Air Force Lt. Col. Christine Mau made aviation history Tuesday, becoming the first U.S. woman pilot to fly the F-35 Lightning II fighter jet. Mau took to the skies in the F-35 -- one of the most advanced planes in the world -- after completing 14 virtual-training sessions at Eglin Air Force Base in Florida.
“Flying is a great equalizer,” Mau said in a statement. “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.”
Mau is an experienced pilot who has served with the Air Force overseas. She was a member of the service’s first all-female combat-mission team, which included pilots, weapons-systems officers and mission planners in the Kunar Valley of Afghanistan in 2011, the Air Force Times reported. Deputy commander of the 33rd Fighter Wing Operations Group, Mau was a F-15 fighter pilot before making the transition to the F-35, which is one of the most technically complex and powerful planes in the world, as noted by NBC News.
“It wasn’t until I was taxiing to the runway that it really struck me that I was on my own in the jet,” Mau said in a statement. “I had a chase aircraft, but there was no weapons-system officer or instructor pilot sitting behind me, and no one in my ear like in simulators.”
Women have served in combat aviation roles for more than 20 years. Mau joked that the only difference between her and her male colleagues is the size of her G-suit and face mask, according to a Lockheed Martin Corp. press release. Taking the controls of an aircraft apparently was a longtime goal for Mau, who dreamed of flying jets as a child growing up near El Toro Marine Corps Air Station in California, as pointed out by the Military Officers Association of America.