US Air Force pilot becomes the first woman to fly the F-35A stealth fighter into combat

US Air Force pilot becomes the first woman to fly the F-35A stealth fighter into combat
US Air Force Capt. Emily Thompson, 421st Expeditionary Fighter Squadron pilot, dons flight equipment recently at the Aircrew Flight Equipment shop on Al Dhafra Air Base, United Arab EmiratesU.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Kat Justen
  • A US Air Force F-35A pilot recently became the first woman to fly the fifth-generation stealth fighter into combat, according to an Air Force press release.
  • Capt. Emily Thompson, call sign "Banzai," made the historic flight in a fifth-generation F-35A Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter. It was her first combat sortie on her first deployment.
  • "Being the first female, it's a pretty big honor," Thompson said this week in an Air Force statement.

A female US Air Force F-35A pilot made history recently by becoming the first woman to fly the fighter into combat, the Air Force announced this week.

Deployed to Al Dhafra Air Base in the United Arab Emirates, Capt. Emily Thompson, call sign "Banzai," flew a fifth-generation F-35A Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter into combat, becoming the first female pilot to do so. She is on her first deployment, and the flight marked her first combat sortie.

"Being the first female, it's a pretty big honor," Thompson said in an Air Force statement.
Advertisement
"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 honor, that first, it just meant a lot."

Thompson, who had planned to be an engineer before she realized that she could fly instead of just fix airplanes, started her career in the Air Force flying F-16 Fighting Falcons but then later transferred to the F-35A, the variant of the Lockheed Martin stealth fighter built for the Air Force.

US Air Force pilot becomes the first woman to fly the F-35A stealth fighter into combat
Thompson dons her helmet recently prior to a mission at Al Dhafra Air Base, United Arab EmiratesU.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Kat Justen
Advertisement

Thompson is part of a small group of female F-35 pilots, but she said that "the opportunity for women to really excel in the F-35 is definitely there."

The F-35, which comes in three different variants, is the most expensive weapon system in the history of the US military, with an anticipated total development and procurement cost of roughly $400 billion and an operating and maintenance cost of around $1.2 trillion, Bloomberg News recently reported, citing Pentagon assessments. The F-35 stealth fighter first entered into combat with the Israeli Air Force in May 2018, when IAF Maj. Gen. Amikam Norkin proudly announced Israel was "the first in the world to use the F-35 in operational activity."
Advertisement

The US took the advanced fighter jet into battle for the first time a few months later, in September 2018, using a Marine Corps F-35B launched from the amphibious assault ship USS Essex to strike Taliban targets in Afghanistan. US Air Force F-35As flew their first combat missions against ISIS in Iraq in April 2019.

The Air Force, citing operational security concerns, declined to provide any concrete details on Thompson's flight, offering only that it took place in early June.

{{}}