Commentary

March 22, 2013

A life in flight for first female ‘Thunderbirds’ pilot

Tags:
Airman 1st Class Alexander W. Riedel
Air Force News Service

130318-F-BZ728-006
(AFNS) — Since 1953, the Air Force’s air demonstration team, the Thunderbirds, have captivated spectators across the world and showed its audiences what the Air Force’s aircraft are capable of.

For two years, Lt.Col. Nicole Malachowski surprised audiences not just in the air, but especially when she stepped out of the cockpit of the fighter jet as the first woman to be accepted for a seat on the Air Force’s premier show team.

Being on the crew took Malachowski full circle to the root of her career, she said. At just 5 years old, she visited an air show with her parents and was fascinated by the powerful roar and agility of the F-4 Phantom II.

“I remember looking my father in the eye and saying ‘I want to be a fighter pilot some day,’” Malchowski said.

Soon she began the journey to the cockpit by participating in the Civil Air Patrol at age 12 and took to the pilot’s seat for her first solo flight at age 16 — getting her pilot’s license before her driver’s license. She continued on her path, by applying to the U.S. Air Force Academy, receiving her commission in May 1996.

Malachowski went on to serve in three operational F-15E Strike Eagle fighter squadrons, holding positions as a flight commander and instructor pilot. She quickly amassed more than 1,600 flying hours, including 185 hours of combat time in Operation Deliberate Forge and Operation Iraqi Freedom. On the ground, she also served alongside the U.S. Army’s 2nd Infantry Division as an air liaison officer in South Korea.

In every job, Malachowski excelled, and her flying talent and real-world experience eventually got her selected as the first female pilot in any American military air demonstration team.

In interviews, however, Malachowski often repeated that she didn’t think her gender set her apart.

“What we need to concentrate on is what we have in common, which is that warrior spirit that’s in all of our hearts, that has created us the way we are — to choose to be a part of something so much bigger than ourselves,” Malachowski said during a speech at the Women in Military Service for America Memorial at Arlington National Cemetery in 2006.

But her role as a pioneer in the team was not lost on the officer.

“I never thought I would be a Thunderbird,” she said in 2007. “I still don’t have my arms around it. I don’t think I have fully grasped the significance, and maybe it is something I will figure out in a few years.”

For her, the teamwork of all Airmen is what makes the Air Force mission possible.

“Women have been an integral part of the Thunderbird team for decades,” Malachowski said in an Air Force press release; hinting at the enlisted women who served in support and maintenance roles with the thunderbirds since 1974. “The women of yesterday and today’s Air Force maintain a tradition of excellence, and it is that heritage that has given me this exciting responsibility of being the first female Thunderbird pilot.”

In late November 2007, Malachowski finished her tour with the thunderbirds and performed her last show in front her hometown crowd in Las Vegas, Nev. But Malachowski’s career did not stop with her last airshow.

Leaving behind the stressful schedule of the show team, she took on new challenges from supporting senior government leaders as a White House fellow, to her current position as the commander of the 333rd Fighter Squadron at Seymour Johnson Air Force Base, N.C.

Malachowski said she hopes her service in the Thunderbirds was an example to young girls and to all children that they can achieve their dreams.

“The message to all young Americans is that it’s great to have a dream; it’s great to have goals,” she said. “Pursue something that you are passionate about, and then pursue excellence in that. And surround yourself with a positive team. I hope that when they see the Air Force Thunderbirds, they realize they can achieve any dream, and that a great team to have is certainly the Air Force.”

In the Thunderbirds’ famous flying diamond formation, Malachowski flew in the F-16 Fighting Falcon No. 3, right wing jet — a position again filled by a woman today. Maj. Caroline Jensen continues to inspire dreams at airshows across the country.

“Women have been involved in aviation since the time of hot air balloons,” Malachowski said at the 19th Annual International Women in Aviation Conference in San Diego, March 14, 2008. “It’s only normal to me that women are going to add their strength and skills to the effort of pushing aviation forward.” (Sourced from Air Force News Service articles and Air Force TV News)




All of this week's top headlines to your email every Friday.


 
 

 
Courtesy photograph

Nellis Airman garners 2013 Sijan Award

Courtesy photograph Senior Master Sgt. David DeLoney, 820th RED HORSE readiness and emergency management superintendent, poses for a photo at an undisclosed location. DeLoney earned the 2013 U.S. Air Force Lance P. Sijan Leader...
 
 

April is Child Abuse Prevention Month

NELLIS AIR FORCE BASE, Nev. — Why do I care? I worked for years in Florida in Child Protective Services. I obtained my Master of Social Work in 1996, and I have been a licensed clinical social worker since 2001. I saw children with marks and bruises after they had been beaten with objects. I saw...
 
 

Navy leadership visits Las Vegas Navy Reserves

NELLIS AIR FORCE BASE, Nev. — The Las Vegas Navy Operational Support Center was honored to have Rear Adm. Bryan P. Cutchen, commander of the U.S. Naval Reserve Forces Command, as its special guest speaker during a recently conducted drill weekend. The distinguished guest was a beacon of inspiration for the 250 plus Navy reservists who...
 

 

Pulse on AF force management

WASHINGTON — New eligibility criteria, application deadlines and status updates are all featured in this force management update, an ongoing effort to bring Airmen the latest, most accurate information concerning the complex and dynamic force management programs. Additional TERA, VSP windows The Air Force will open two new fiscal year 2014 temporary early retirement authority...
 
 

AF opens additional TERA, VSP windows

JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO-RANDOLPH, Texas — The Air Force will open two new fiscal year 2014 force management temporary early retirement authority application windows, and a new voluntary separation pay application window, Air Force Personnel Center officials said April 14. Commonly referred to as the 15-year retirement, TERA eligibility will be based on the updated...
 
 
U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Timothy Young

Military children receive support during hardships

U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Timothy Young Tech. Sgt. Mike Hodges, 99th Medical Operations Squadron respiratory therapy technician, holds a horse while Anders Steinhiser, Lomie G. Heard Elementary School 1st grade s...
 




0 Comments


Be the first to comment!


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>


Directory powered by Business Directory Plugin