Tammie Jo Shults

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Tammie Jo Shults
Tammy Jo Shults.jpg
Shults with a VAQ-34 F/A-18 Hornet[1] in 1992
Tammie Jo Bonnell

(1961-11-02) November 2, 1961 (age 60)
Alma materMidAmerica Nazarene University (BSc)
Spouse(s)Dean Shults
Military career
Allegiance United States of America
Service/branch United States Navy
Years of service1985–2001
RankUS Navy O4 insignia.svg Lieutenant commander
AwardsNavy and Marine Corps Achievement Medal, National Defense Service Medal
Other workCommercial airline Boeing 737 pilot

Tammie Jo Shults (born Bonnell; born November 2, 1961) is an American retired commercial airline captain, author, and former naval aviator. Known for being one of the first female fighter pilots to serve in the United States Navy, following active duty she became a pilot for Southwest Airlines.[2] She retired from Southwest Airlines in 2020.

On April 17, 2018, as captain of Southwest Airlines Flight 1380, she safely landed a Boeing 737-700 after the aircraft suffered an uncontained engine failure with debris causing rapid decompression of the aircraft.

Early life[edit]

Tammie Jo Bonnell was born on November 2, 1961 and grew up on a ranch near Tularosa, New Mexico. As a child, she watched jet aircraft from nearby Holloman Air Force Base practice maneuvers in the skies above her home.[3] Watching these and reading about a missionary pilot, Nate Saint, inspired her to become a pilot too. During her final year of high school, she investigated the possibility of a career in flying but was told that there were no professional women pilots.[3]

Following high school graduation, she attended MidAmerica Nazarene College where she earned degrees in biology and agribusiness, graduating in 1983.[4][5][6] While at MidAmerica, she met a woman who had qualified as a pilot for the United States Air Force and decided to see if the Air Force would accept her application for service. After being turned down by the Air Force, she decided to try the Navy while doing graduate studies at Western New Mexico University.[3]

Military career[edit]

OCS and flight training[edit]

Shults was accepted by the Navy for Aviation Officer Candidate School at Naval Air Station Pensacola.[3] After completing the twelve-week course and receiving her commission as an ensign on June 21, 1985,[7] Shults attended flight training, also at NAS Pensacola, where she trained and qualified for her pilot's wings in the T-34 .[3]

Naval aviation instructor[edit]

After Pensacola, Shults was stationed at Naval Air Station Chase Field as a flight instructor for the T-2 Buckeye.[3] She later qualified in the A-7 Corsair II with training (RAG) squadron VA-122 at Naval Air Station Lemoore.[3] Her next assignment was VAQ-34, a Tactical Electronic Warfare Squadron at the Pacific Missile Test Center located at Point Mugu, California. When the squadron relocated to NAS Lemoore in 1991, Shults became an instructor under the command of CAPT Rosemary Mariner, the first woman to command an operational air squadron.[3] Shults became one of the first female naval aviators to qualify in the F/A-18 Hornet when the squadron transitioned from the EA-6B Prowler.[8][9]

Operation Desert Storm[edit]

During Operation Desert Storm, the combat exclusion policy at that time prevented women from flying combat sorties, so Shults flew training missions as an instructor aggressor pilot for naval aviators.[5] She finished her tour of duty in March 1993.[10]

Navy Reserve, promotion, decorations[edit]

In December 1995, she was promoted to lieutenant commander then transitioned to the Navy Reserve, where she flew the F/A-18 Hornet and EA-6B Prowler until August 2001.[1] Her decorations include two Navy and Marine Corps Achievement Medals, a National Defense Service Medal, and a Marksmanship Medal.[2][11][12]

Civilian career[edit]

After leaving the Navy, Shults joined Southwest Airlines as a pilot, flying a part-time schedule of 8–10 days per month so that she could also raise a family following her marriage to fellow naval aviator Dean Shults.[3]

Southwest Airlines Flight 1380[edit]

On April 17, 2018, while Shults was the captain commanding Flight 1380 from New York to Dallas, an engine fan blade on the Boeing 737 failed and flying debris damaged the left side of the fuselage and one side window; the window failed, causing the plane to decompress. One passenger was partially sucked through the damaged window and was later pronounced dead at the hospital. Shults made an emergency descent and landed in Philadelphia. Her actions, calm demeanor, and competence during the emergency were noted by Southwest Airlines officials and passengers as well as Chesley Sullenberger, another commercial airline and former military pilot who controlled a similar situation in 2009 on US Airways Flight 1549.[11][12][13]

Shults later revealed that she had not intended to be the pilot of that flight, but had swapped the shift with her husband.[14]

