Debra Mann and Lisa Kutschera

Pilots : Black Hawk Helicopters

Mann and Kutschera

Helicopter pilots, Task Force Black Devil, 508th Infantry Regiment (Airborne), Panama, 1989

At 0055 hours on December 20, 1989, U.S. Army helicopters lifted off from Howard Air Force Base, in Panama, to carry infantry across the Panama Canal. Their mission was to assault Fort Amador, one of the few strongholds of the Panamanian Defense Forces to offer resistance to the American forces that had invaded Panama as part of Operation Just Cause.

Two of the helicopter pilots ferrying the troops were women: First Lieutenant Lisa Kutschera and Warrant Officer Debra Mann. Their Black Hawk helicopters, officially designated transport, not attack, aircraft, carried troops into what turned out to be "hot" areas, where the Panamanian Defense Force was firing on helicopters. For their participation in the assault Kutschera and Mann (and their male counterparts) were awarded Air Medals.

In 1974, the U.S. Army trained its first female pilot, Lt. Sally Murphy. Although the military finally trained women pilots the services still played games with gender quotas, the pilot slots, combat exclusion laws and the type aircraft women were allowed to fly.

From 1976 to 1993 women pilots were kept out of the cockpits of combat aircraft - in actual combat. Even though women aviators flew during Panama, Grenada and Desert Storm their presence was somehow "excluded" from combat records. Not until 1993 were women allowed to officially fly combat aircraft.

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This pilot wears the one-piece flyer's suit that replaced a two-piece model in the late 1970's. The uniform and gloves are like most aviators' clothing, is made of fire resistant Nomex. The flight helmet is the SPH-4, the standard U.S. Army helicopter helmet from the 1980's to the early 1990's.

It features a retractable sun visor, boom microphone and connector permitting all crewman to enter the aircraft's intercom and radio system. Her vest has numerous pockets for survival items, knife and scabbard and a pistol holster can be attached. The steel-toed flyer's boots use "D" rings rather than eyelets, to prevent burns in case of fire. The boots are lined with glove leather.

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