Chen Yueh-fang (陳月芳) has gone a long way— from a female recruit who did not even know how to drive, to becoming the pilot of a C-130 Hercules, and the first female squadron leader in the Republic of China Air Force.
Chen is the leader of the air force’s 101st Airlift Squadron’s 439th Wing.
After graduating from Tainan’s Chung Hwa University of Medical Technology in 1992, Chen applied to join the Air Force Academy and made it into the second class opened for female pilots.
Chen said she was planning to go into the administrative branch of the air force, but changed her mind after a medical officer told her that her physical tests qualified her for pilot training.
Getting into a plane and trying to get used to the g-force during training was daunting, Chen said, adding that learning about mechanics and flight techniques was mentally and physically stressful.
“There were 14 of us who were in the second class; only six made it to the end,” Chen said.
The training officers did not make any concessions because of their gender, because when it comes to flight safety, there are only two results: “You either make it or not,” Chen said.
The training officers told us straight from the start that there would be no preferential treatment, either in studies or physical training, Chen said.
“Whatever the boys did, we did the same,” she said.
Over the 10 years that she earned her wings — incidentally also becoming the first female pilot in the 439th Wing — Chen also completed her training on the C-130 — as a reserve first officer, transport pilot, personnel transport pilot and flight instructor.
As a squadron leader, she is the second-most senior flight test officer.
Chen said she has had many memorable incidents in service, but none can compare with the experience of delivering humanitarian aid to Indonesia during the South Asia tsunami disaster in 2004.
An undersea earthquake of magnitude 9.3 struck off the coast of Sumatra, Indonesia, causing severe damage in 14 countries and killing 230,000. Indonesia, the epicenter of the quake, was the hardest hit, with Sri Lanka, India and Thailand close behind.
The air force dispatched six aircraft to deliver humanitarian aid, Chen said.
“Just flying to Indonesia took nine hours,” she said, but seeing the joy on the faces of the people who received the aid was worth all the hardships.
Despite having the job of her dreams, Chen said there was the inevitable tradeoff between career and her family life.
Being on duty and stationed at an airbase far from her family deprives her of time with her children.
Chen’s husband, Yu Tai-sheng (俞台生), is also an air force lieutenant colonel, and both had served as C-130 flight leaders at the same base before Yu was transferred to his current station as a staff member at Air Force Command Headquarters.
Chen said that most of the time, Yu had to act as both father and mother.
“We keep in contact mainly through telephone calls,” Chen said.
However, her daughter — currently in fourth grade — is very understanding, she said.
Her daughter once gave her a card for Mother’s Day in which she wrote of how hard her mother worked and that despite her long absences, she wanted to thank her mom for bringing her into this world, Chen said.