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CHIPS Articles: Women's History Month: Celebrating the Petersen Women's Contributions to Aviation

Women's History Month: Celebrating the Petersen Women's Contributions to Aviation
By MC1 Paolo Bayas, Commander, Naval Air Forces Public Affairs - March 15, 2017
CORONADO, Calif. (NNS) -- History shows that women have achieved milestones in aviation since August 1, 1911, when Harriet Quimby "became the first woman to qualify for a license-number 37-from the Aero Club of America ... and the second licensed woman pilot in the world, following the baroness de la Roche of France," according to

Since then, the world of aviation has evolved. Specifically, pilots in U.S. Naval Aviation have developed a unique, long-standing and constantly evolving history of tradition over the past 105 years. Entire families have dedicated their lives to it, and the Petersen family exemplifies such tradition.

Lt. j.g. Audrey Petersen is the youngest winged pilot in her immediate family of four, receiving her "wings" Oct. 28, 2016. Her brother, Lt. Austin Petersen, received his wings April 2014; her father, retired Cmdr. Craig Petersen, in August 1985; and her mother, retired Cmdr. Amy Petersen, who is currently a first officer with United Airlines, in June 1985.

Including her grandfathers, late U.S. Navy Capt. Walt Petersen and retired Marine Col. Randy Austin, and her uncle, Brig. Gen. Robert Castellvi, Audrey's family has more than 9,700 flight hours, two Vietnam War tours, a Distinguished Flying Cross, a Bronze Star, seven Air Medals, and more than 150 years of military service.

According to Audrey, becoming a pilot was not a lifelong dream. Retrospectively, she said, "It almost entirely had to do with family, their story, their history and experiences, and the pride they've always had for our country."

Her mother Amy echoed Audrey's journey toward Naval Aviation. She said "[she] had no predisposition to flying [because] no one in [her] family was ever involved in aviation."

She continued to say that "[she] was not influenced, at the time, with the aviator role models." Instead, it was the positive encouragement of her parents to "pursue anything [she] wanted, without regard to limits of convention" and "someone giving [her] a recruiting poster of a woman Naval Aviator in her Ray Bans with the caption 'You Might Not Think of Yourself as a Role Model, but Other Women Do.'"

That same poster, which is now hanging prominently in Audrey's room, serendipitously foreshadowed her decision to become a pilot as Amy described "how incredible of a life [she] had growing up — molded by two incredibly strong military parents, who were no doubt influenced by their own extensive military parents. [She] thought about specifically about [her] mom, a prior Navy C-130 pilot who now flies 747s for United. She thought about how fiery and determined [Amy] is, and how she can blow people away the minute she walks into any room."

From that point, Audrey said that "[she] realized that [she] wanted to do the same. [She] wanted to have that impression on those around [her], although that was just a bonus to being able to expand [her] family's legacy and service history."

Audrey illustrates flying as a "beautiful, complicated operation". She asserts the reward that comes with the "diligence and challenges that go into learning how to maneuver [aviation] machines" and the importance of the camaraderie she builds with her teammates — maintenance and ground crew, aircrew, pilots, flight officers, and everyone in between.

"They say you'll never meet an aviator who didn't wish they could go back to day one and do it all over again," said Audrey. "I'm still as fresh as they come and I can already see how that's undoubtedly true. To those who are inspiring to fly, be very cognizant of that desire. There are tons of people out there who watch a plane or helicopter fly by and say 'Man, I wish I could do that'. Become one of the few club members who gets to say 'Man, I love that I get to do that'."

The Library of Congress, National Archives and Records Administration, National Endowment for the Humanities, National Gallery of Art, National Park Service, Smithsonian Institution and United States Holocaust Memorial Museum join in commemorating and encouraging the study, observance and celebration of the vital role of women in American history.

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