The Air National Guard’s first female F-35 pilot hails from Kentucky


(LEX 18) – A Kentucky woman made history this month after becoming the first woman to fly an F-35 fighter jet for the Air National Guard.

1st Lt. Kelsey Flannery is a 30-year-old former boxing instructor from Kentucky. According to the Air National Guard, Flannery has been training for three years to fly the F-35A Lightning II.

And on Wednesday, Sept. 7, Flannery marked his first flight as a member of the Vermont Air National Guard.

“I really wanted to be on the cutting edge,” Flannery said. “It’s exciting to get up there, to go fast and to be able to use weapons, so that was one of the most appealing parts.”

Staff Sgt. Ryan Campbell/158th Fighter Wing

1st Lt. Kelsey Flannery, an F-35A Lightning II pilot assigned to the 134th Fighter Squadron of the Vermont Air National Guard’s 158th Fighter Wing, prepares to take off for a training mission from Guard Base South Burlington, Vt., Sept. 7, 2022. Flannery, who is the Air National Guard’s first female F-35 pilot, made her first flight with the 158th after returning from three years of flight training . (US Air National Guard photo by Sgt. Ryan Campbell)

As the daughter of an Air Force pilot, Flannery said she always knew she wanted to fly for the military. She later said she heard about opportunities with the Air National Guard and said being selected by Vermont to fly the F-35 was the “icing on the cake”.

She said the subject of becoming the first woman to fly an F-35 fighter jet had never come up in her three years of training.

“There’s definitely been a trail blazed before and I’m really grateful to the women who did, but nobody talked about it and I really feel like an equal here,” she said. “People treat me like a winger and that’s great because it allows me to focus more on flying.”

Flannery will spend the next two years undergoing full-time on-the-job training to continue developing his skills as a fighter pilot.


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