View Full Version : CH-53E pilot was first female Marine aviator

08-02-05, 12:54 PM
August 08, 2005
The Lore of the Corps
CH-53E pilot was first female Marine aviator
By Robert F. Dorr
Special to the Times

Maj. Sarah Deal Burrow, 35, of San Diego — usually known by her maiden name, Deal — became the Marine Corps’ first female aviator 10 years ago, but it wasn’t easy.

Deal earned her pilot’s license while attending Kent State University in Ohio. But when she went through Officer Candidates School and was commissioned a second lieutenant in May 1992, the Corps didn’t have female pilots, even though the Navy had pinned wings on its first female aviator almost two decades earlier.

Still, she knew the Corps was the only way to go.

“I did call the other services but didn’t ask many questions,” she said. “I only wanted to go into the Marine Corps. They impressed me.

“In August 1992, I went to basic school at Quantico. I joined the Marine Corps knowing I couldn’t fly. So they sent me to air traffic control school.”

She was at that school near Memphis, Tenn., in April 1993 when then-Defense Secretary Les Aspin announced that women would be permitted to fly combat aircraft.

“Unlike the other services, the Marine Corps didn’t have many non-combat aircraft,” said Deal, explaining why there were no female Marine aviators at the time. “I went to see the senior Marine, waving a newspaper column saying women could fly, and I said, ‘Sir, this is what I want to do!’ The senior Marine wasn’t too happy. Eventually, though, I got full support of everybody at Memphis, including that senior Marine. The board that was selecting student pilots informed me that I had been selected on July 23, 1993. I became the first [Marine female] student naval aviator in August.”

Like all naval aviators of the era, Deal began flight training at Naval Air Station Pensacola, Fla., in the T-34C Turbo Mentor aircraft. Then, she went to helicopter training at Whiting Field, north of Pensacola.

“In my mind, to fly a helicopter was something only millionaires could do,” Deal said.

After training in the TH-57 Sea Ranger helicopter, Deal pinned on her wings April 21, 1995.

The CH-53E Super Stallion heavy lift helicopter was the aircraft Deal wanted, she said, because they “were the biggest and as close to the action as you could get.”

Her first fleet assignment was as a CH-53E pilot with Marine Heavy Helicopter Squadron 466, based at Marine Corps Air Station Tustin, Calif.; she twice deployed to Okinawa, Japan, with the squadron.

Deal served in other groups and squadrons while on active duty and deployed to the Middle East with HMH-465 in April 2002, about a year before the Iraq invasion. Deal was assigned to the tactical air command center at Ahmed Al Jaber Air Base, Kuwait, just before the squadron went into combat, so she missed the opportunity to fly the CH-53E in battle.

After 12 years on active duty, Deal transferred to the Reserve at the end of June 2004.

Robert F. Dorr, an Air Force veteran, lives in Oakton, Va. He is the author of books on military topics, including “Chopper,” a history of helicopter pilots. His e-mail address is robert.f.dorr@cox.net.