Longest-Serving “Rosie” Gets Her First Flight in a C-17 She Helped Make

Elinor Otto, a retired Rosie the Riveter, speaks at AFA's Air, Space & Cyber Conference after receiving AFA's Lifetime Achievement award. Otto flew in a C-17, which she helped build, for the first time on Monday. Screenshot photo.

After 68 years in the aerospace industry, and having a hand in producing every single C-17 in the Air Force’s inventory, an original Rosie the Riveter got her first flight in one on Monday.

Elinor Otto, 98, took to the skies in a C-17 she riveted at March ARB, Calif., in a ceremonial flight flown by Air Mobility Command head Gen. Carlton Everhart.

“You are a true inspiration,” Everhart said. “In the day and age where quicker, faster, more is the goal, and job hopping is the norm, it’s inspiring to hear a story about hard work and dedication that was spread over the course of time.”

Otto joined the aerospace industry in 1942, shortly after the attacks on Pearl Harbor, when she said recruitment signs calling for women to help with the war effort. Recently single and with a young son, she started at a wage of 65 cents per hour. After World War II, the “Rosies” —terms given for women who took men’s jobs in factories—were laid off. Otto tried other jobs before going back to aerospace.

Throughout her career, she worked for Rohr Aircraft Corp., Ryan Aeronautical Co., Douglas Aircraft, and Boeing. She retired in 2014 at the age of 95. At Boeing, Otto worked on every C-17 delivered to the US Air Force, along with aircraft for other nations.

In September, Otto received the Air Force Association’s 2017 Lifetime Achievement Award at the annual Air, Space & Cyber Conference.

“We get who you are, we get your history, we get what you did for this nation,” Air Force Reserve Command chief Lt. Gen. Maryanne Miller said in a ceremony before Otto’s flight. “The bond you formed with other Rosies will forever be a part of our American history.”

Otto’s flight is part of a movement to form “21st Century Rosies” by helping girls and young women join the tech industry, according to Air Force Reserve Command. During Monday’s flight, a 452nd Air Mobility Wing KC-135 refueled the C-17.

Otto said she was thankful for the opportunity, and that she wished all of those who worked with her could take part in the honor.

“I want everybody to be happy and have a wonderful Christmas and have a wonderful future,” she said.