Mother-of-two is the first woman to fly an F-35 fighter jet – she talks about sexism and “killing bad guys”

This story is part of “Ceiling Smashers”, a series in which successful women in all industries tell MarketWatch how they broke professional barriers.

As a child, Christine Mau’s home in Laguna Hills, Calif., Was under the flight path of F-4 jets howling in the sky from the since-disused El Toro Marine Corps Air Station in Irvine.

“I was there when I was five, watching those big, bad F-4s making noise and looking awesome,” Mau, 44, told MarketWatch. “I said to my mother, ‘I want to do this someday.'”

The desire to fly is family. His father was an Air National Guard C-130 pilot who became Continental Airlines UAL,
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pilot, and his grandfather flew the B-24 bomber during World War II.

But Mau didn’t see her ambitions crystallize until sixth year, when she saw Maverick and Goose pilot an F-14 Tomcat in the 1986 movie “Top Gun”.

“I was there when I was five, watching those big, bad F-4s making noise and looking awesome. I said to my mother, ‘I want to do this someday.’


– —Christine Mau, the first female F-35 fighter pilot

Mau landed her first choice of aircraft after pilot training: the two-seater F-15E Strike Eagle fighter jet, which she considered “the most impressive aircraft of the time.” She flew the F-15E for most of her career, totaling more than 500 combat hours in Operations Iraqi Freedom, Southern Watch, Northern Watch and Enduring Freedom.

“I loved that you have a crew working together,” she said, referring to the pilot and weapons systems officer involved. “He’s also a daring fighter who drops all the bombs in our inventory.”

In March 2011, she made history as the first all-female F-15E combat mission – planned, informed, launched and flown by women, and nicknamed “Dudette 07” – to support the coalition and the Afghan ground forces. “It was the coolest, most surreal experience,” she said. “I sort of feel like the WASPs may have felt during WWII.”

In 2015, she became the first woman to fly an F-35 fighter jet. She retired in 2017 as a lieutenant colonel in the US Air Force.

During her first year of high school, she had become serious about attending a military academy. She researched how to increase her chances of obtaining pilot training and focused her academic efforts on entering the United States Air Force Academy.

Mau received his nomination and acceptance to the Academy in 1993, the same year, then Secretary of Defense Les Aspin led the army to enable women to pilot combatants and bombers in combat. (Aspin also implemented former President Bill Clinton’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy in 1994.)

Mau didn’t see her ambitions crystallize until fourth year, when she saw Maverick and Goose pilot an F-14 Tomcat in the 1986 movie “Top Gun”.

Through her research, Mau was inspired by the Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASP), a group of civilian pilots who flew 60 million miles on an assortment of non-combat missions during WWII. In 1977 they received retroactive veteran status, and in 2010, Congress awarded them the Congress Gold Medal. (The Air Force began accepting women on an equal basis with men in 1976.)

“They did a lot of really cool things back when societal and gender norms were totally against it,” Mau said. “If they could do that in the ’40s, well, I could clearly be a fighter pilot in the’ 90s.” She says the Combat Exclusion Act was barely registered as she was finishing her flying career. “I kind of put on the horse blinders and just [kept] move forward, ”she said.

Mau, a growing tomboy, also had a long-standing “anything you can do I can do better” competition streak – “especially when it came to boys thinking they were better than me because that they were a boy and I was a girl, “she said.

After a 20-year career in the Air Force, Mau retired in 2017 as an F-35 instructor pilot. She is now working on the other side of the equation for Lockheed Martin LMT,
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the fighter plane master, training Air Force and Navy student pilots on the F-35 at Eglin Air Force Base in Northwest Florida.

As with civilian jobs, there are fewer women in the air force at the top of the chain. Women air force officers represent 21.1% of those in the ranks of second lieutenant to lieutenant-colonel, 13.9% of officers in the rank of colonel and 7.5% of those in the rank of general brigade and beyond, according to a 2016 analysis of Air Force personnel data by the nonprofit think tank RAND.

Women make up only 766 (or 6.2%) of the US Air Force’s 12,349 pilots, according to data from the Air Force Personnel Center.

