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From the Archives: ‘To Look Back with Pride’ An Interview with Kathy LaSauce

by Master Sgt. Annette Crawford, USAF (Ret.)

Capt. Kathy La Sauce stands in front of a C-141 Starlifter at Norton AFB, California, in the 1980s.

Retired Air Force Lt. Col. Kathy La Sauce can’t remember a time when being a woman stopped her from achieving her goals. In the 1970s, getting a coveted slot for Officer Training School, becoming a maintenance officer or graduating from Undergraduate Pilot Training was pretty much unheard of for a woman. But the Daedalian Life Member not only conquered those goals, she went on to do much more during her 20-year career.

“I never really felt like I didn’t fit in,” Colonel La Sauce said. “I never focused on the negative but kept my sense of humor.”

Even though she excelled at being an aircraft maintenance officer, the colonel said she didn’t realize she was mechanically inclined as a young student.

“I didn’t know I had this aptitude because women didn’t do that. You couldn’t take shop; you took home economics,” she said. “To be honest, in my whole life, I can only remember one course I got a C in and it was home economics.”

Last year Colonel La Sauce read an article in the Daedalus Flyer about the museum at Daedalian headquarters. She was thrilled to be able to contribute some of her memorabilia, including a flight suit, helmet bag, photos, rank insignia, artwork and more. In going through her things, the significance of her career and place in aviation history was eye-opening.

“I didn’t think about it at the time because I was living in the moment,” she said. But now, she said, she’s able “to look back with pride.”

Following is an interview conducted with Colonel La Sauce by Annette Crawford in October 2019.

AC: What made you decide to join the military?

KL: After college I began teaching high school English, but decided I wanted more out of life. Many men my age were serving in Vietnam, and my brother was in the Air Force.

I went to the Air Force recruiter and my timing was perfect. With the draft ending, the services increased the number of women allowed to serve above 2 percent. Long Island, New York, had two slots for women to go to OTS. I was selected.

AC: Tell us a little about your career.

KL: The Air Force initiated a plan to utilize women in more non-combat fields. I was in the first class of women sent to maintenance officer school at Chanute AFB. I spent seven months learning about all the systems of an aircraft – engines, hydraulics, electronics, aerodynamics – and I loved it!

Supervising maintenance personnel and coordinating the recovery, repair and launch of C-141s, C-5s and WC-130 typhoon chasers was a great life!

In 1975 legislation was enacted to open the service academies to women, and the Air Force announced a test program for training women pilots. In 1976 I was among the 10 women in the first class. We trained on the T-37 and T-38 supersonic aircraft to earn our wings.

Then, I was assigned to fly the C-141 at Norton AFB. My knowledge of aircraft systems and understanding of flightline operations made me a better pilot. I upgraded to Aircraft Commander, Instructor Pilot and Flight Examiner Pilot. I was traveling around the world in the C-141 and then the VC-135 aircraft. My life couldn’t be better.

But the opportunity to command an Aerial Port Squadron that supported the President of the United States at Andrews Air Force Base was the perfect ending to my fascinating career in aviation.

AC: Your bachelor’s degree is in drama and speech. How did you use that in your military career?

KL: My college education in drama, speech, radio and television could not have prepared me better for what would follow in my Air Force career. There was an enormous amount of media attention, not only during pilot training, but at Norton Air Force Base as well.

I was featured in an Air Force Now film, appeared on the Merv Griffin Show, was the subject of a Walt Disney Studios documentary, and had a film crew on board during a 10-day mission in the Pacific theater. There were newspaper articles, press releases, photo shoots, interviews and speeches too numerous to mention. Thank God for my training!

Most notable was when I gave the keynote address at the Air Force Association National Convention in Washington, D.C., (as a captain) to an audience of over 3,000.

AC: Considering all of your accomplishments and “firsts,” have you ever felt like you couldn’t do something?

KL: I felt I had the responsibility to do the best I could, knowing that it could impact the women who followed. There were men along the way who did not want to work for me or fly with me. But I was confident that by proving myself capable I could win most of them over.

Wearing men’s uniforms and shoes made it a bit of a challenge to maintain my femininity and identity as a woman. Dealing with the lack of toilet and crew rest accommodations for women made for some “memorable moments,” such as the time the entire C-141 crew stayed in bunk beds in one room at Diego Garcia.

Just recently I learned that many thought I was the best squadron commander they ever had and others told me I was one of their favorite pilots to fly with.

AC: What does being a Daedalian mean to you?

KL: To be the first woman pilot inducted into the Order of Daedalians in 1978 was quite an honor. It was very special to be accepted into a fraternity of aviators from all services, from all wars, unified by our love of country and love of flight.

AC: Do you ever look back and think, “Wow, I did all this!”?

KL: Only recently have I taken the time to look back and reflect on my life, career and accomplishments. I realized that I was a part of aviation history. I had a fascinating and fulfilling career!

AC: Any advice for today’s young aviators?

KL: Learn as much as you can about the systems of the aircraft so you are better able to handle any malfunctions or emergencies. Continue to strive to be the best pilot you can be but know the limitations of the aircraft and your own limitations.

Proper rest and preparation are vital. Your life, as well as the lives of others, is in your hands. So stay focused and alert.