There's no doubt that Air Force continues to advance its air-power capabilities. In 2015, the Air Force introduced its new multi-role fighter jet, the F-35A Lightning II. Once all the particulars are fine-tuned, this airframe is slated to eventually replace the F-16 and A-10. But along with its strides in technological advancement comes the breaking of gender-biased boundaries.
Above, the F-35 that will eventually replace F-16 and A-10. (Image from nationalinterest.org)
That same year, the first female F-35 pilot was assigned as the deputy commander of 33rd Fighter Wing Operations Group at Eglin Air Force Base. Lieutenant Colonel Christine Mau was appointed one of 88 pilots qualified to fly the F-35. Graduating from the Air Force Academy and having a family history of pilots is what led Mau towards becoming a pilot herself. Today, she is still the only female F-35 pilot.
Air Force Lt. Col. Christine Mau readies herself for her first flight in the F-35A Lightning II.
Before Mau took on the F-35, she was deployed to Afghanistan in 2011 and was a part of the first all-female maintenance and planning crew. During this time, she flew the first all-female combat sortie and aided in successfully launching an F-15E Strike Eagle combat mission against insurgents in Kunar Valley, Afghanistan.
Above, Mau pictured next to her F-15 on deployment in Afghanistan.
Mau's combat experience played a crucial role in putting the F-35 through its test runs and maintenance. The first squadron of combat-ready F-35s were given the all clear in 2016. Essentially, only the most qualified pilots handle the responsibility of ensuring these jets live up to their functionality and potential.
Lt. Col. Mau and the women of F-15E Strike Eagles (Dudette 07) who provided air support for a combat mission (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Sheila deVera)
Although women have been a part of combat aviation for the past twenty years, Mau's accomplishment is nothing short of history in the making. Some might think that gender plays a role in the ability to fight in war, but Mau has proved that sentiment false.
One thing is for sure, Mau doesn't let her gender stop her from reaching her goals nor from inspiring others to achieve theirs. In an interview with CNN, Mau states,
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.