EGLIN AIR FORCE BASE, Fla. — Women’s History Month wrapped up with a closing event featuring the first female F-35 Lightning II pilot here March 31.
Retired Lt. Col. Christine Mau, also an F-15E Strike Eagle pilot, flew with the first all-women combat sortie, providing air support to coalitions and Afghan forces in Afghanistan in 2011.
Her Air Force jobs included fighter pilot, instructor, evaluator pilot and squadron commander. Her career culminated as the 33rd Fighter Wing Operations Group deputy commander, where she flew the F-35 for the first time in 2015.
She grew up in Thousand Oaks, California near El Toro Marine Corps Air Station, with early thoughts of being a pilot at age five.
She said the movie “Top Gun” influenced her interest in flying, as well as her father and grandfather, also pilots. She decided to be a fighter pilot as a high school junior.
With grit and determination, Mau graduated from the Air Force Academy and completed pilot training as a distinguished graduate, only a few years after women were allowed to train to be fighter pilots.
“I made a lot of mistakes and some epic failures, but I never gave up,” she said. “I learned that if you just keep at something, things can work out in your favor.”
Mau said she never felt the need to compete with anyone else.
“I put on my horse blinders and just kept pushing through,” she said. “My instructors critiqued everything, from the way I walked to the plane to the way I spoke on the radio. You had to have thick skin to get through pilot training.”
The mother of two recommended the attendees have a support network of both genders, and a mentor to depend on.
Mau recalled the adversity she encountered from senior male pilots while learning to fly the F-15E.
“They said I would never be a fighter pilot because I was a woman,” she said. “I tried to fit in as best I could and tried to be like one of the dudes.”
Mau said ultimately it came down to how she flew the aircraft.
“The jet doesn’t care if you’re a man or a woman,” she said. “The airplane is an inanimate object, which is a great equalizer.”
She closed saying despite good and bad leaders, she kept her horse blinders on and forged ahead. She credited much of her successful Air Force journey to her support system.
“I’m blessed to have the career I had,” she said. “I’m glad for how far the Air Force has come.”