Military Naval Flight Officer and Air Traffic Controller
Hi, My name is Linda Maloney and I live in Leonardtown, MD. I retired from the Navy in 2004 and I am currently working part time as a government contractor. My full time job is being “mommy” to my two little boys. I didn’t particularly choose to have my career first and then husband and family but it worked out that way and I am enjoying my 2nd career as a mom!
I always had a love of airports, especially since my mom was an airline Reservation and Ticket agent. I loved the feel of going to the airport and seeing all the big planes. I decided to enlist in the Navy right after high school and become an Air Traffic Controller. My first duty station was at Ford Island in Hawaii. I loved my job but had my sights on another adventure. I applied for an Officer Program, got accepted, attending a Navy Prep School for a year and then started college in 1982. I decided to attend the University of Idaho because it had a good reputation for its Engineering Dept and also had a welcoming attitude towards the military.
I graduated in 1986 with a Degree in Computer Science. Since I was on a NROTC scholarship, I was obligated to join the military for 4 years. I was interested in joining the aviation community but I had two strikes against me: my eyes weren’t perfect and since the combat exclusion law was in effect, there were very few aviation positions for women. I became a Public Affairs Officer at one of the Navy’s Aviation Training Bases in Pensacola, FL. I was there for about 6 months when I found out that I had picked up one of the two yearly slots to become a Naval Flight Officer (NFO). People always initially ask ‘what is an NFO’. I always tell them that an NFO is the guy Goose in the movie “Top Gun” who was Maverick’s (Tom Cruise) backseater.
It never was a dream growing up to fly but I was always ready for a different adventure. Flight School was an absolutely awesome adventure! I was usually the only woman in most of my Flight School Classes. I really loved my time in flight school and also did really well. My time as an Air Traffic Controller boded me well especially during the communications sections of training. It gave me an added confidence. I did not have many choices of where to go once I received my “Wings of Gold.” Due to the combat exclusion law, there were only a few options for women aviators.
I was assigned to Naval Air Station Key West to fly the EA-7, a two seat A-7 that was used to train the fleet in electronic countermeasures. Since the A-7 used in the fleet was a single-seat aircraft, there wasn’t a lot to do for an NFO. I was bored and looked for my next adventure. My squadron had several different aircraft including the A-6 Intruder. After about a year in the squadron I transitioned to the A-6 because it had a more interesting and challenging mission.
I was flying in the A-6 for about 7 months when on a warm February 1991 day I was scheduled to fly an electronic attack aggressor flight with a senior pilot in the squadron. We were flying up to Jacksonville, FL with another A- 6. The flight would be a training exercise for the USS Forestall, about 100 miles off the Florida coast. After the mission brief, I walked down to the Parachute Rigger shop to inspect and put on my gear. I ‘always’ checked my radio and ensured it was working. That day, however, I was in a bit of a hurry and didn’t preflight my radio as usual.
After we conducted our mission against the Forestall we started to climb and head to an Air Force Base to refuel. As we started our climb, the plane acted a little sluggish and the pilot looked a little concerned as he adjusted the controls. One of the hydraulic lights came on indicating a hydraulic failure.
I pulled out my Pocket Checklist and we started going through the emergency procedures. I radioed the Air Traffic Controller that we were declaring an emergency and needed clearance to a nearby Navy airfield for an arrested landing. Many Navy jet aircraft have a tail hook which can be lowered and used to stop with arresting gear. We were at 15,000 ft when the aircraft started to slowly roll to the right. More hydraulic lights illuminated as the pilot tried to steady the airplane but it was apparent that we had no control over the plane. The pilot said, “I don’t have control, Eject.” At that point I pulled the lower ejection handle and my seat exploded through the canopy glass. My pilot ejected seconds later. I lost consciousness briefly and when I came to, I was hanging in my parachute heading towards the ocean.
As I went through my ejection procedures, I was rapidly contemplating water entry and getting into the raft. After I hit the water, I quickly got into my raft and went through all of my gear, lit off a few flairs and also released a green dye marker into the water. I was rescued about an hour later by a helicopter Search and Rescue swimmer. As he approached my raft he asked if I was ok and when I said “yes I am,” he was very surprised that I was a woman. The pilot and I both had minor injuries and were up flying again in a few weeks. Unbeknownst to me I was the first woman to eject from the Martin Baker Ejection Seat. Typically when guys eject from a Martin Baker seat, they are presented with a tie. A company representative called me to let me know that I would be presented with a Martin Baker Pewter Pin to commemorate the ejection.
In Oct 1991, I was selected to train in the EA-6B Prowler, a 4 seater jet that is used for electronic attack. I packed up and moved to NAS Whidbey Island, WA. After I completed the EA-6B training, I flew in an Electronic Aggressor squadron for about a year when the combat exclusion law was finally repealed. In 1993 I joined a combat squadron and in 1995 I went on my first cruise on an aircraft carrier. I loved flying off the carrier and many of my women friends were also on the carrier flying. There were women flying all different types of aircraft: FA-18’s, F-14’s, A-6’s, EA-6Bs, helicopters, E-2’s and C-2’s. The women in my airwing were the first women on the west coast to fly in combat squadrons so it was a very interesting time.
After my tours in Whidbey Island, I transferred to Washington, DC and decided not to go back to flying. However, I still remained in the aviation community as an Aerospace Engineering Duty Officer involved in the acquisition and support of EA-6B aircraft. I got married in 2001 to a wonderful man who is also a pilot. We have two little boys and hope they both grow up to love aviation. I have saved all of my flight suits and flight gear for them both and hope to pass it down to them one day.
I am also writing a book called “My Mom Flies” (www.mymomflies.com), which is a collection of stories about military women aviators who are also moms. My advice to young girls is to ‘dream your dreams’ passionately and don’t let anyone tell you that it can’t be done. I always got good grades in school but I wasn’t the very smartest in my class. My dedication and refusal to quit was the key to getting where I am today.