First female fighter pilot takes-off on last flight with the U.S. Air Force

  • Published
  • By Capt. Paige Mehringer
  • Air Force Safety Center Public Affairs

In the 1990s, a young woman climbed into the cockpit of a fighter jet with the intent to take advantage of any opportunities the U.S. Air Force threw her way. Now, Maj. Gen. Jeannie M. Leavitt pilots her final flight with the service and reflects on her 32-year career as an Airman.

As a college student, Leavitt spoke with a newly commissioned lieutenant awaiting pilot training, which sparked her own interest in flying with the USAF. At first, flying a fighter was not an option. Still, she graduated pilot training and pursued her dreams to fly.

Not long after graduating pilot training, however, the Department of Defense policy the changed to allow women in combat. This allowed Leavitt continued her interest in being a fighter pilot and eventually fly an F-15E. She would go on to serve in 19 different assignments, three of which in joint assignments and five as a commander.

Maj. Gen. Leavitt is set to retire at the end of September, but during her tenure with the Air Force, she has time and again broken barriers. She was the first woman pilot to fly a fighter jet, command a USAF combat fighter wing, and attend weapons school. She has led the way for so many and represented something crucial to not just women but all Airmen.

“I was not interested in being the first. I just wanted to be the best fighter pilot I could be,” reflected Leavitt. “Ever since I was little, I wanted to fly airplanes, and I have had so many opportunities since I decided to join the Air Force.”

While Maj. Gen. Leavitt is not one for attention, she has become a recognizable name in the history of the Department of Defense. However, she did not focus on being the first but, instead, recognized all the women that came before her to give her this chance and how her role will open doors to the many women after her.

“I am grateful for those who came before me and paved the way for the opportunities I have had during my journey of service to our country,” said Leavitt. “I also look forward to seeing what the future holds for the amazing men and women of our Air Force and Space Force.”

In addition to being the Air Force’s first female fighter pilot, Maj. Gen. Leavitt has also flown over 3,000 flying hours, including 300 combat hours, has earned four master’s degrees, and various major awards and decorations.

She also served as not only the commander of the Air Force Safety Center and Chief of Safety but as the first chairman for the Joint Safety Council established by a recommendation from the National Commission on Military Aviation Safety and confirmed by Congress in FY2022. She is leaving an outstanding legacy behind as she welcomes her next chapter.