Thursday, May 1, 2014

Women Who Inspire: Interview with Beth (Wainscott) Cronk

In my novels, I favor—surprise—a strong female protagonist. I don’t have to look far for inspiration.

My Naval Academy classmates serve as great examples. Many “female firsts” have come from our 1989 graduating class. At the time, women were still prohibited from serving aboard combatant ships, flying tactical aircraft, or serving aboard submarines. Even if they weren’t “first,” many of my friends found themselves alone or in the extreme minority as they entered and moved through the fleet depending on their job.

Beth Cronk is one such example. I hope you enjoy her interview here.

Beth (Wainscott) Cronk graduated with a Bachelor of Science in Oceanography from the US Naval Academy and reported to flight school in Pensacola, FL. During her 20-year career (10 years active, 10 years reserve), she piloted several aircraft including the T-2B and TA-4J, earning carrier landing qualifications in both, in addition to flying the C-9 and C-12. After leaving active duty, she also flew the 747-400 for four years. Beth retired with the rank of Commander (O-5). She and her husband (also USNA class of 89) now own and operate Hawaii Dream Vacations. Beth lives with her husband and son in Oahu, Hawaii.

AW: Beth, when did you know you wanted to fly jets?

BC: I was just a little girl, so this was in the 70’s. Of course, women weren't allowed to fly jets then, but my parents never told me that.

AW: I love your parents already! They sound extremely supportive. 

BC: Yeah, they were always supportive of my decision to fly and to go to the Naval Academy. In fact, I received appointments to both the Naval Academy and the Air Force Academy, but chose Navy in the end.

AW: You chose well! You were a Navy brat, right?

BC: Yes, my father retired after 29 years of service as a navy captain and flew A-4’s and A-7’s in Vietnam. He went with me to visit the Navy and Air Force campuses to help me with my decision on where to go for college.

AW: You met your husband, Chris, at Navy. What was the dating scene like?

BC: (Laughs). We met during second class summer and then we were EE [Electrical Engineering] lab partners during the academic year. So our dating consisted of studying together in Chauvenet Hall, basically.

AW: And you got married right after graduation?
Beth Cronk

BC: Actually, we got married two years after graduation, right before I received my wings. I was in Beeville, TX at the time and Chris was an NFO [Naval Flight Officer] in F-14’s stationed in Oceana. So to get co-located, we needed to get married.

AW: When you received your wings, was tactical aviation an option for you at that point?

BC: No. We could remain in the training command as an instructor pilot in the A-4, but that was about it—nothing off the carriers except for C-2’s, but C-2’s were a different training pipeline. It just so happened that at this time, the Navy was going through a huge RIF [Reduction in Force], so my detailer was able to get me into a C-9 squadron [The C-9 is the military version of the McDonnell Douglas DC-9 used for many years by the commercial airlines.] I went on to be an instructor pilot and a post-maintenance check pilot in the C-9.

AW: How many women were in your C-9 squadron?

BC: I think we had four women out of about forty pilots. And then when I flew C-12’s, I think it was two women out of eight pilots.

AW: What about the numbers in flight school in Beeville where you did your jet training?

BC: Oh, in Beeville, it was just Sara [Applegarth Joyner—an 89 classmate] and me in the T-2 squadron, and I think there were only two women in the A-4 squadron—so four of us, total. There were no female instructors at the time and there were only like three or four female staff officers on the base, so maybe eight women total on the entire base!

AW: You relayed a funny story to me via email about the time you did your anthropomorphic measurements when you first entered flight training in Pensacola.

BC: Yeah. Do you remember in primary training when they took every student out to a hangar and had us sit in cockpit mock-ups and take anthropomorphic measurements to see what we could fly? My sitting height is a little short, so they said I could fit in any platform except the A-6. The guy who told me this felt bad that he had to break this news to me—that my options would be limited. I remember laughing and saying something like, "Really? I also have ovaries, which rules out a whole bunch of other aircraft."

AW: That cracks me up! Honestly, you've got so many sea stories, it’s hard to narrow them down and pick which ones to talk about. But I love the tale about you and Kim Nugent, our classmate, on midshipman cruise.

BC: (Laughs again). Kim and I were assigned to a destroyer on First Class Midshipman Cruise. We met the ship when it was anchored off Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. So we take a small boat to go meet the ship and they have cargo netting slung over the side for us to climb to get on board  The only problem was that Kim and I were wearing our summer white skirts and heels! But hey, we had to get aboard. So there we were, climbing the cargo netting in heels with our sea bags slung over our shoulders. Classic!

No comments:

Post a Comment