Saturday, May 29, 2010

Major takes off to new heights

Updated June 1, 2010

Major Olivia Elliott, a former T-38 instructor, now a 303rd Fighter Squadron A-10 Thunderbolt II pilot, has been accepted to Test Pilot School where she will learn to fly more than 20 different aircraft. TPS, she said, is a step toward her ultimate goal - becoming an astronaut. (Courtesy photo)) Hi-res

by Senior Airman Danielle Wolf
442nd Fighter Wing Public Affairs

5/28/2010 - WHITEMAN AIR FORCE BASE, Mo. -- Within a few years, she became spacey - literally - planning to eventually work for NASA as an astronaut, something she knew she could only do if she joined the Air Force and became a fighter pilot.

Today, nearly 20 years later as an active-duty pilot for the 303rd Fighter Squadron, part of the 442nd Fighter Wing, she is one step closer to hanging up the flight suit and putting on a space suit.

After months of applications, interviews and test flights, she has been accepted to Test Pilot School at Edwards AFB, Calif.

"When I found out I was accepted to Test Pilot School, I was shocked," she said. "I was on my way out to fly and Col. (James) Mackey, who I was going to be flying with, got a message on his Blackberry that I was accepted."

While attending TPS at Edwards AFB, Calif., she will attend academic training for a year while flying the C-12 Huron, a twin-engine turboprop aircraft. She will also fly the F-16 Fighting Falcon, fighter aircraft capable of possessing many roles, on a regular basis.

Major Elliott's academic training will include systematic training in gathering flight data and then interpreting it. Additionally, she will fly the T-38 Talon, a trainer aircraft she is now familiar with after several years working as a T-38 instructor at Sheppard AFB, Texas before coming to the 442nd FW to fly the A-10 Thunderbolt II.

For the next year after her academic training is complete, she will visit Air Force bases, one week at a time, to fly more than 20 different aircraft. Not only will she be responsible for testing developmental aircraft, but also their munitions. She will have to handle the airplanes with precision, control and accuracy.

While she has only been an A-10 pilot for two years now, after training she said she hopes to eventually be stationed at Eglin AFB, Fla. where she can test new developments with the A-10.

"I like the A-10 because it is a single-purpose aircraft," she said. "The A-10 is not a supersonic, pointy nose, fast aircraft, but is has what an (close air support) aircraft needs."

Major Elliott said often people are impressed with one general aircraft that can accomplish everything. She likes that the A-10 has a specific mission to support ground troops, and she wants to continue to "keep the CAS mindset alive." Also, she said, she thinks the fighter-pilot experience she has received on the A-10 assisted her in getting accepted to Test Pilot School.

The school, which has only two, 24-student classes each year, is made up of 12 pilots and 12 engineers. While she said time management will be her biggest challenge, Test Pilot School is not for the faint at heart. The school requires applicants to have scientific and engineering knowledge, critical and reasoned judgment and excellent managerial skills, all in addition to superior flying skills. While the academic and flight training will be tedious and even painstaking at times, Major Elliott can be sure her colleagues at Whiteman AFB are behind her 100 percent.

Capt. John Tice, former 303rd FS pilot, now an A-10 pilot at Moody AFB, the 442nd FW's associate unit, encouraged her to apply, she said.

"He kept telling me to put in the application and if I didn't get accepted, it wasn't a big deal," she said.

"She's extremely intelligent and an exceptional pilot," Captain Tice said. "I just thought that if anyone had a chance, she would be the one, being a top graduate of the Air Force Academy and having her master's degree."

The two other female pilots in the 303rd FS, Maj. Valerie Saur and fellow-active duty pilot Capt. Laurel Lee, have also been an encouragement to Major Elliott.

"Being female pilots, they have been such great supporters and can really empathize with me and help push me further," she said.

Major Elliott said she has found many mentors from around the squadron.

"There's so much experience in this reserve squadron," she said. "Instead of always flying with lieutenants and captains, I am flying with majors and colonels with thousands of flying hours. There are more viewpoints, more experience and it's a very tight-knit community here."

While someday, hopefully not too long after TPS, she hopes to board a shuttle headed to space, she said she is thankful to have had the 442nd FW as a stepping stone to reach her goals.

"Every kid has a dream to want to be an astronaut," Captain Tice said. "There are a few people who can legitimately aspire to be one though, and she is one of them."


Update June 1, 2010:

Cover of "Mohawk" (official 442nd Fighter Wing newspaper), June 2010 public online PDF issue:

COVER PHOTO: Maj. Olivia Elliott, a 303rd Fighter Squadron A-10 Thunderbolt II pilot, was accepted to Test Pilot School, where she will learn to fly dozens of different aircraft and get one step closer to her dream of becoming an astronaut.
(Photo by Senior Airman Danielle Wolf)


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