President Trump welcomes the crew and select passengers of Southwest Airlines Flight 1380 at the White House on May 1, 2018 (Shults first left of the President)

U.S. Representative and former US Air Force colonel and pilot Martha McSally introduced a resolution in Congress to honor Shults for her life-saving heroism and skill in landing her badly disabled aircraft.[15]

On December 10, 2020, Shults was inducted into the International Air & Space Hall of Fame.[16]

Personal life[edit]

In 1994, she married Dean Shults, at the time a fellow naval aviator in the A-7 Corsair II, who also joined Southwest Airlines as a pilot that year.[3][5] Together, they have two children. The couple live in Boerne, Texas.[7] Shults is a devout Christian who teaches Sunday school and helps the needy, such as internally displaced persons from Hurricane Rita.[7]

Shults wrote a book about Southwest Airlines flight 1380, Nerves of Steel, which was released in the United States on October 8, 2019.[17]


  1. ^ a b Seck, Hope Hodge (April 18, 2018). "Navy Releases Service Record of Hero Captain Who Landed Southwest 1380". Military.com. Retrieved April 19, 2018.
  2. ^ a b Ziezulewicz, Geoff (2018-04-19). "Southwest pilot who landed crippled plane was a Navy aviation pioneer". Navy Times. Retrieved 2018-04-20.
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i j Maloney, Linda, ed. (2011). Military Fly Moms: Sharing Memories, Building Legacies, Inspiring Hope. Tannenbaum. pp. 78–80. ISBN 978-0-9787-3697-2.
  4. ^ Haag, Matthew (April 18, 2018). "Southwest Pilot of Flight 1380 Is Navy Veteran Hailed for Her 'Nerves of Steel'". The New York Times. Retrieved April 19, 2018.
  5. ^ a b c Schmall, Emily (April 19, 2018). "Southwest Airlines pilot pushed Navy boundaries for flying". New Jersey Herald. Retrieved May 5, 2018.
  6. ^ Chuck, Elizabeth (April 18, 2018). "Tammie Jo Shults, who landed crippled Southwest plane, was one of first female fighter pilots in U.S. Navy". NBC News. Retrieved April 20, 2018.
  7. ^ a b c Repko, Melissa (April 18, 2018). "After landing troubled Southwest plane, pilot Tammie Jo Shults hugged passengers, texted 'God is good'". The Dallas Morning News. Retrieved April 18, 2018.
  8. ^ Donnelly, Grace (April 18, 2018). "What to Know About the Pilot on Southwest Airlines Flight 1380". Fortune. Retrieved April 18, 2018.
  9. ^ Londberg, Max (April 17, 2018). "Heroic Southwest pilot studied in Olathe, among 1st female fighter pilots in military". The Kansas City Star. Retrieved April 18, 2018.
  10. ^ "How 'Hero' Southwest Pilot Pushed to 'Break into the Club' of Elite Navy Fighter Pilots". Time. Archived from the original on April 20, 2018. Retrieved 2018-05-05.
  11. ^ a b "Tammie Jo Shults: Southwest pilot praised for safe landing". BBC. April 19, 2018. Retrieved April 19, 2018.
  12. ^ a b Siddiqui, Faiz; Schmidt, Samantha; Halsey, Ashley (April 18, 2018). "'She has Nerves of Steel': The Story of the Pilot who Calmly Landed the Southwest Airlines Flight". The Washington Post. Retrieved April 19, 2018.
  13. ^ Palmer, Ewan; Lee, Tracy (April 19, 2018). "'Sully' Responds to Southwest Airlines Pilot Tammie Jo Shults Landing Plane, Recounts Processing Trauma". Newsweek. Retrieved April 20, 2018.
  14. ^ "Southwest Pilot Who Landed Fatal Flight Wasn't Supposed to Be On It". 10 May 2018. Retrieved 11 May 2018 – via NYTimes.com.
  15. ^ McSally, Martha (April 19, 2018). "McSally to Introduce Congressional Resolution to Honor Southwest Pilot Tammie Jo Shults for Her Life-Saving Heroism" (Press release). United States House of Representatives. Archived from the original on December 22, 2018. Retrieved March 1, 2019.
  16. ^ Arnold, Kyle (December 12, 2020). "Navy veteran honored among aviation greats two years after harrowing Southwest Airlines flight". Stars and Stripes. Retrieved 2020-12-13.
  17. ^ "'We couldn't see, we couldn't breathe': Pilot's new book reveals how close Southwest 1380 came to total disaster | Charlotte Observer". October 10, 2019. Archived from the original on 2019-10-10.

External links[edit]

Media related to Tammie Jo Shults at Wikimedia Commons