Public Policy Prof. Davidson Blazed Trail as Air Force Pilot

Posted: October 6, 2008 at 1:00 am, Last Updated: November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

By Nick Walker

Janine Davidson
Janine Davidson

If you watched closely during the Democratic National Convention, you may have caught a glimpse of Mason assistant professor Janine Davidson. Davidson was one of several veterans featured in the convention’s Steven Spielberg-produced video tribute to veterans.

“I help the Obama campaign on defense issues as an informal advisor,” says Davidson, who currently teaches graduate courses in public policy.

“There’s a network of us who are into veterans issues, so they called and asked if I wanted to participate. With the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, so many vets have come back with PTSD [post-traumatic stress disorder] and physical disabilities, and we wanted people to see what they are going through.”

Davidson served in the Air Force from 1989 to 1998. She was the first woman to pilot the tactical C-130, a cargo aircraft often used to drop supplies and/or soldiers in hostile areas.

When Davidson began her service, Air Force policies were very different. In the 1980s, women had to go through a special selection process to fly, with only about 20 spots available for female pilots. At first, women were not allowed in fighter planes or tactical aircraft. But eventually Davidson was assigned to a C-130, and she went to Japan.

Janine Davidson as pilot
Janine Davidson when she first became an Air Force pilot.
Photos courtesy of Janine Davidson

“I was stationed in Japan from ’90 to ’93, during the first Gulf War,” Davidson says. “Half of my squadron was sent to Iraq, but I was not because I was the first woman to fly.”

Instead, Davidson spent the next several years around Asia. She was a member of the first aircrew to travel to Vietnam since the war ended.

“We brought in teams of archaeologists and dentists to account for prisoners of war or those missing in action,” Davidson says.

When Mt. Pinatubo erupted in the Philippines in June ’91, devastating the U.S. air and naval bases, Davidson and her aircrew flew support missions for the next three weeks.

“The volcano blowing up was the icing on the cake for the U.S. military in the Philippines,” Davidson says. “Once the airbase was damaged, we didn’t renew.”

Davidson later taught at the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado.

“It’s basically drivers ed for planes,” Davidson says. “I taught the T3, which was made by a British company. Fun planes, but super-dangerous. We don’t use these anymore.”

At the academy, a student of Davidson’s became the first woman to fly Thunderbird planes.

“By this point, the Air Force was open to the idea of women flying fighter planes,” Davidson says. “It was much less of a big deal than before, and there were no disputes about it. So a lot more women are flying now. A funny little secret is that women can actually handle more G forces than men when flying.”

Davidson also flew C-17s, which are very large cargo planes capable of landing on small airfields.

“They really help with humanitarian relief, especially on unprepared airfields like those in Afghanistan, Bosnia and the Middle East.”

After her time in the Air Force, Davidson earned her PhD in international studies from the University of South Carolina in 2005. She has also worked for the secretary of defense and the Brookings Institution.

Her first book is scheduled for publication in 2009. Titled “The Fog of Peace,” the book is a dissertation on the U.S. military in counterinsurgency.

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