NASA to Vanderbilt University Medical School in Nashville, Tennessee. She assisted in the preparation of cardiovascular experiments that flew aboard Space Shuttle Columbia on the Neurolab Spacelab flight in April 1998. Seddon retired from NASA in November 1997. She subsequently became Chief Medical Officer of the Vanderbilt Medical Group.
Rhea and her husband Robert “Hoot” Gibson at the Palm Springs Air Museum’s 2020 Gala.

Jacqueline “Jackie” Cochran

Jacqueline “Jackie” Cochran was born into poverty in the Florida Panhandle. At a young age, she became determined to make something of herself and to do great things and that she did.
 
Becoming a beautician was her initial route to a better life. The next step was to get her pilot’s license and with that, she was on her way. Within two years, she had entered her first air race. This was 1934, and there weren’t many women pilots. She started to race airplanes against men who still considered air racing a “men’s sport”. Much to the male pilot’s surprise, she was very good and in 1938 beat them all to win the prestigious Bendix Trophy cross-country Air Race!
 
As WWII started in Europe, Jackie found a way to help by flying Lockheed Hudson bombers over the Atlantic to the RAF in England. In doing so, she became the first woman to pilot a bomber over the North Atlantic. On one occasion, her airplane was shot at by the enemy.
 
When the Women Airforce Service Pilots, the WASPs were formed, Jackie became the Commanding Officer. For her work in support of the war, she received the Distinguished Service medal.
 
With the war’s end, Jackie went back into air racing and record-breaking flights. In 1953 she did an “aviation first” in a spectacular way. In the airspace above Edwards Air Force Base, while flying a Canadian-built F-86 Sabre jet, she became the first woman to break the sound barrier! She did this by climbing the jet to a high altitude, rolling it upside down and pointing it straight down at full power. The telemetry showed that she had done it, but she did it a second time just to make sure!
 
A few years later, she would be flying twice the speed of sound in a Lockheed F-104 Starfighter. With this, she held more speed, distance, and altitude records than any other pilot, ever.
 
Jackie Cochran was a long-time resident of the Coachella Valley with her home just off of Monroe Street in Indio.
Jackie Cochran with her Beechcraft Staggerwing.
 
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