Twenty-six years ago, a 5-year-old girl stood in awe of an F-4 Phantom fighter jet tearing through the sky during an air show. Today, she’s an Air Force captain making history. Capt. Nicole M. (Ellingwood) Malachowski joins the prestigious USAF Air Demonstration Squadron “Thunderbirds” for the 2006 season, making her the first female demonstration pilot in the Thunderbirds’ 52-year history and the first on any US military high performance jet team. Capt. Malachowski will report for training at Luke AFB, AZ, beginning in November.
Encouraged by her parents to follow her dreams, the now 31-year-old Las Vegas native was a member of the Nevada Civil Air Patrol (CAP) while in high school. A CAP scholarship funded her private pilot license before she entered the Air Force Academy in 1992. While at the academy, she was a cadet glider instructor pilot for three years. Capt. Malachowski, who’s already logged more than 1,100 flight hours and 200 combat hours during her nine years on active duty, flew fighter jets during Operation Iraqi Freedom. Her most recent assignment was as Fighter Squadron flight commander and F-15E Strike Eagle instructor pilot at the 494th Fighter Squadron at Royal Air Force Lakenheath, England, United Kingdom.
During Thunderbird demonstrations, six aircraft perform formation flying and solo routines. Capt. Malachowski will train to fly an F-16 Fighting Falcon in the No. 3 right-wing position of the diamond formation routine, which highlights the training and precision of Air Force pilots, according to an Air Force press release. Since their first performance in 1953, the Thunderbirds have flown for more than 310 million people at 3,944 air demonstrations in all 50 states and more than 60 foreign countries.