U.S. Air Force Pilot Becomes First Woman to Fly F-35A Stealth Fighter into Combat

U.S. Air Force Capt. Emily Thompson, 421st Expeditionary Fighter Squadron pilot, dons flight equipment at the Aircrew Flight Equipment shop on Al Dhafra Air Base, United Arab Emirates, June 5, 2020. Thompson is the first female to fly an F-35A Lightning II into combat. She is currently deployed from Hill …
U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Kat Justen

The U.S. has deployed its first female F-35A stealth fighter pilot into combat, the U.S. Air Force announced Tuesday.

Capt. Emily “Banzai” Thompson made headlines after she became the first woman deployed to fly the F-35A Lightning II into combat, the Air Force said in its statement released June 9.

She also had a four-person all-female maintenance crew to help launch her flight, WXIA reported.

“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. “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.”

Although Thompson initially desired to be an engineer, she changed direction once she got a chance to fly a plane and wanted to do more than just repair planes.

“I think it’s a bright future,” she said. “There is a number of us already in the F-35 and I think the number is just going to continue to grow. It’s a very supportive community, it’s very open, I think the opportunity for women to really excel in the F-35 is definitely there.”

After Thompson graduated from college, she spent a year and a half in training to become an F-16 pilot. When she completed her training on the F-16, she began training on the F-35A, according to the Air Force.

The F-35A is the Air Force’s fifth-generation fighter, made to replace an aging fleet filled with F-16s and A-10 Thunderbolt IIs, which were the primary fighting aircraft for more than 20 years.

“With its aerodynamic performance and advanced integrated avionics, the F-35A will provide next-generation stealth, enhanced situational awareness, and reduced vulnerability for the United States and allied nations,” the Air Force said about the jet.

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