DYESS AIR FORCE BASE, Texas — As Major Lauren Olme, assistant director of operations for the 77th Weapons Squadron, fires up the engines of a B-1 Lancer at Dyess Air Force Base, she is fulfilling her dream of becoming a pilot. In addition to that dream, she accomplished a new feat that will impact future generations of military women: Flying while pregnant.
Lauren gained her passion for flying by watching her father fly as an Air Force pilot.
“My dad flew F-15Cs, so I instantly fell in love with flying and Air Force culture from a very young age,” said Lauren. “There was never really a point where I officially decided I wanted to join the Air Force, it was just something I always wanted to do.”
Lauren met her husband, Major Mark Olme, a bomb wing weapons officer with the 7th Operations Support Squadron, while attending the Air Force Academy. They became fast friends and started dating in November 2011, marrying seven months after graduation.
“We were sailing as newlyweds while both pursuing undergraduate pilot training,” said Lauren. “Both of our flight commanders were B-1 pilots, and the bomber community combined many aspects that we both wanted from flying. We were very lucky to receive the B-1 from UPT and we don’t regret it for a second!”
After completing training at Dyess, the Olmes moved to Ellsworth AFB, South Dakota, and over the next few years traveled together on various missions. They were deployed on a Bomber Task Force to Andersen AFB, Guam, office at Nellis AFB, Nevada, and a combat deployment to Al Udeid Air Base, Qatar. In 2020, they completed the Air Force version of “Top Gun”, the US Air Force Weapons School course.
“Lauren and I have been very blessed with the opportunity to work together, deploy together and do multi-month exercises together,” said Mark. “The world of aviation is stressful enough, so add racing your wife, who is better than you, to everything! However, we got to share some special moments together because of that.”
In August 2022, Lauren and Mark found out that they would be adding yet another addition to the family.
“I was honestly shocked when we found out I was pregnant,” said Lauren. “We had been trying for a few months and I was expecting another negative test. I got tested right before work and after finding out I was positive, keeping this secret from Mark all day was torture, but I wanted to tell him in person.”
Despite being pregnant, Lauren still wanted to fly. Last year, a new Air Force policy stated that crew members can voluntarily apply to fly while pregnant and no waiver is required to fly in the second trimester with an uncomplicated pregnancy on an aircraft with a non-ejection seat, if all criteria for flight safety are met. All pregnant crew members are also entitled to apply for an exemption, regardless of trimester, aircraft or flight profile.
“I can’t help expressing how amazing it is that pregnant women now have the opportunity to fly in all types of aircraft,” said Lauren. “It is a very personal decision that Mark and I made together because there are risks involved with flying the B-1 while pregnant, but after consulting with Air Force and civilian doctors, we felt comfortable with me flying for a few weeks.”
Crewmembers who wish to fly during pregnancy are informed about the risks to themselves, the fetus, the safety of the flight and the mission, in accordance with all medical conditions. Approval is granted through the joint consent of the aviator, obstetrician, flight surgeon and captain.
“This policy is a huge boon to the Air Force, they have deliberately made a change that gives female aircrews the same opportunities as male aircrews,” said Lieutenant Colonel Charles Armstrong, commander of the 77th WPS. “This allows female pilots to continue to develop their qualifications and flight hours to advance their careers during pregnancy. It was based on years of analysis and research by aircrew physiologists, both within the Air Force and external agencies, to determine that it is safe and acceptable for women to fly for a longer period than in the past.”
This allows the member to weigh the pros and cons, deciding for himself whether he wants to fly or not.
“One of my biggest reservations about getting pregnant during a flying mission was the time away from the cockpit, so having the opportunity to continue flying and not be out of the jet so much time is great,” said Lauren. “The policy allows aviators to fly up to 28 weeks, but for various reasons my medical team has decided it’s best to stop around 22 weeks, so that’s all I’m going to do with our baby.”
Baby Olme, due to arrive in April 2023, became one of the first Department of Defense babies to log 9.2 hours in a supersonic aircraft.
“Lauren is an incredible woman, deploying a unit, developing a schedule, creating exercise scenarios, being a great pilot and leader, all while building a human being,” said Mark. “I’m not sure how she does it all, with poise and grace. I am extremely proud of her and can’t wait to tell our son that they flew supersonic in formation with Mom and Dad.”
Lauren expressed her admiration for becoming one of the first women to experience this new policy and shared her admiration for the aviation pioneers before her.
“I am honored to be one of the first to fly in an aircraft with an ejection seat while pregnant,” said Lauren. “I wouldn’t be able to do this if women in the Air Force weren’t championing these kinds of policy changes, so living through the political change that other women have worked so hard to enact is truly an honor.”