An Air Force major quietly ushered in a new chapter of service history late last year when she took advantage of a new Air Force regulation that allowed her to continue working as a pilot into her pregnancy.
Her aircraft platform: the supersonic B-1 Lancer bomber.
Maj. Lauren Olme, assistant director of operations at the 77th Weapons Squadron out of Dyess Air Force Base, TX, found out in August 2022 that she was expecting her first child with her husband, Maj. Mark Olme, a fellow B-1 crew member who serves as the weapons officer for the 7th Operations Support Squadron bomb wing at Dyess, according to a service release. Under previous longstanding policy, this would have meant she’d have to stop flying as soon as the pregnancy was confirmed, and be required to apply for a waiver to serve any duty time while pregnant.
But a policy implemented in 2019 changed that, offering pregnant pilots of non-ejection seat aircraft the chance to serve in their regular roles into the end of the second trimester – to Week 28 out of 40 – without a waiver and authorized pilots on all aircraft to apply for a waiver to fly while pregnant.
The policy change did not require any pilots to fly while pregnant if they didn’t want to, but it did create more options for those who felt comfortable doing so and were cleared to fly by a medical professional. Flying in the delicate first trimester of pregnancy, from weeks 1 to 13, requires a waiver for all platforms. As the B-1 is equipped with an ejection seat, Olme did need to get formal approval to keep flying.
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“Empowering women to make decisions for their own bodies and trusting them to appropriately manage risk, just as they do each time they step to the aircraft, will ensure all women aviators are able to perform to their full potential during all stages of womanhood, particularly pregnancy,” Maj. Samantha Sliney, co-chair of the Air Force Women’s Initiative Team (WIT), said in a statement at the time of the policy rollout. “Through its research, the WIT discovered that women aviators generally did not know that they could seek a waiver to continue to fly during certain stages of pregnancy, depending on the aircraft. We appreciate recent efforts to clarify that policy and we are actively engaged to lower the level of waiver authority for uncomplicated pregnancies in all trimesters,” she added.
Olme, who had been trying with her husband to get pregnant, but was nonetheless “shocked” when she got a positive test back last August, knew she wanted to keep flying if possible, according to the Air Force release. Getting a coveted assignment to the B-1 was a dream fulfilled for Olme, the release stated; being able to keep working as a pilot with a “baby on board” was a continuation of that dream. In consultation with her doctor, Olme decided to keep flying until Week 22 of her pregnancy. At that point, the baby is about the size of a papaya and weighs a pound, and most mothers can feel recognizable kicks as he or she moves in utero.
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The Federal Aviation Administration has issued little definitive guidance for pregnant pilots, in recognition of the scarcity of definitive risk assessment information and the reality that every pregnancy is unique, with its own medical limitations and requirements.
‘No two pilot pregnancies are alike,” an informational page on the pilot medical solutions website Leftseat.com states. “What is safe for one may be risky for another. Different flight operations require women be informed and aware of the unique risk factors related not only to their pregnancy but to their specific flight operation.”
Through an informed decision made possible by the more permissive new policy, Olme’s soon-to-be-born little one entered an extremely elite club, clocking 9.2 hours in a supersonic aircraft, according to the release. The baby, the release said, is expected to arrive in April.
“I can’t overexpress how amazing it is that pregnant women now have the opportunity to fly in all types of aircraft,” Olme said in a statement. “It’s a very personal decision that Mark and I made together because there are risks involved in flying the B-1 while pregnant, but after conferring with Air Force and civilian medical doctors, we felt comfortable with me flying for a few weeks.”
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A 7th Bomb Wing spokesperson turned down a Sandboxx News request to interview Olme, saying the unit could not support interviews due to “an exclusive engagement.”
For the military services, acknowledging and accommodating the needs of female pilots has proved one of the final hurdles in the long process of clearing structural barriers to service. In 2021, the Navy issued its first maternity flight suits in an early distribution program. The fitted garments, with side panels that could be adjusted to accommodate an aviator as her pregnancy progressed, replaced what had previously been the only uniform option available to pregnant aircrew members: an oversized and baggy suit that hampered movement and presented potential risks.
When the Air Force announced the same year that it was working on developing its own maternity flight suits, photos of prototype uniforms drew mockery from Fox News commentator Tucker Carlson, who complained that the military was becoming more “feminine.” Carlson’s remarks were later denounced by Pentagon leaders.
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In her blog, Hidden Barriers, former Air Force pilot Jessica Ruttenber published her own response in an attempt to set the record straight.
“It might be a surprise to some that female aviators have been successfully performing their in-flight duties for over 20 years,” Ruttenber wrote. “In 2018, the Air Force had 400 pregnant aviators. Not all of these warriors were eligible, or opted in, for flight duties but many with healthy pregnancies desired to continue executing the mission.”
Ruttenber said she’d flown until her third trimester during three pregnancies as an instructor pilot, switching to simulators during her final weeks of pregnancy and remaining current on her training requirements.
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“As my midsection expanded during the second trimester I would require larger flight suits,” she wrote. “The only problem with going up a size or two is that the legs and arms also get larger causing the required safety duty uniform to not properly fit. This often caused a tripping hazard or the excess material would catch onto the controls during flight inadvertently actuating a switch. Yikes!”
Ultimately, Ruttenber’s advocacy helped push the Air Force toward its development of a maternity uniform.
While it’s not clear how many aviators are, like Olme, taking the Air Force up on the opportunity to fly longer while pregnant, Ruttenber pointed out that giving them the flexibility to do so may help the service with its longstanding pilot shortage.
Olme’s commanding officer at 77th WPS, Lt. Col. Charles Armstrong, said in a statement that the new policy represents “a huge benefit” to the Air Force.
“This allows female aviators to continue building up their qualifications and flight hours to progress in their career field through pregnancy,” Armstrong said. “It was based on years of analysis and research from aircrew physiologists both in the Air Force and outside agencies to make the determination that it is safe and acceptable for women to fly a longer period than they have done in the past.”
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Don Winslow says
At the high altitudes that jet aircraft fly air crews are subjected to significant amounts of cosmic radiation which can be harmful. It’s probably not a great idea to expose a fetus to this danger.
One miscarriage while in flight and the advocacy groups will be out in force demanding firings and lots and lots of cash to assuage their pain.
So the air force who has trouble maintaining flight crews and pilots loses 400+ pilots a year for pregnancies.., and then the moms are able to decide if they want to fly or not? Not the Air Force. What about when a war for national survival starts.., the Air Force starts down 400 pilots and any more future mothers who decide that is it best to time to get pregnant. I would think all the chemicals in and around these aircraft are more a risk to unborn child than flying. Also not sure 9.2 flight hours worth risk to unborn or in costs involved getting her clearances to fly are worth costs to taxpayer. Hey but what do I know I am merely I an observer/ service member who waited days, weeks for Air Force aircraft support in some really dangerous places and times.., Reminds me of Air Force having pilots direct drones when we had E-4s doing same with far less than half the errors causing loss of aircraft. Can’t make this stuff up. Actual testimony to both house and senate arm service committees…,
Weak men and feminists are destroying the military. All females need to be removed from the military as well as all sexual degenerate men. Get back to high standards and create warriors.
Most of the senior military staff need to be fired at minimum and court marshalled where necessary.
Youre fing shitting me. I love it that the woman is expecting. This is not military and it is reckless endangerment.You people have gone full retard.