First Female Pilot Flies the F-35B

U.S. Marine Capt. Anneliese Satz flies single-seat supersonic STOVL stealth fighter.

Person giving hand signals to pilot
U.S. Marine Capt. Anneliese Satz flies the F-35B STOVL stealth fighter.U.S. Marine Corps/Sgt. Ashley Phillips

Women comprise less than ten percent of the total pilot population in the United States (according to statistics from Women in Aviation). In the military, the representation of female aviators is even lower, and women were prohibited from flying in combat until the early 1990s. As a result, it is a big deal when a woman takes the controls of one of the most advanced fighter jets in the world. Last week, U.S. Marine Captain Anneliese Satz flew the single-seat Lockheed Martin F-35B Lightning II, becoming the first woman to fly the advanced fighter jet.

“The first time in an F-35 is by yourself,” said Satz. “…it’s an exhilarating experience.” Lockheed Martin claims the F-35B Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter as the first supersonic STOVL stealth aircraft. The airplane can fly as fast as Mach 1.6 and land vertically thanks to the Pratt & Whitney F135-PW-600 afterburning, thrust vectoring turbofan, which can put out as much as 40,500 pounds of thrust during vertical operations.

Interestingly, Satz’s road to the historic fixed-wing fighter flight began in a Robinson R44 helicopter, in which she earned her commercial pilot certificate. Her Marine Corps career started in Pensacola, Florida, where she completed the Aviation Pre-flight Indoctrination. She initially trained in the Beechcraft T-6 Texan II in Corpus Christi, Texas, and later moved on to Meridian, Mississippi, to fly the T-45C Goshawk—an advanced jet training aircraft.

Now that her F-35B training is complete, Satz will be deployed to Iwakuni, Japan, as part of Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 121, the Green Knights.

The first woman to fly an F-35 was Air Force Lt. Col. Christine Mau, on May 7, 2015. There are more than 850 F-35 pilots, according to data from Lockheed Martin. Very few of those are women.