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.