A woman at the controls of Korean combat copterThe Korean army’s main combat helicopter, the AH-1S Cobra, is equipped with a powerful armament system including rockets and missiles. As of this month, this powerful combat helicopter now has a woman in the cockpit.
With a ceremony July 21 to mark her completion of pilot training at the Army Aviation School, First Lieutenant Kim Hyo-seong, 27, became the first Korean woman to qualify to fly the Cobra. The first female helicopter pilot was licensed in Korea in 1981, but Ms. Kim is the first to fly a combat helicopter.
“It was my dream to be a soldier. I wanted to live a life that is special,” Ms. Kim said.
After graduating from Seosan Girls High School and Dongguk University, Ms. Kim was appointed an officer in 2003 and was a troop commander of field operations for one year.
“I met pilots wearing red scarfs, berets and pilot uniforms during field operations and they looked fantastic,” Ms. Kim said. “So I applied. If I am going to be a pilot at all, I wanted to be able to fight in battle.”
Her heart was pounding when she saw the Cobra for the first time, she said. Ms. Kim entered the Army Aviation School in November 2005 to begin eight months of training, including strategic flying.
“Most soldiers do helicopter jump drills, but the feeling of flying a helicopter over clouds is very special and is a blessing,” Ms. Kim said. “I wanted to be seen as the best Cobra helicopter pilot rather than the first female Cobra helicopter pilot.” She also wants to earn the “Top Heligun,” position, which is given to the best helicopter artillery shooter.
Ms. Kim will now be stationed at an airborne operation command post to learn day and night combat firing skills.
Of tensions that have followed North Korea’s missile launches, Ms. Kim said, “It should not happen, but if there is a battle, I will be the first pilot to fly a Cobra helicopter in the spearhead.”
Her mother, Lee Sun-suk, 54, was an assistant officer and worked for seven years at the Republic of Korea Army headquarters. After she was widowed, she raised three daughters, of which Hyo-seong is the eldest. “I was a soldier in the past, but looking at my daughter becoming a commander and gallant pilot, I feel like all my hardships are gone,” Ms. Lee said.
Asked whether it is hard being a woman in the military, Ms. Kim said, “Every morning I run 4 kilometers to 5 kilometers with the male pilots, but I was never left behind. I didn’t experience much difficulty.”
“The only thing is the pilot seat is too low. It would have been nicer if I were taller,” she said.
Ms. Kim stands 1.7 meters tall (5.6 feet), and is still single.
by Kim Sung-tak