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Article: The First Female Naval Aviator

The First Female Naval Aviator

U.S. Navy Wings of Gold which are issued to Naval Aviators upon successful completion of flight training.

Barbara Ann Allen

Ms. Allen was the daughter of a U.S. Naval Officer and was born at Bethesda Naval Hospital on August 20, 1948.

It seems that she was always destined to be a U.S. Navy officer right from the start!

She attended Lakewood High School in Lakewood, CA, graduating in 1966. From there, she went on to Long Beach City College, achieving distinction by being on the dean's list for four consecutive semesters.

She then transferred to Whittier College, graduating in 1969.

On December 18, 1970, Miss Allen completed the U.S. Navy Officer Candidate School in Newport, Rhode Island, and was commissioned as an Ensign.

Her first assignment was the Amphibious Warfare Base in Little Creek, VA. 

Following that assignment, she joined the staff at Atlantic Fleet headquarters in Norfolk, VA. On March 18, 1972, Miss Allen was promoted to lieutenant JG.

NAS Pensacola, Florida

It is February 1973, and Lt. Allen is selected, along with three other women, for pilot training at NAS Pensacola, FL.

The first four women chosen for Naval pilot flight training. They are Lt. J.G. Allen,  Ensign Skiles, Lt. J.G. Neuffer and Ensign McNary.

 On 22 February 1974, Barbara Ann Allen became the first woman to receive her Wings of Gold and become a Naval Aviator.

Flying The "COD"

The COD is a twin-engine Carrier On-Board Delivery Transport, and Lt. Allen's first assignment was as a pilot on the Grumman C-1A Trader aircraft.

A Navy Grumman C-1A with tailhook extended heading for a landing on a carrier.

An aircraft carrier is called a "city at sea," and keeping it resupplied is a real challenge because the carrier is always on the move.

A COD plays a very important part in delivering passengers, cargo, and mail to the crew.

These aircraft are critical to the safe and continued operation of the carrier.

It is also a challenge for the pilots to land these aircraft on a moving carrier!

Just imagine, you are the first U.S. Navy female pilot, and your first assignment is to land a COD on an aircraft carrier! Not for the faint of heart, I guess!

The Grumman C-1A Trader was the last piston-powered aircraft to be used for supplying aircraft carriers.

 C-1A Specifications:

  • Length: 42 ft.;
  • Height: 16 ft., 3 1/2 in.
  • Wingspan: 69 ft., 8 in.
  • Weights: Empty: 16,631 lb.; Gross: 24,600 lb.
  • Two 1,525 horsepower Wright R-1820-82WA engines
  • Performance: Maximum Speed: 280 M.P.H. at 4,000 ft.; Service ceiling: 24,800 ft.; Range: 1,110 miles
  • Crew: Two pilots and one aircrewman

Not only did Lt.J.G. Allen fly the C-1A, but she was also the first woman in the U.S. Navy to qualify in a jet-powered aircraft, the T-39 Sabreliner. 

 A U.S. Navy CT-39E Saberliner in flight. This is the firts jet-powered aircraft that the first Navy female pilot, Barbara Ann Allen, flew.

 The T-39 was used by the U.S. Navy as a transition training aircraft to jet-powered aircraft.

As an interesting side note, I flew a NA265 Saberliner, the civilian version, for a short time during my flying career.

On November 27, 1974, I watched as a U.S. Air Force T-39 crashed at the Battle Creek, MI, W.K Kellogg Airport. I used to fly out of that airport and happened to be sitting in the restaurant on the first floor of the Air Traffic Control tower.

 Sadly, four young U.S. Air Force officers and an enlisted airman were killed in the accident.


April 6, 1974, Lt. Allen marries Lt. J.G. Rainey in Los Angeles, CA. Lt. Rainey was a graduate of the United States Naval Academy in 1972. They met during flight training.


C-118B Liftmaster

In 1977 she transferred to Fleet Logistics Support in Dallas, TX, where she flew the Douglas C-118B four-engine aircraft.

Douglas C-118B Liftmaster like the one flown by Lt. Allen.

The Douglas C-118B was the military version of the civilian Douglas DC-6 commercial airliner.

Douglas C-118 Liftmaster Specifications:

  • Wingspan: 117 feet, 6 inches
  • Length: 106 feet, 9 inches
  • Height at tail: 28 feet, 9 inches
  • Engines: Four Pratt & Whitney R-2800 radial engines
  • Cruise Speed: 265 mph
  • Range: 4,000 miles
  • Service Ceiling 27,200 feet
  • Maximum Takeoff Weight: 108,000 pounds

But, change was in the wind for Lt. J.G. Allen.

A New Phase In Life

On November 23, 1977, Lt. Allen was released from active duty because she was pregnant. 

They had two daughters together.

Later, on October 14, 1981, Lt. Allen returned to active duty as a Lt. Commander and was assigned as a flight instructor at Naval Air Station Whiting Field, FL.

The Navy was short of instructor pilots, so Lt. Commander Rainey was teaching cadets to fly in the T-34C Turbomentor.

A Beechcraft T-34C Turbo Mentor, similar to the one in which LCDR Rainey was called on July 13, 1982.

The T-34C Turbomentor is an unpressurized two-seat tandem cockpit low wing turboprop trainer used to train Navy and Marine Corp pilots. 

 T-34C Specifications:

  • Wingspan: 33 feet, 5 inches
  • Length: 28 feet, 8 inches
  • Height: 9 feet, 11 inches
  • Weight: 4,425 lbs
  • Airspeed: 322 mph
  • Ceiling: 25,000 feet
  • Range: 600 nautical miles

Tragedy Strikes

At 10:20 am the morning of July 13, 1982, LCDR Rainey and her student were killed while practicing touch-and-go landings at Middleton Field, AL.

While there is some confusion as to the cause of the accident, it appears the aircraft banked sharply (perhaps to avoid another aircraft), stalled, and crashed, killing both LCDR Rainey and her student, Ensign Donald B. Knowlton.

LCDR Barbara Ann Allen Rainey, United States Naval Reserve, was buried at Arlington National Cemetery, Arlington, Virginia.

LCDR Barbara Ann Allen Rainey headstone in Arlington National Cemetary, Arlington, Virginia enscribed "First woman Naval aviator. Loving wife and mother"

What a tragic end at a young age for the first female to become a U.S. Navy pilot.

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Until next time, keep your eyes safe and focused on what's ahead of you, Hersch!

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