The Virginian-Pilot
                             THE VIRGINIAN-PILOT 
              Copyright (c) 1994, Landmark Communications, Inc.

DATE: Tuesday, November 22, 1994             TAG: 9411220618
SECTION: FRONT                    PAGE: A1   EDITION: FINAL 
DATELINE: SAN ANTONIO                        LENGTH: Long  :  144 lines


The mother of Navy combat aviator Lt. Kara Hultgreen has released copies of flight training records and issued a statement contradicting allegations that her daughter was unfit to fly carrier-based F-14s.

The 29-year-old pilot, killed in a crash off California on Oct. 25, was buried Monday at Arlington National Cemetery. As a light rain fell, about 50 family members and friends watched a horse-drawn caisson carry her casket to a military grave site.

``In spite of the Navy's vigorous defense of Kara's qualifications, gossip continues. The best answer to gossip is the truth,'' Hultgreen's mother, San Antonio lawyer Sally Spears, said in a written statement.

Since the accident, faceless accusers have used anonymous faxes to paint Hultgreen as unqualified and the recipient of special treatment by a Navy wanting to prepare women for combat.

In an interview before the funeral, Spears said she agonized over whether to release the information before the youngest of her three daughters was buried. ``I don't want to do anything to detract from the solemnity of the occasion. But I also don't want Kara buried with this cloud over her,'' the mother said.

The Navy documents she released from Hultgreen's F-14 Tomcat squadron show Hultgreen was carrier-qualified July 24 in the airplane. The qualification came during her second attempt, aboard the San Diego-based carrier Constellation.

She achieved an overall grade of 3.10 out of a possible 4. The average is 2.99.

Her day work at the carrier was graded ``above average'' for a ``CAT 1 pilot'' - Category One, first-time F-14 pilot - with an 89 percent boarding (landing) rate. Her night carrier work was rated average with a 71 percent boarding rate, the records show.

Her overall performance was ``slightly above average,'' and she was ranked No. 3 out of the seven CAT 1 pilots trying to qualify that day.

Hultgreen's F-14 crashed during a daytime carrier landing approach, part of routine training exercises aboard the carrier Abraham Lincoln, about 50 miles off the Southern California coast. Hultgreen's radar intercept officer ejected safely from the fighter.

She was assigned to the Lincoln upon completion of her training at Miramar Naval Air Station in San Diego and was slated to go on sea duty with the Western Pacific Fleet next spring.

The body of the groundbreaking aviator, the first female to qualify in the F-14, was recovered from a depth of 3,700 feet in the Pacific Ocean on Nov. 13. Results of the autopsy are pending.

Navy Capt. Mark Grissom, commander of the Pacific Fleet's naval fighter wing and the officer who oversaw Hultgreen's training squadron, confirmed Hultgreen's achievements as a pilot.

Putting the grades in context, Grissom recalled his years as an F-14 instructor on the East Coast, where training is conducted at Oceana Naval Air Station in Virginia Beach.

``If these grades that Kara had, had been flown by a male pilot or anybody, I would have qualified him without a blink of an eye,'' he said. ``And it is not unusual to not have as good a boarding rate at night. There's no doubt in my mind Kara was well-qualified.''

Since the fatal crash, rumors have circulated that the Navy lowered its standards so Hultgreen and other female combat fighter pilots could qualify - something the Navy has denied.

The Pentagon lifted the combat aircraft exclusion on women in April 1993, opening new horizons for female aviators.

One fax calling Hultgreen unqualified was written by an unnamed person who claims he has more than 1,000 hours in the F-14 and is ``personally involved with the individuals involved in this incident.'' The author asserts that Hultgreen was ``an accident waiting to happen'' and that she scored only a ``2.55 GPA'' on the second attempt.

Said Grissom, ``We don't even use the term `GPA,' so this guy doesn't know what he's talking about. He's making this up, or he has confused another pilot's scores with Kara's.''

In an interview less than two weeks before her death, Hultgreen talked candidly about her failed first attempt to qualify at the Constellation and the adrenalin-pumping experience of landing the twin-engine jet fighter in the dark.

She requested another chance to qualify and was sent back for several months of training in San Diego before successfully qualifying at night aboard ``the boat,'' as she called it.

The anonymous fax author charges Hultgreen ``never even got aboard'' the flight deck on the first attempt to night qualify.

Grissom said angrily: ``That's simply not true.''

Asked if Hultgreen's second shot at qualification amounted to special treatment, Grissom again drew on his experience as an F-14 instructor.

``On average, I would say I had between 25 (percent) and 40 percent of my students disqualify on their first attempt. The F-14 is especially difficult (to land on a carrier) because of some handling characteristics. It would be a real handful for anyone with her limited experience in an F-14.''

The Navy is salvaging parts of Hultgreen's aircraft to aid in an investigation of the accident. Navy Capt. James MacArthur, who was on the Lincoln at the time and in charge of all aircraft on the ship, has said he thought the crash was caused by engine failure.

Other eyewitnesses on the flight deck have said that 29-year-old Hultgreen sacrificed herself, turning the troubled plane away from the ship to avoid hitting it.

Referring to Hultgreen by her designated call sign, the carrier-qualification record states: ``As at the field (landings at the naval air station), Hulk tended to be overpowered on the start. . . . She made timely corrections which ultimately resulted in the best day grades of 7 CAT 1's.'' She was ranked No. 1 in day work on the ship.

On night work, the record says, ``Her tendency was to consistently add too much power on line-up corrections.'' But, it concludes, ``She improved tremendously from her first look (first try at qualifying) at the boat. Her scan has greatly improved, especially at night, and should progress well with experience.''

The anonymous fax calls Hultgreen's death ``tragic'' and avoidable, but says ``the system failed us and it will fail us again unless things are changed.'' The fax goes on to say, ``This fine naval officer is dead because it was not politically correct to challenge her skills and prevent her from achieving her goals.''

Accusing the Navy of a coverup in its handling of the crash, the fax charges the Navy is ``starting to sweep it under the rug just as pretty as you please. It wasn't pilot error they will say. The accident report will say it was an engine stall. They're already preparing the story. Why you ask? Because the powers of `Political Correctness' are a far bigger threat to the Navy than anything any communist country could have ever fielded against us.''

The fax includes pages of detail on F-14 training, carrier landings and how they are graded by landing signal officers, noting that an 80 percent boarding rate and ``2.8 GPA'' has always been needed to qualify. Then it charges, in part, ``Before Lt. Hultgreen's second attempt to qualify at `the boat' AIRPAC (naval air forces in the Pacific) lowered that standard to 70 percent and 2.5.''

Grissom said of the fax, ``These are rumors spread by certain individuals out there who do not want women flying combat airplanes. I've talked to the CO (commanding officer) of the squadron at length, and Kara did fine. I have no idea who this guy is, but we are trying to find out.'' ILLUSTRATION: Color ASSOCIATED PRESS photo

F-14 crash killed Lt. Kara Hultgreen

AP Photo

Dagny Spears touches the casket of Lt. Kara Hultgreen, her sister,

Monday at Arlington National Cemetery. Hultgreen, 29, one of the

first women to qualify for Navy carrier operations in the F-14A jet,

crashed in the Pacific Ocean on Oct. 25.