A History Making First Flight
by U.S. Air National Guard Master Sgt. Ryan Campbell
Three years of training led to one very
important day. Taking off over the mountains of Vermont, history is
made at 20,000 feet.
The 158th Fighter Wing has been no
stranger to making history. In 2019, it was the first wing in the
Air National Guard to receive the F-35A Lightning II.
only wing in the Guard to fly a fifth generation fighter, the Airmen
have continuously made their mark including recently completing the
first overseas Guard deployment of the F-35.
Now, the latest
chapter of Green Mountain Boys history has been written.
saw that they were having interviews, I was really interested in a
fighter slot and Vermont is just beautiful,” said 1st Lt. Kelsey
Flannery, the first female F-35 pilot in the Air National Guard.
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, returns from a training mission from South Burlington Air National Guard Base, Vermont, 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. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Master Sgt. Ryan Campbell)
“I was really excited and I was lucky
enough to get a pilot slot with them,” she continued.
Interviewing with the 134th Fighter Squadron in 2019, Flannery was
part of a small group of hundreds of applicants who was selected to
set out to become the squadron’s newest pilots.
home for a week, Sept. 7, 2022 marked Flannery’s first flight as a
member of the Vermont Air National Guard where she was familiarized
with wing procedures and the local airspace.
“I really wanted
to be on the leading edge, I liked the focus it required and I liked
the community a lot,” said Flannery about why she set out to be a
“It’s exciting to get up there, go fast and be
able to employ weapons, so that was one of the more appealing parts
of it,” she added.
After a successful interview and hiring
board, the 30-year-old former boxing instructor from Kentucky was
sent to Officer Training School to first get her commission.
Already having a pilot’s license, Flannery was next able to go
straight to Undergraduate Pilot Training for over a year of training
on T-6 and T-38 training aircraft. Success there then took her to
Intro to Fighter Fundamentals and Survival, Escape, Resistance and
Then came the time to get into an F-35 for
the first time at the Air Force’s “B-course,” which lasted nine
“It was awesome, the instructors were top notch,”
said Flannery. “You felt very prepared to go into a single seat for
the first time. It was super fun to go up there and work through
problems on your own, figure it out and just learn to be a wingman.”
Unlike the other fighters in the Air Force inventory, the F-35
is different in that there is no two seat variant that can be used
“We felt really prepared, the instructors were
awesome and the simulators help prepare you very well,” said
Flannery. “I guess the only thing you’re experiencing for the first
time is the feeling of actually being in the jet, but you’re already
exposed how to work through all the problems and you have a lot of
experience up there with you with your flight lead.”
said she was excited to get back to Vermont and start flying with
“Flying in the B-course was a blast but it’s really
cool to be back,” she said. “I feel very grateful they gave me this
opportunity and can continue learning from everyone here.”
Being back at the wing as a new pilot entails two years of full-time
on the job training in order to keep developing her skills as a
She explained that though she is mission
qualified and can be deployed, the two years will be spent learning
from the wing’s instructor pilots on sharpening her skills and
taking on certain roles in the wing which for her, means working in
the 134th’s scheduling office.
“Right now I just want to be
the best wingman I can be,” said Flannery.
The daughter of an
Air Force pilot, Flannery said she always knew she wanted to fly for
the military. After a consideration of active duty, Flannery said
she learned about the opportunities in the Air National Guard and
being selected by Vermont to fly the F-35 was “icing on the cake,”
Though throughout the three year process of
becoming the latest pilot in the 134th Fighter Squadron, Flannery
said the topic of her being the first female in the Guard to pilot
an F-35 never came up and there was no pressure from that.
“There’s definitely been a trail blazed already and I’m really
grateful to the women who have done that, but nobody has brought it
up and I feel very much like an equal here,” said Flannery. “People
just treat me like a wingman and it’s great as it allows me to focus
more on flying.”
Being back in Vermont, Flannery is full of
praise for the F-35 and said she intends to make a career in the
Vermont Air National Guard.
“I’d love to be able to deploy,”
she said. “Right now I feel like I’m in a great position to be able
to learn from everybody, so looking forward to flights day-to-day
and soak up as much information as I can.”
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, is saluted by her crew chief, Staff Sgt. Nathan Tamburello of the 158th Maintenance Group, as she taxis to take off for a training mission from South Burlington Air National Guard Base, Vermont, 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. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Master Sgt. Ryan Campbell)
Joining Flannery on her first flight in
Vermont was Capt. Jake Dubie, one of the 134th’s instructor pilots
and the first one in the wing to hit 500 flying hours in the F-35.
“She did great, it was definitely exciting,” said Dubie. “I met
Kelsey three or four years ago when she first applied to become a
pilot here, sat on the board and to be able to see her go from that
and be lucky enough to get to fly her first flight here in Vermont
was definitely super exciting.”
Dubie, who has been involved
with the training of more than 30 full-time pilots the squadron
currently has, plus several part-time pilots, praised Flannery’s
readiness to be prepared for her first training mission.
“Never had to worry about her up in the air,” he continued. “She did
an awesome job so it was definitely a lot of fun.”
laid out for Flannery are to be the be the best fighter pilot she
can be and be someone that can be trusted in the air, Dubie
“Everything we do here is being part of a team,”
he continued. “Being able to employ your aircraft and do your job in
a way that supports the team and makes us the most lethal F-35
squadron in the Air Force is kind of what we’re expecting and I know
she’s going to do a great job.”
Flannery said she was excited
to be part of the 134th, a squadron that she said has a strong
reputation in the fighter community and has a long history going
back to World War II.
“The heritage here goes back so many
decades and it’s so important that we retain that heritage,” said
Flannery. “It’s great to be in the Green Mountain Boys”
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