by Liz Duca
In the Dominican Republic Air Force less than 5% of pilots are women, and only one holds the title of her country’s first and only female fighter pilot; Major Maria Tejada-Quintana. She flies the Embraer A-29 Super Tucano, a turboprop light-attack combat aircraft, used primarily for drug-interdiction and border patrol missions. “When I was a child I never believed this could be my career,”Maria says. “In my country women were not allowed to enter the military academy, let alone become a pilot.” It is a common theme many female aviators faced when they began to dream what some considered an impossible dream.
As a young girl, Maria imagined she would become a doctor. She laughed as she recounted always playing with her dolls as though they were sick. However, during her adolescence everything changed. When she was 11 years old her older brother entered the military academy and began to train to be a fighter pilot. “He was my biggest
inspiration toward pursuing a career in the military and of course toward becoming a pilot." Every weekend he returned home and would tell his family stories about flight training. It fascinated Maria and she began to imagine herself as a fighter pilot just like her older brother. Although becoming a military pilot was not a possibility for women, her passion for aviation continued to grow. Then, in 2002, the impossible dream was made possible. The Dominican Republic Air Force announced they would begin to allow women to enter the military academy. It was the moment Maria had been waiting for. With her family’s support she entered the military and became a part of the first class of female cadets to graduate from the Dominican Air Force Academy. Three years later she began flight training.
Standing at 5’1’’ and petite in stature, many doubted if Maria had what it took to become a military pilot. Despite those who said she couldn’t do it, she kept her head high and pressed toward her goal. She knew it would not be easy, but she never gave up. The words of Paulo Coelho helped her to keep faith, “No dejes que las dudas paralicen tus acciones”.... do not let your doubts paralyze your actions. It was also during this time that Maria first heard about the Women Air Force Service Pilots (WASP) and in many ways their story was her story. She too was one of the first female military pilots for her country and there was a lot that she had to prove. All eyes were on her. Reading about the tenacity and courage of the WASP gave her the inspiration and confidence to believe that she too would succeed. Their story proved that there was no obstacle that could stand in her way.
After years of training, Maria earned her coveted aviation wings and became the first woman in her country’s history to fly the A-29 Super Tucano. She paved the way and broke the glass ceiling for all girls in the Dominican Republic. Seven other women have since followed in Maria’s footsteps, and this year one woman will also have the chance to fly the A-29. Maria has full confidence that she will succeed and be an excellent fighter pilot. “If I could do it, why can’t they?” asked Maria. “No matter how hard and difficult things can be, if we put forth all of our courage and effort we can do anything.”