US Air Force Pilot Becomes First Woman To Fly F-35A Stealth Fighter Into Combat
A US Air Force pilot has made history by becoming the first woman to fly an F-35A fighter into combat.
Captain Emily Thompson flew a fifth-generation F-35A Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter into combat, after being deployed Al Dhafra Air Base in the United Arab Emirates, becoming the first female solo pilot to do so.
Thompson, who began her career in the Air Force flying F-16 Fighting Falcons, is currently on her first deployment, and this flight actually marked her first combat sortie.
In a statement from the Air Force announcing the news, Thompson said it was ‘a pretty big honour’ to become the first female to fly the aircraft solo.
‘There’s a lot of females who have come before me and there’s a lot of females already flying combat sorties in other platforms,’ she said. ‘So, just to be the person who gets that honour, that first, it just meant a lot.’
Thompson’s impressive feat came after a bit of a U-turn in her career, as she had previously planned to be an engineer before realising she could actually fly the planes herself, instead of just fixing them.
Standard childhood dreams were veterinarian and police officer. From there, realistic dreams set in and I wanted to be an engineer. I went to college to be an aerospace engineer, which is what my degree is in. Then I sort of found out about the whole pilot thing, I could fly, instead of build the airplanes and it just kind of took off from there.
Thompson has become one of just a handful of females to have flown the F-35, however she said: ‘The opportunity for women to really excel in the F-35 is definitely there.’
The F-35 comes at an eye-watering development cost of around $1.2 trillion, making it the most expensive weapon in the history of the US military, according to reports.
The aircraft, which has three different variants, first came into combat in May 2018 with the Israeli Air Force. Israel Air Force Major General Amikam Norkin announced that Israel was ‘the first in the world to use the F-35 in operational activity’, at the time.
The US military took the fighter jet into battle for the first time in September. They used a Marine Corps F-35B, launching from the amphibious assault ship USS Essex to strike Taliban targets in Afghanistan.
Then in April 2019, the US Air Force F-35As flew their first combat missions against ISIS in Iraq.
When offering up her advice to any young girls or women who want to follow in her footsteps, Thompson said:
I would definitely say be confident and never let anyone tell you that you can’t do something because you can.
What an inspiration.
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