WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Lieutenant Colonel Christine Mau, a U.S. Air Force pilot who was part of the first all-female combat sortie over Afghanistan in 2011, this week became the first woman to fly the Lockheed Martin Corp F-35 jet, the Air Force said on Wednesday.
Mau, deputy commander of the 33rd Fighter Wing Operations Group, on Tuesday completed her first training flight in the single-seat stealth fighter after 14 virtual training missions in a simulator, said spokeswoman Lieutenant Hope Cronin.
Mau joined 87 F-35A pilots who have been trained over the last four years at Eglin Air Force Base in Florida.
"It felt great to get airborne. The jet flies like a dream, and seeing the systems interact is impressive," Mau said in a statement.
She said flying with the F-35's complex helmet, which fuses all sensor data from the jet on a mounted display on the helmet rather than in the jet's cockpit, took some adjustment.
Women have served in combat aviation roles in a wide range of U.S. aircraft for over 20 years, but they still represent only a small fraction of U.S. military pilots.
"Flying is a great equalizer,” said Mau. “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."
(Reporting by Andrea Shalal; Editing by Ken Wills)