USAF pilot becomes first woman to fly F-35A into combat

Emily Thompson
USAF Capt. Emily Thompson, 421st Expeditionary Fighter Squadron pilot, is the first female to fly an F-35A Lightning II into combat.

Recently, Capt. Emily "Banzai" Thompson, an F-35A Lightning II pilot, deployed from the 388th Fighter Wing at Hill Air Force Base, Utah, made history as she flew in combat, making her the first female to do so in that airframe.

“This is my first deployment… so for me it was a pretty big deal, the first combat sortie for me. …Of course being the first female, it’s a pretty big honor," she said. "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. So just to be the person who gets that honor, that first, it just meant a lot.”

Thompson’s childhood dream of what she would do was very different than her chosen career path.

“Standard childhood dreams were veterinarian and police officer,” she said. “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.”

It has taken Thompson time to get to this point in her career, which began as an F-16 Fighting Falcon pilot.

After graduating college, she spent about a year and a half in pilot training for the F-16, completed a tour in that airframe, then went on to training for the F-35A, according to Thompson.

On the day of her first combat sortie, she had an all-female maintenance crew launch her off for the historic flight.

Emily Thompson

Soruce: 380th Air Expeditionary Wing
Images: USAF/Tech. Sgt. Kat Justen

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