An officer at Edwards Air Force Base in California last month became the first female test pilot to fly an F-35.
Maj. Rachael Winiecki, a developmental test pilot for the 461st Flight Test Squadron, flew her first test flight in the Air Force’s most advanced fighter jet Dec. 14, according to an Air Force release.
Winiecki will also be part of the 461st’s team that oversees developmental testing of all F-35 variants.
“I’m honored to have the opportunity to become part of the diverse team at the 461st,” Winiecki said. “While there may only be a few individuals in these photos [of the test flight], there are countless dedicated personnel working hard to ensure we execute safe, secure, effective and efficient flight tests.”
Winiecki was previously an A-10 pilot, who flew Warthogs in deployments to Southwest Asia, Eastern Europe and the Pacific theater, the release said. She became an F-16 test pilot and was assigned to the 416th Flight Test Squadron after graduating from test pilot school at Edwards.
Lt. Col. Tucker Hamilton, commander of the 461st, said her A-10 experience and exceptional flying ability led to her being chosen to test-fly the F-35.
Winiecki said she is able to use her experience conducting A-10 mission sets such as close-air support, combat search-and-rescue, and forward air controller while testing the F-35. This makes sure that the fighter’s air-to-ground capabilities also get tested, and not just air-to-air.
“I really do appreciate the perspective that I can bring coming from the A-10 and the F-16 to hopefully bring some influence from that perspective,” Winiecki said. “As testers, the contacts we have back in the combat Air Force are valuable. We can reach out to our networks to solicit feedback, solicit information on how we could and should accomplish our mission sets in the future.”
“That’s really where we can open doors,” she continued. “I can reach back to my friends and contacts in my previous community just like other test pilots here.”
Winiecki also reflected on the women who came before her, and helped pave the way for her historic flight. Lt. Col. Christine Mau, for example, was the first woman to fly an F-35 in a May 2015 flight at pilot training school at Eglin Air Force Base in Florida.
“I am grateful for the women who have broken barriers previously,” Winiecki said. “They built the path. I look forward to the day when sorties like this are a regular occurrence.”
Stephen Losey is the air warfare reporter for Defense News. He previously covered leadership and personnel issues at Air Force Times, and the Pentagon, special operations and air warfare at Military.com. He has traveled to the Middle East to cover U.S. Air Force operations.