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

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AL DHAFRA AIR BASE, United Arab Emirates (WJW) — The United States Air Force made history by deploying its first female stealth pilot into combat.

On Tuesday the Air Force announced that Capt. Emily Thompson, call sign “Banzai,” became the first female to fly the F-35A Lightning II into combat. Officials have not specifically said where she deployed or when.

“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,” Thompson said in the Air Force press release. “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 also had an all-female maintenance crew launch her off for the historic flight.

“It was very empowering, it was awesome!” said Airman First Class Ashlin Randolph, a weapons load crew member, was one of a four-person team on duty for the historic launch.

Thompson says she originally wanted to be an engineer, but once she flew a plane for the first time her career path changed course.

“Standard childhood dreams were veterinarian and police officer,” Thompson explained. “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.”

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.

Following this historic launch, Thompson and her crew are encouraging young women to follow their dreams.

“Know there’s a lot of supportive people out there,” she said. “Just stay positive, work hard, and you can achieve whatever you set your mind out to do, you can get it done.”

“Be confident and never let anyone tell you that you can’t do something because you can,” added Randolph.

More on the US Air Force, here.

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