Editor’s note: This article is a reprint from the July 22, 2005, issue of The Drop Zone.
History was made here on Aug. 6, 1974, as Navy Ensign Jane Skiles successfully completed the C-130 pilot training course at Little Rock Air Force Base, becoming the first female qualified to fly the Herk. In fact, she had been in the first class of women to go through naval flight school the previous year. Her training at Little Rock AFB also made her the first woman to go through Air Force pilot training.
Capt. Al Rowe of the 16th Tactical Airlift Training Squadron administered the check ride and commented that Ensign Skiles was not overly nervous. She had slept well the night before and had remarked, “If you don’t know it then, you’ll never know it.” She certainly did know it, and she passed the test.
The check ride was an otherwise routine flight to Jackson, Miss., but the crowds of people present at base operations when the aircraft taxied in demonstrated it was anything but routine to visiting press, dignitaries and ordinary sightseers.
“I didn’t expect anything like this,” she later said. Exiting the aircraft, she rendered sharp salutes to Col. John Davis, the former 314th Tactical Airlift Wing commander, and Navy commander Robert Baril, the commander of the U.S. Navy Recruiting District in Little Rock, and the two commanders presented her with a certificate of completion of training.
Ensign Skiles departed Little Rock AFB for her first operational assignment flying C-130s at Naval Air Station Rota, Spain. She went on to a long and productive career, setting other firsts along the way. As a pioneer, she did face obstacles and prejudice, but she followed through with her career.
She ultimately attained the rank of captain (0-6 in the Navy) and retired in 1997. At the end of her career, Captain Skiles-O’Dea advised women aviators to “Dig and scrap for every opportunity they’ll give you, and be prepared to prove yourself.”