During Women’s History Month, today’s #VeteranOfTheDay is Navy Veteran Barbara Allen Rainey, the first woman pilot in the service’s history.
Born in August 1948, Barbara Allen Rainey continued the military tradition in her family by joining the Navy; she was both a daughter of a Naval officer and a sister to a U.S. Marine Corps aviator.
In 1970, she joined the U.S. Navy and went to Officer Candidate School in Newport, Rhode Island. She then attended the U.S. Naval Flight Training School, where she completed her flight training in one year. On Feb. 22, 1974, Rainey graduated flight school at Naval Air Station Corpus Christi, Texas, and was the first female Naval Aviator in history. She served with the Pacific Fleet Squadron and flew C-1s in Alameda, California. She eventually became the first jet-qualified woman in the U.S. Navy and flew the T-39 Sabreliner jet.
In November 1977, Rainey resigned from her regular Navy commission when she and her husband, John C. Rainey, who she met in flight school, found out that she was pregnant and expecting a daughter. While pregnant, she remained active in the Navy Reserve and qualified to fly the R6D, now called the Douglas DC-6. In 1981, the Navy experienced a shortage of flight instructors, and she went back to active duty as a flight instructor. She served with Training Squadron Three (VT-3), based in Florida at Naval Air Station Whiting Field, where she flew the T-34C Turbo Mentor.
On July 13, 1982, while practicing touch-and-go landings with her trainee, Ensign Donald Bruce Knowlton, at Middleton Field near Evergreen, Alabama, Rainey’s aircraft lost altitude and crashed. Both Rainey and Knowlton died in the crash. She was 34.
Rainey was buried with full military honors at Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia. Her stone is inscribed “First Woman Naval Aviator. Loving Wife and Mother.”
We honor her service.
Do you want to light up the face of a special Veteran? Have you been wondering how to tell your Veteran they are special to you? VA’s #VeteranOfTheDay social media feature is an opportunity to highlight your Veteran and his/her service.
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Writer: Elizabeth Jefimova
Editors: Amra Kandic and Katherine Berman
Fact checkers: Hannah Bundschuh and Monique Quihuis
Graphic artist: Katie Rahill