The most elite helicopter unit in the world — the 160th SOAR (Special Operations Aviation Regiment) — is just one of many combat units that has opened up to women.
Women are no strangers to aerial combat though. Air Force Colonel Martha McSally (ret.) has flown several combat sorties as an A10 jet pilot.
Still, SOAR is a huge step for women to enter into more direct combat roles.
“The Nightstalkers” as they are called, are the only special operations aviation unit in the Army — deploying almost continuously since 9/11 to provide drop-off for U.S. military elite at their targets. They also provide close air support (actually shooting at the enemy) while they are on the ground.
“We are a force ready to move at a moment’s notice anytime, anywhere, arriving on target plus or minus 30 seconds,” Col. Clayton Hutmacher told Special Operations Technology.
But an elite air unit for special operations missions didn’t always exist … until that mission in Iran …
It was only after serious issues were found during the disastrous mission to free the hostages in Iran, that the 160th formed in 1981.
Since then, the program has selected very few applicants. The standards are high — they like to have aviators with at least 500 flight hours, or at the top of their class at flight school.
They are experts with the Black Hawk helicopter, which transports operators and can be armed with machine guns.
And the MH-47 Chinook, a larger bird that can bring in troops and cargo — typical for insertions at a distance from the target.
They live up to their 'Nightstalker' name by conducting many of their missions under cover of darkness.
The pilots need to trust their crew chiefs on the sides of the helicopter — they relay how close they may be to the ground.
They fly fast and sometimes drop troops off at very low altitude, where they can make an amphibious assault on coastline targets.
The 160th provides crucial air cover for the men on the ground, especially because they're often outnumbered.
NOW WATCH: Briefing videos
Business Insider Emails & Alerts
Site highlights each day to your inbox.