Capt. Emily Thompson, call sign “Banzai,” made U.S. military history in early June by becoming the first female stealth fighter pilot to fly into combat, the Air Force announced.
Launching from Al Dhafra Air Base in the United Arab Emirates, Thompson flew a sortie into the “central command area of responsibility,” though specific locations were not provided “due to operational security,” Task and Purpose reported.
Thompson’s historic flight also featured an all-female maintenance crew during her launch.
“This is my first deployment … so for me it was a pretty big deal, the first combat sortie for me,” she said, now part of the 388th Fighter Wing. “Of course being the first female, it’s a pretty big honor.”
Thompson had initially wanted to be an aircraft engineer, she said. Once she got the chance to fly a plane instead of repairing one, however, she had a change of heart, and steered a new direction toward becoming a pilot.
She trained on F-16 Fighting Falcons during her college training and then flew the F-16 for a year-and-a-half before moving on to the stealthy F-35A Lightning II, which is also capable of vertical landings and short takeoffs.
Thompson noted that a lot of female pilots were already flying combat sorties on other platforms, and having honor meant a lot. The captain is one among several recent females assigned to fly F-35s in recent months, and she is optimistic about what’s next for women flying the stealth fighters.
“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.”
“Know there’s a lot of supportive people out there,” she added. “Just stay positive, work hard, and you can achieve whatever you set your mind out to do, you can get it done.”
A member of Thompson’s all-female maintenance crew, Airman First Class Ashlin Randolph, a weapons load crewperson, described the mission as “very empowering,” Air Force Times reported.
“I would definitely say be confident and never let anyone tell you that you can’t do something because you can,” she added.
Preceding Thompson, the first female fighter pilot to fly the F-35 was then-Air-Force-Lt. Col. Christine Mau, who joined the program in 2015 after previously flying F-15s. Mau also partook in the first all-female combat sortie in Afghanistan in 2011, providing air support for coalition and Afghan forces.
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