The USAF’s first female fighter pilot is also the first woman to take control of the 57th Wing. She talks about training, flying, and her love of being a fighter pilot after her first few months on the job.
Brig. Gen. Jeannie Leavitt took control as the 57th Wing Commander back in April. She is the first female to take control of the 57th Wing and talked about what it has been like during her first months on the job.
The 57th Wing is the most diverse wing in the United States Air Force. The Wing flies and maintains more than 130 aircraft including the A-10, F-15, F-22 and soon the F-35. The Wing also commands the Air Force’s Thunderbirds demonstration squadron.
The 57th’s mission is to provide advanced aerospace training to world-wide combat air forces. Additionally, the 57th manages all flying operations at Nellis Air Force Base. This includes training through the USAF Weapons School, Red Flag and Green Flag exercises. The Wing additionally supports the USAF Warfare Center’s test and evaluation activities.
Brig. Gen. Leavitt remarked how her passion for flying has played a a huge role during her career.
“I joined the Air Force because I wanted to fly airplanes,” Leavitt said. “But I stayed because I loved what I was doing. I love the mission, I love the people. It’s incredibly humbling to know … you’re playing a role in defending our freedoms, in letting people sleep at night without concerns about their freedom — it’s incredible. For me, it means so much.”
When the Defense Department changed course and allowed women to serve in combat aviation positions back in 1993, Leavitt jumped at the chance. She had graduated first in her class at pilot training, but combat flying jobs were not available to women at the time. Defense Department Secretary Les Aspin then ordered all service branches to drop restrictions on women flying combat missions and Leavitt was able to fly her first choice: the F-15 Strike Eagle.
“The thing was, I wanted to be a fighter pilot. It was part of who I was and what I wanted to do. The notoriety and publicity wasn’t what I wanted, but it came due to the timing.”
After three months on the job as 57th Wing Commander, Leavitt was able to reveal a few nuggets of information from her new job.
First, the Thunderbirds–the USAF’s flight demonstration team–will continue to fly the F-16 for the foreseeable future. Second, Red Flag 16-3 will see a full spectrum of threats across the domain, rather than just air and surface, in an effort to best train the Air Force. Additionally, the Weapons School classes are back on track with training after having lost a class due to sequestration.
Leavitt, a command pilot with more than 3,000 flight hours, including 300 combat hours, is coming from the Pentagon where she served as the principal military assistant to the Secretary of Defense.
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Top Photo credit: Brig. Gen. Jeannie Leavitt, an F-15 Strike Eagle pilot with more than 3,000 flight hours, became the first female combat pilot in 1993. Leavitt sits aboard the aircraft bearing her name at Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada, on July 13. (Photo: Airman 1st Class Kevin Tanenbaum/Air Force)