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Air National Guard's first female F-35 pilot completes inaugural flight

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Posted at 11:28 AM, Sep 16, 2022

A woman from Kentucky made history earlier this month when she became the first woman to pilot 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 pilot the F-35A Lightning II.

And on Sept. 7, Flannery marked her first flight as a Vermont Air National Guard member.

"I really wanted to be on the leading edge," said Flannery. "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."

A History Making First Flight
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 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)

As the daughter of an Air Force pilot, Flannery said she always knew she wanted to fly for the military.

She later said she learned 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 topic of becoming the first woman to pilot an F-35 fighter jet never came up throughout her three years of training.

"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," she said. "People just treat me like a wingman, and it’s great as it allows me to focus more on flying."

Flannery will spend the next two years tackling full-time, on-the-job training to keep developing her skills as a fighter pilot.

Jordan Mickle with WLEX first reported this story.