Lt. Col. Christine Mau became the first female fighter pilot to fly the Air Force’s newest jet, the F-35 Lightning II, on Tuesday, setting off from Florida’s Eglin base in a plane capable of traveling at speeds in excess of 1,200 miles per hour.
The F-35 is intended to replace the Air Force’s older F-16 and A-10 jets beginning next year, and ahead of Mau’s flight, only 87 male pilots had previously tested the aircraft. A veteran of F-15 Strike Eagle missions in Afghanistan, Lt. Col. Mau nevertheless trained in 14 virtual missions before climbing into the F-35, according to the Daily Mail.
— Michael Crowley (@michaelcrowley) May 7, 2015
A deputy commander of the 33rd Fighter Wing Operations Group, which is based out of Eglin, Lt. Col. Mau explained that taking the F-35 into the air was a special moment for her.
“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 noted. “It felt great to get airborne. The jet flies like a dream.”
First F-35 female pilot. NAVY version of this stealth beauty costs $340M each. Most advanced fighter well into 2050’s pic.twitter.com/Pl7ojQmY88
— Saman Arbabi (@SamanArbabi) May 7, 2015
Though the flight went as planned and Mau landed with no issues, she related that the F-35’s high tech cockpit did take a moment to get used to, as CNN reports. While pilots in older fighter jets would receive important data through the cockpit’s control panels, in the F-35, that information is projected directly on their helmets.
Mau’s past military experience includes an assignment to the first all-female combat mission conducted in Afghanistan in 2011. Though she took part in that groundbreaking mission, Mau asserts that gender plays no part in flying military aircraft, a task women have taken on for more than two decades.
“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.”
Last year, the Pentagon grounded the F-35 following a runway fire at Eglin. As the Inquisitr previously reported, though the cause of the fire remained unclear, the Pentagon has remained committed to eventually acquiring more than 2,400 of the fighter jets.
Though she has the distinction of being the first female to pilot the F-35 fighter, which can reach altitudes of 50,000 feet, Lt. Col. Mau asserts that the only difference between her and other pilots is the size of her facemask and g-suit.
[Image: 33rd Fighter Wing Public Affairs via the Daily Mail]