Face of Defense: Women’s Aviation Hall of Fame Inducts Air Force Pilot
By Staff Sgt. Jeremy Larlee, USAF
Special to American Forces Press Service
SAN DIEGO, Mar. 19, 2008 In the months since her last flight in the No. 3 jet for the Air Force’s Thunderbirds, Maj. Nicole Malachowski has had a hard time attaching perspective to being the first woman to fly on a service-level U.S. military flight demonstration team.
Air Force Maj. Nicole Malachowski holds her plaque after being inducted into the Women in Aviation International's Pioneer Hall of Fame on March 15, 2008, in San Diego. The major, who piloted the Thunderbirds No. 3 jet, was recognized for being the first woman pilot to be part of a service-level U.S. military flight demonstration team. U.S. Air Force photo by Master Sgt. Bill Kimble
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
But at the San Diego Air and Space Museum on March 14, the major said, she was blindsided by an emotional moment that placed her achievements into focus.
The visit to the museum was part of the 19th Annual International Women in Aviation Conference held here March 12 through 15. The conference, attended by more than 3,200 people, included an exhibit hall, speeches by aviation legends and professional development classes. It ended with Malachowski’s induction into the Women in Aviation International's Pioneer Hall of Fame, along with Nancy Love, Geraldine Mock, Margaret Ringenberg and the women's section of the Air Transport Auxiliary.
Earlier in the year, Malachowski donated one of her show suits to the museum, which had turned it into a display in time for the conference. The major said she had what she called a "non-fighter-pilot moment" and had to excuse herself for a few minutes to get composed when she got her first glimpse of the display.
"I'm 33 years old and looking at something that I wore in so many air shows displayed in a museum," she said. "People were just looking at it and taking photos and standing there. I realized the significance of what I have done and how I could inspire others."
Malachowski said it was an honor to attend the conference and she enjoyed being in the ranks of historic female aviators.
"Women have been involved in aviation since the time of hot-air balloons," she said. "It's only normal to me that women are going to add their strength and skills to the effort of pushing aviation forward."
The major said one of the highlights for her in the conference was interacting with members of the Women Airforce Service Pilots, which was an organization essential in freeing up male pilots for combat service and duties in World War II. The women would transport aircraft throughout the U.S. and Canada. They also assisted in training pilots. Thirty-eight women died while performing these duties.
"We have to honor the accomplishments and courage of the Women Airforce Service Pilots," Malachowski said. "People think it is great that these women were flying fighter aircraft 60 years ago. It is not remarkable because they were women. It is remarkable because they were there in defense of the free world and helped bring our country and allies to victory. I know I had the Thunderbirds experience and I'm standing here today in this wonderful uniform because of the contributions and sacrifices of people like them."
In her duties as an Air Force security forces airman, Senior Airman Tara Currah has spent a lot of time guarding aircraft while stationed at McChord Air Force Base, Wash. She said she really enjoyed the professional development courses in the conference, and had a chance to speak with Malachowski.
"It has been inspiring to see so many powerful women," she said. "It makes you feel like you can accomplish anything if you put your mind to it."
The major said her mantra has always been that actions speak louder than words.
"I wanted to show through my actions that women are capable of anything," she said. "I did my best, and I hope I represented our Air Force with the respect it deserves."
(Air Force Staff Sgt. Jeremy Larlee serves at the Air Force News Agency.)