For the first time, the Distinguished Flying Cross (DFC) has been awarded to a woman, Flight Lieutenant and helicopter pilot Michelle Goodman, 31, of the Royal Air Force. Flight Lieutenant Goodman earned the medal by last June flying her Merlin helicopter through heavy fire and mortar rounds into the center of Basra, Iraq, at night to rescue a seriously injured soldier. She flew at 160 mph at very low level across a hostile city using night vision goggles; her aircraft was hit with enemy fire and she executed an approach and landing at an unfamiliar landing site that was taking mortar fire and shrouded in swirling dust. Goodman kept the aircraft on the ground for a full five minutes as her crew retrieved the injured rifleman. She then flew her aircraft, which detected a missile threat and automatically launched countermeasure flares, through a path covered very closely with friendly artillery fire to distract enemy forces. Flight Lieutenant Goodman could have elected not to take on the mission at all, determining that it required too much risk, "But if it was me lying down there," she told The Daily Mail, "I'd like to think there was someone prepared to come and get me."
The aircraft touched down at a British Field Hospital 14 minutes after launch. Before the flight, Goodman had asked her crew if they were up to the task and they agreed. Without Goodman's leadership, and her Incident Reaction Team, the wounded man would have died within 15 minutes. Goodman has completed three tours in Iraq. The DFC is one of the highest military decorations offered, below only the Victoria Cross and Conspicuous Gallantry Cross.