Correction: The Marine Corps wasn’t sure when the training ended for the Corps’ first female F-35B pilot when this story was first published and told Marine Corps Times that she would graduate soon. We all later found out that she actually had finished her F-35B training in June and have updated this story accordingly.
The first female Marine F-35B pilot recently graduated her pilot training June 27, according to Marine officials.
The female Marine pilot had been undergoing F-35B training at Marine Fighter Attack Training Squadron 501 aboard the Marine air station at Beaufort, South Carolina, a Marine official told Marine Corps Times Wednesday.
While her graduation just happened, another female Marine, 1st Lt. Catherine Stark, was recently the first female Marine selected to train and fly the F-35C, according to Marine spokesman Capt. Christopher Harrison.
Stark recently had her aviation wings pinned on during a ceremony aboard Naval Air Station Kingsville, Texas, following completion of flight school on Aug. 2.
Stark will soon begin nine to 12 months of F-35C training at the Navy’s F-35C Fleet Replacement Squadron in Lemoore, California.
GoErie.com first reported that Stark was the first female Marine selected to train on the F-35C.
Stark has spent the past 18 months training on the Beechcraft T-6 Texan II and the McDonnell Douglas T-45 Goshawk. She graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy with a degree in aerospace engineering was commissioned as a Marine officer in 2016, GoErie.com reported.
“Up until now they were only taking F-18 pilots that were already out in the fleet, someone with a lot of experience, and they were sending them back to school for six months and then transitioning them to the F-35,” Stark told GoErie.com in a phone interview. “But recently, they’ve been picking people right out of flight school (for the F-35). That’s been the special thing. Up until now, people fresh out of flight school with no fleet experience — like myself; I haven’t been to a squadron yet because I just finished flight school — we didn’t have the opportunity to select the F-35.”
“And I guess you could tack on that, because I’m a woman, by virtue I guess I’m the first woman picked to fly the F-35C for the Marine Corps,” she told GoErie.com. “I’ve been blessed to get picked up for the F-35 Charlie. I don’t want to downplay it, but I don’t think it’s that big of a deal.”
While the first female Marines are entering the F-35 pilot community, other female pilots have come before them.
In 2015, then-Air Force Lt. Col. Christine Mau became the first female F-35 pilot in the program, according to Air Force Times. And in December 2018, Air Force Maj. Rachael Winiecki became the first female test pilot to fly an F-35, according to Air Force Times.
The Marines have 86 F-35 pilots across the Corps, but are authorized to have 263, according to data obtained by Marine Corps Times through a government records request. The data is current as of February.
The F-35C is the aircraft carrier variant of the high tech stealth fighter. The Corps is procuring both the F-35B and F-35C variants of the stealth aircraft.
The F-35B allows for short take-off and vertical landing and can be deployed from the Navy’s amphibious assault ships. The Corps plans to procure 353 F-35Bs and 67 F35Cs, according to the Marine Corps’ 2019 aviation plan.
Shawn Snow is the senior reporter for Marine Corps Times and a Marine Corps veteran.