Amy Reddit Tomlinson Class of '00
When Lieutenant Amy Redditt Tomlinson ’00 explains what she does as an aviator in the U.S. Navy, she references a popular film.
“Have you ever seen Top Gun?” she asks. “You know Maverick, Tom Cruise, is the pilot in the front, and Goose is in the back? I’m Goose. I’m a WSO - pronounced ‘wizzo,’ which stands for Weapon Systems Officer - in the F/A-18 Hornet.”
As a WSO, Tomlinson is literally the backseat driver in charge of navigation. She helps determine where to target weapons systems and sorts out the correct targets using advanced digital displays located in the back of the jet. “It can feel like a video game and makes for a great office,” she says.
Though the job is fraught with danger, Tomlinson says she has never felt afraid or unsafe, even while completing two combat deployments during Operation Iraqi Freedom. Based on an aircraft carrier in the Persian Gulf, she flew six-hour missions assisting America’s ground forces. “The flights are long, but they’re challenging and rewarding,” says the decorated naval flight officer. “It’s what we train and prepare for. They’re rewarding because we’re able to provide assistance to troops on the ground if they need it.”
Her current two-year assignment through fall 2010 may be less dangerous, but it’s no less demanding. As Blue Angel No. 8, Tomlinson serves as events coordinator for the elite Navy Flight Demonstration Squadron, based in Pensacola, Fla. The Blue Angels, whose mission it is to represent and recruit for the Navy, entertain crowds at air shows with six F/A-18 Hornet jets and one C-130 transport aircraft, executing difficult acrobatic maneuvers and demonstrating precision flying at speeds of 120 to 700 mph.
One of 16 officers and 120 total Blue Angels, Tomlinson is the first female aviator selected to the team since the squadron began doing air shows in 1946. She is responsible for planning and coordinating shows in 35 cities between March and November. That includes everything from booking hotels and rental cars for the group to setting up community visits. Tomlinson visits each site, meeting with air show planners, investigating site safety and ensuring FAA approval for taking over the airspace.
The position is a perfect match for her ebullient personality and taps into the skills she acquired as a journalism and public relations major in the USC Annenberg School for Communication & Journalism. Although her father was a Navy pilot, Tomlinson discovered the NROTC independently during her freshman year at USC. Until then, she had never imagined she’d follow in his footsteps - even though there is a photo of Tomlinson that seems prescient now. It was taken when she was 7 years old, during a visit to Marine Corps Air Station Miramar. She is dressed up in her father’s helmet and flight gear (she is absolutely swimming in the pants made for a 6-foot-2 adult), and she’s wearing a chunky pink plastic charm necklace, big round glasses and a huge grin.
Her parents visited her at eight air shows last year, and her husband since 2007, Lieutenant Commander Warren Tomlinson, an F/A-18 pilot with whom she flew in combat missions in Iraq, traveled to 16.
Tomlinson speaks enthusiastically about every aspect of her career, but when asked about the most rewarding part, she does not hesitate. “Hands down, it’s being around kids - seeing their faces light up and be inspired by airplanes and by the military uniform,” she says. “For me to be able to inspire kids to do whatever it is their dreams are, it’s unbelievable. And I only get to do it as a Blue Angel for two years, so I try to make every day count.”