Lt. Col. Christine Mau, 33rd Fighter Wing Operations Group deputy commander, became the first female pilot to fly the F-35 Lightning II on May 5, 2015. She completed her first actual training flight after 14 simulated full mission flights in the Full Mission Simulator at the F-35 Academic Training Center, according to an Air Force press release. Mau had previously served as a pilot of the F-15E Strike Eagle, the Air Force’s premier strike aircraft.
“It wasn’t until I was taxiing to the runway that it really struck me that I was on my own in the jet,” said Mau. “I had a chase aircraft, but there was no weapons system officer or instructor pilot sitting behind me, and no one in my ear like in simulators.”
“Flying is a great equalizer,” said Mau. “The plane doesn’t know or care about your gender as a pilot, nor do the ground troops who need your support. You just have to perform. That’s all anyone cares about when you’re up there – that you can do your job, and that you do it exceptionally well.”
Mau will join 87 other F-35A pilots trained over the last four years at Eglin, but will remain the historic first woman to fly the Air Force’s newest fifth-generation fighter.
“It felt great to get airborne. The jet flies like a dream, and seeing the systems interact is impressive. Flying with the Helmet Mounted Display takes some adjusting, but it’s an easy adjustment,” said Mau. “The training missions in the simulator prepare you very well, so you’re ready for that flight.”
The initial flight in the F-35 training syllabus is designed to orient pilots with the physical aspects of flying the F-35 compared to other fighters they’ve flown previously, such as the F-15E Strike Eagle, F-15C Eagle, F-16 Falcon, A-10 Warthog or F-22 Raptor. All of these Air Force aircraft, as well as a range of fixed wing and rotary-wing aircraft, have been flown by female pilots who have been serving the Air Force, Army, Navy, and Marine Corps in combat aviation roles now for more than 20 years.