Woman combat pilot killed on training mission Lt. Kara Hultgreen flew Navy F-14s

October 27, 1994|By Los Angeles Times

SAN DIEGO -- Navy Lt. Kara Hultgreen, who had dreamed as a teen-ager of being an astronaut and then became the first woman qualified as an F-14 combat pilot, was killed when her plane crashed during a training mission, the Navy announced yesterday.

Lieutenant Hultgreen, 29, was attempting to land on the carrier Abraham Lincoln off Southern California when her F-14 Tomcat crashed Tuesday afternoon. The fighter's radar officer ejected and was rescued with only minor injuries, but an extensive search failed to recover Lieutenant Hultgreen's body.

Lieutenant Hultgreen, a graduate of the University of Texas, was among the first group of women pilots to apply for combat training when the restriction on women flying combat aircraft was lifted by then-Secretary of Defense Les Aspin in April 1993.

"She was a wonderful, giving, generous person who loved flying, loved the Navy and loved her country," said her sister Dagny Hultgreen, a television journalist.

A high school basketball and tennis star and later an expert surfer, Lieutenant Hultgreen gave several interviews when she qualified last August as an F-14 pilot. She stressed the exhilaration and yet the danger of flying the F-14. "I mean it's fun to go fast and light up the afterburner and pull out of G's and zip around the clouds," she told KNSD-TV in San Diego. "I don't think I've mastered it quite yet. It's going to take a lot of hours and a lot of training."

She recalled the thrill of making her first four landings on a carrier: "I barely remember my first four traps because all I could think of was how can I work the rest of my life to buy this drug. It's just an adrenaline rush."

Although she and other women pilots received much the same training as the men, their career options had been limited. In fact, before the restriction was lifted, Navy officials had suggested that Lieutenant Hultgreen leave the Navy because there were far more pilots than needed assigned to the planes women were allowed to fly.

Lieutenant Hultgreen's mother Sally Spears, a lawyer in San Antonio, Texas, said her daughter had wanted to be an astronaut but then decided flying an aircraft was more exciting.

She joined the Navy while a senior at the University of Texas and went on active duty after receiving her degree in aerospace engineering in 1987. Before going to F-14 school, Lieutenant Hultgreen had flown a jet designed to jam the electronic gear of an enemy.

A Navy spokesman said a crash investigation is under way.

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