Inspiring Future Pilots

Even though the number of female Air Force pilots has steadily increased over the years, the number of female fighter pilots has not. There are a total of 723 female pilots, but only 57 “chick fighter pilots,” Lt. Col. Christine Mau, the service’s first female F-35 pilot, said during an evening lecture at the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum on Oct. 6. Mau, the 33rd Operations Group deputy commander at Eglin AFB, Fla., said the toughest parts of being a female pilot for her have been deciding when to have children because pregnant pilots can’t fly and balancing her roles as mother and pilot. Otherwise, she said, taking on a male-dominated career has largely been a “non-event.” And while she might still be the service’s only female F-35 pilot, she said working with other women has been an important part of her career. “Over the last 19 years, the support of the female airmen and aircrew at my squadron has been an absolute essential part of my life. I value their friendship tremendously,” said Mau, who entered the Air Force Academy just after women were allowed to become fighter pilots in 1993. “Even if I’ve never met another female fighter pilot and we get together once, it’s like we instantly bond—we share the same experiences, the same stories, we laugh like we’ve known each other for years—and it’s really easy to just kind of relate to each other. The camaraderie that we share is something that I absolutely treasure. And the mutual support that we give each other, as well as the mentorship, is something I truly value.” Regardless, male and female pilots both face the same challenges in the air. Mau said said the toughest part of switching from the F-15E Strike Eagle, in which she racked up over 2,000 flying hours, to the F-35 was adjusting to the use of the single engine. “That took a lot of getting used to as well as the fact that there wasn’t anybody in my back seat,” Mau said. Mau, who herself was inspired by Women Airforce Service Pilots, said she hopes sharing her experiences “might inspire some young woman somewhere, or some young man somewhere, to join the Air Force and be a fighter pilot.”