The United States Air Force became its own separate military service on September 18, 1947, but it would be nearly three decades before women were accepted into the Air Force on an equal basis with men.
When the USAF selected that first woman for pilot training in 1976, Jeannie M. Leavitt was 9 years old, living in St. Louis, Missouri. Leavitt would go on to make history of her own, becoming the Air Force’s first female fighter pilot in 1993.
Leavitt joined the Air Force in 1992, after earning her bachelor’s degree in aerospace engineering and a master’s in aeronautics and astronautics. After spending years in school learning how to design airplanes, Leavitt wanted to actually fly them.
She graduated the top of her pilot training class, around the same time restrictions against women flying fighter aircraft were lifted. Leavitt became the first woman to fly a fighter, the F-15E Strike Eagle.
In her over 25 years of military service, the now-Brigadier General Leavitt’s accomplishments have been groundbreaking. She has:
- Flown over 3,000 hours
- Broken the sound barrier
- Taught at the USAF Weapons School
- Served in Operations Southern Watch, Northern Watch, Iraqi Freedom, and Enduring Freedom
- Served as the 57th Wing Commander, at Nellis Air Force Base in Nevada, the Air Force's most diverse flying wing made up of 37 squadrons and more than 130 aircraft
(Leavitt even helped Brie Larson, star of Marvel Studios’ Captain Marvel film, research for her role as superhero USAF officer Carol Danvers!)
Currently serving as the commander of the Air Force Recruiting Service at Joint Base San Antonio-Randolph in Texas, Leavitt reflected on her career to Good Morning America while at the National Air and Space Museum. “I’ve had opportunities to command organizations and lead amazing Airmen,” she said. “A lot of times people think you can’t do it. I say, believe in yourself and know that you can.”