Women are also less likely than men to have “evaluated” Air Force jobs (ie positions involving flying), “which have the highest promotion and retention rates” , according to another report. RAND Report 2014 prepared for the air force. Women make up only 766 (or 6.2%) of the Air Force’s 12,349 pilots, according to the Air Force Personnel Center.

This proportion corresponds to civil aviation statistics, where women make up about 4.4% of airline pilots and 6.6% of commercial pilots, according to the Federal Aviation Administration.

Mau liked the volume, speed and aggressiveness of the flight. She arrived at the Air Force Academy a “blank slate,” she said, and did her best to duplicate everything her instructors taught her to do. She wanted to be a fighter pilot and made choices to maximize her chances – performing well in a flight control program that would allow her to compete for the Euro-NATO Joint Jet Pilot Training (ENJJPT) at Sheppard Air Base in Wichita Falls, Texas, and completed this program as a Distinguished Graduate in 1999.

“At the time, everyone who went to the ENJJPT had fighters,” Mau said. “So I said, ‘OK, well, that will definitely increase my chances. “”

In both Academy and pilot training, Mau developed a “really thick skin” that allowed him to appreciate feedback and withstand the scrutiny of debriefings, during which every little mistake is made. criticized to the “Nth degree of detail”. “I have seen men cry during debriefings,” she said. “I wanted to drill holes in the walls during the debriefings. “

Mau was the first female pilot to fly an F-35 fighter jet.

Scott Wolff

In 2015, she was the first woman selected to fly the F-35, a single-seat aircraft that Lockheed Martin boasts of being “designed to defeat today’s most advanced threat systems, both in the air and ‘on the ground”. “It’s demanding; it takes so much of your attention, focus and skill, ”said Mau. “But here’s the thing: the jet doesn’t care if you’re male or female. “

The retired Air Force pilot suggested that a combination of forces is a barrier for women to become pilots, including societal norms, a dearth of role models, and the perception that flying while raising a family can be untenable. .

Mau herself has two daughters aged 9 and 12. She took a non-flying job and pursued a master’s degree during her two pregnancies, as women cannot fly fighter jets during their pregnancy due to safety concerns. “No one really knows what to do with a pregnant fighter pilot,” she said. But she insists that the balance between theft and child rearing is doable, and says the struggle to balance work and family is universal among men and women.

Mau took a non-pilot job and pursued a master’s degree during her two pregnancies: “No one really knows what to do with a pregnant fighter pilot.

Granted, Mau says she suffered her fair share of sexism from “old dinosaurs” in the military, especially early in her career. She also met “fantastic leaders” who did not tolerate discrimination or abuse. The horse blinders and thick skin served her well, she said.

Others have experienced worse than sexism. Senator Martha McSally (R-Arizona), an Air Force veteran who was the first female fighter pilot to fly in combat, revealed earlier this year that she was “preyed upon and raped by an officer superior”.

Sexual misconduct remains a persistent problem in the armed forces: an estimated 20,500 military personnel (13,000 women and 7,500 men) suffered some type of sexual assault in 2018, a jump of almost 38% from 14,900 in 2016, according to Pentagon data released Thursday. The prevalence of sexual assault among working women fell from 4.3% in 2016 to 6.2% in 2018, according to the report, while the prevalence rate among men (0.7%) has remained constant. According to the report, only one in three people reported their allegation to an authority in the Defense Ministry.

“Flying is the ultimate equalizer,” said Mau. “So you might not like me, just because I’m a woman, but when I get on that plane and I’m able to rob you … You want the best to be defending our nation, leading the battles of our nation. “

She urged young women who wish to serve in the military – especially those with an interest in aviation – to “get ahead” and avoid limiting themselves. Go to college, get commissioned in the military, and learn to fly, she said, keeping an eye on scholarships and other resources. “Grow thick skin and have people support you,” Mau added. “I had a lot of naysayers so I just ignored those people who didn’t support me.”

Being a fighter pilot, Mau said, “is really about breaking things and killing bad guys.”

“You’re supposed to protect the good guys along the way – that’s a subset, of course – but you have to constantly find targets and kill bad guys in the air,” she said. “Every minute that you are in the air is a challenge and a requirement and requires a lot of attention and concentration. I love this challenge.

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