Amy Sheridan earns her wings
December 18, 1979
Amy Sheridan earned her bars as a Warrant Officer One at the United States Army Aviation Center in Fort Rucker, Alabama, on December 18, 1979. Staying true to the stringent requirements of the U.S. Army Warrant Officer career path, a pilot was an “officer first, and an aviator second.” So the next day, Amy Sheridan earned her wings as an aviator for the US Army, making her the first American Jewish woman to gain aviator status in any branch of the Armed Services. One of the first woman pilots, and the first Jewish woman pilot, to fly for the U.S. Army, Amy Sheridan had embarked on an extraordinary 22-year career as a Chief Warrant Officer 4 (CW4).
While Jewish women like Selma Cronan had flown as members of the Women's Airforce Service Pilots (WASPS), they were technically civilians. The WASPS were allowed to pilot aircraft when flying domestically but, since they were not officially members of the military, they could not be in command overseas. CW4 Sheridan was the first woman to achieve this when she began commanding helicopters for the VII Corps Aviation Company in Stuttgart, Germany.
Amy Beth Sheridan grew up in Newton, Massachusetts. She was in her second year at the American College in Jerusalem when the Yom Kippur War began in 1973. She stayed in Israel for a few months, helping with the war effort and singing in a band before returning to the Boston area.
While working at the Colonnade Hotel in downtown Boston, CW4 Sheridan saw an advertisement for careers in aviation. She struck up an agreement with the head of a flight school; she would handle the paperwork; he would give her flying lessons. It took only one flight and CW4 Sheridan was hooked: “When I was focused on flying, nothing could get in the way.”
In 1976, Amy Sheridan volunteered for the Women’s Army Corps (WAC), which became part of the regular army in 1978. She joined out of patriotism but also because she saw the military as a way to finish her education.
Sheridan began working her way up the Army ladder, earning her crewmember badge and becoming a crewchief in 1977. As a crewchief, Sheridan was responsible for maintaining and servicing military aircraft. One of the only women in her position, she encountered some resistance: “There were not [a lot of] men who had been used to working alongside women, especially in such a technical, mechanical field.” One summer, she and another woman were towing airplanes when one landed and suddenly veered into the dirt. Initially, no one would talk to the women about the incident. Later, they were told they had to wear heavier covering over their t-shirts because the pilots were “distracted.” Sheridan said, “That was a miserable, hot, Georgia summer. It was rough.”
When CW4 Sheridan learned that the Army was letting women fly planes, Ray Trott, a maintenance pilot in Shop 4 at Fort Benning, encouraged her to try to enter Warrant Officer Flight Training. First, she had to pass the Flight Aptitude Scholastic Training (FAST) test. In 1977 and 1978, women needed a score of 110 on the FAST, 10 points higher than men who desired to attend flight school.
Assigned to flight training at the Army Aviation Center “school house” in Fort Rucker, Alabama, CW4 Sheridan experienced harassment both as a woman and as a Jew. She was given a hard time about taking time off for Jewish holidays and attending services at the nearest synagogue 18 miles away on Friday nights. Despite the friction it caused, Sheridan tried to stay active in Jewish life. There seemed to always be someone in the unit who considered her taking a day off for Yom Kippur to be “inconvenient,” so she volunteered to work every Christmas and Easter for the next 20 years.
CW4 Sheridan spent over 20 years piloting helicopters and airplanes in the Western Hemisphere, Europe, and Asia. She was involved in every major post-Vietnam conflict. CW4 Sheridan continued her career at places such as Land Southeast NATO, Turkey and the United States Military Academy at West Point. While stationed in Korea, she served as the aircraft commander of the first all-woman reconnaissance flight crew in military history.
Amy Sheridan retired from the Army as a Chief Warrent Officer 4 in 1999. She decided against becoming a commercial pilot since a career in commercial aviation would mean starting all over again as one of a few women in a male-dominated field. She ultimately chose to use a Masters degree she had earned during her years in the Army and work in the education field. Today, CW4 Sheridan is a teacher at both pre- and post secondary levels as well as a special needs advocate, school guidance counselor, and prison facilitator. In 2004, Sheridan was injured in an automobile accident caused by a drunk driver. While she herself is physically unable to fly, she delights in inspiring young women to pursue careers in aviation.
The following clips of JWA’s interview with Amy Sheridan can be found on Youtube.
See also: Jewesses with Attitude, "Amy in the sky", Remembering Jewish women's stories on Veteran's Day, and Veteran's Day: Discover stories of Jewish women in the military.
Sources: Interview with Amy Sheridan, December 7, 2009; “Military Service Binds Together Veterans” East Valley Tribune, November 10, 2009.