US Air Force Capt. Emily Thompson became the first female fighter pilot to fly the F-35A stealth aircraft.
The maintenance crew that helped launch her on the historic flight was an all-female crew as well. Thompson believes "the number of women flying the F-35 "is just going to continue to grow."
Thompson recently became the first female fighter pilot to fly the F-35A stealth aircraft into battle, after taking off from the Al Dhafra Air Base in the UAE towards an undisclosed location in the Middle East, as was published in a press release by the US Air Force Central Command on Tuesday.
“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 an interview to the US Air Force official website. She emphasized that although she is honored, "there’s a lot of females who have come before me."
Thompson is commonly known as "Banzai" around her peers at the Air Force. Reflecting back, Thompson shares how she originally "wanted to be an engineer." She went to college to be an aerospace engineer, when she found out about the option of becoming a pilot, realizing she "could fly, instead of build airplanes and it just kind of took off from there."
After graduating from college, she spent about a year and a half in pilot training for the F-16, completed a tour in that airframe, and then went on to train for the F-35A.
“It was very empowering" says Airman First Class Ashlin Randolph, a weapons load crew member who was one of the four-person crew on duty that sent Thompson on her historic flight.
“I would definitely say be confident and never let anyone tell you that you can’t do something because you can,” Randolph added as a message to young girls.
Thompson had a message of her own to send to future generations: "Just stay positive, work hard, and you can achieve whatever you set your mind out to do, you can get it done.”