Air Force conducts first F-35 test flight led by female pilot

Jan. 8 (UPI) — The first F-35 flight test led by a woman was completed in mid-December, the U.S. Air Force said Tuesday.

Maj. Rachael Winiecki, a developmental test pilot with the 461st Flight Test Squadron, who has served past deployments in Southwest Asia, Eastern Europe, and the Pacific, completed the flight test of an F-35 Lightning II at Edwards Air Force Base in Southern California.

Winiecki previously flew the A-10C operationally, making her an advantageous choice for the F-35 test flight, Lt. Col. Tucker Hamilton, 461st Flight Test Squadron commander, said in a U.S. Air Force release.

“Major Winiecki was selected to become an F-35 test pilot based on her exceptional flying ability and the important voice she brings to the F-35 development as a prior A-10 [Thunderbolt II] pilot,” Hamilton said.

With the 461st Flight Test Squadron, Winiecki helps run developmental testing of all variants of the F-35.

While she is the first pilot, Winiecki also highlighted the presence of women test directors, test conductors, discipline engineers and flight test engineers in her squadron.

“I may be the first female developmental test pilot [in the F-35], but [test pilots] are just one small part of the test enterprise,” she said.

The F-35 Lightning II model is a fifth-generation stealth fighter that will likely replace most current U.S. military fighter aircraft. As of November, more than 320 had been delivered to the U.S. and its allies. The first F-35 U.S. combat flight came in September during a ground clearance strike mission in Afghanistan.

The first female F-35 pilot, Air Force Lt. Col. Christine Mau, began training in 2015.

“Flying is a great equalizer,” Mau said at the time. “The plane doesn’t know or care about your gender as a pilot, nor do the ground troops who need your support.”

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