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All-female crew at Grand Forks AFB sets record for unrefueled flight

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Officials at Grand Forks Air Force Base say pilots there set a record last week for the longest military flight without aerial refueling.

Perhaps it was girl power that kept their Global Hawk reconnaissance flight going for more than 34 hours.

While Global Hawk flights are unmanned, the Air Force Base says the flight and support crews together total more than 50 people. And in the case of Saturday's record-breaking flight all of them were female.

In announcing the record, the base said the idea came from Lt. Col. Amanda Brandt, who took over command of one of the squadrons in the 69th Reconnaissance Group and learned that several female pilots were due to join it.

The Group's commander signed off on the idea and it was squeezed in before the end of March, which is Women's History Month.

To fill out the crew some pilots found themselves in roles they might not have otherwise occupied. For example, a 2nd Lieutenant who served as flight commander says "It's mind-blowing so early in our careers to have so much responsibility given to us."

In March of last year an Air Control Wing based in Oklahoma City set the goal of flying its first sortie with a 19-member all-female crew. But they were missing a female flight engineer. They did pull off the flight in September, though.

Non-military aircraft have gone much longer than 34 hours without refueling. In 1986 Dick Rutan spent nine days flying a Voyager aircraft around the world without refueling.

In December Rutan reminisced about the flight in an article on NASA's website. "I felt not only was it not going to work, but I would probably die in it," Rutan said of the aircraft designed by his brother. NASA describes the Voyager as essentially a flying fuel tank.

Obviously crew sizes vary widely depending upon the type of aircraft being flown.

As for the first all-female military flight crew, there seems to be no consensus. But Women Military Aviators, Inc., dug up evidence of one as early as 1982.

In Grand Forks last week's mission was dubbed the Flight of the Lady Hawk. Lt. Col. Brandt says in the base's realease that she's proud of the accomplishment but also looking forward to a time when it's not so unique. "We're not too far from the day when an all-female flight is not special," she says.

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