Meet 1st Lt. Kelsey Flannery, US Air National Guard first female F-35A Lightning II pilot

Meet 1st Lt. Kelsey Flannery, US Air National Guard first female F-35A Lightning II pilot

By Dario Leone
Sep 17 2022
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The US Air National Guard now has a female F-35 pilot in its ranks with 1st Lt. Kelsey Flannery joining the 134th Fighter Squadron of the Vermont Air National Guard after graduating from B-Course.

The US Air National Guard now has a female F-35 pilot in its ranks with 1st Lt. Kelsey Flannery joining the 134th Fighter Squadron of the Vermont Air National Guard after graduating from B-Course, Alert 5 noted.

“I saw that they were having interviews. I was really interested in a fighter slot, and Vermont is just beautiful,” said 1st Lt. Kelsey Flannery, the first female F-35 pilot in the Air National Guard, in the article Air Guard’s 1st Female F-35 Pilot has Inaugural Flight in Vermont, by Master Sgt. Ryan Campbell, 158th Fighter Wing. “I was really excited, and I was lucky enough to get a pilot slot with them.”

Interviewing with the 134th Fighter Squadron in 2019, Flannery was part of a small group of hundreds of applicants selected to become the squadron’s newest pilots.

After being home for a week, Flannery flew the unit on Sep. 7, 2022 after being posted back to Vermont.

“I really wanted to be on the leading edge. I liked the focus it required and I liked the community a lot,” Flannery said about why she set out to be a fighter pilot. “It’s exciting to get up there, go fast and be able to employ weapons, so that was one of the more appealing parts of it.”

After a successful interview and hiring board, the 30-year-old former boxing instructor from Kentucky was sent to Officer Training School to get her commission.

Meet 1st Lt. Kelsey Flannery, US Air National Guard first female F-35A Lightning II pilot
First Lt. Kelsey Flannery, an F-35A Lightning II pilot assigned to the 134th Fighter Squadron of the Vermont Air National Guard’s 158th Fighter Wing, returns from a training mission from South Burlington Air National Guard Base, Vermont, Sep. 7, 2022. Flannery is the Air National Guard’s first female F-35 pilot.

Flannery already had a pilot’s license, so was able to go straight to undergraduate pilot training for over a year of successful training on T-6 and T-38 aircraft. That led to Intro to Fighter Fundamentals and Survival, Escape, Resistance and Evasion school.

Then came the time to get into an F-35 for the first time at the Air Force’s “B-course,” which lasted nine months.

“It was awesome, the instructors were top-notch,” said Flannery. “You felt very prepared to go into a single seat for the first time. It was super fun to go up there and work through problems on your own, figure it out and just learn to be a wingman.”

Unlike the other fighters in the Air Force inventory, the F-35 has no two-seat variant for training.

Flannery said she was excited to get back to Vermont and start flying with the wing.

“Flying in the B-course was a blast, but it’s really cool to be back,” she said. “I feel very grateful they gave me this opportunity and can continue learning from everyone here.”

Being back at the wing as a new pilot entails two years of full-time, on-the-job training to keep developing her skills as a fighter pilot.

Meet 1st Lt. Kelsey Flannery, US Air National Guard first female F-35A Lightning II pilot
First Lt. Kelsey Flannery, an F-35A Lightning II pilot assigned to the 134th Fighter Squadron of the Vermont Air National Guard’s 158th Fighter Wing, prepares to take off for a training mission from South Burlington Air National Guard Base, Vermont, Sep. 7, 2022. Flannery, the Air National Guard’s first female F-35 pilot, made her first flight with the 158th after three years of flight training.

She explained that though she is mission qualified and can be deployed, the two years will be spent learning from the wing’s instructor pilots and taking on certain roles in the wing, including working in the 134th’s scheduling office.

“Right now, I just want to be the best wingman I can be,” said Flannery.

The daughter of an Air Force pilot, Flannery said she always knew she wanted to fly for the military. After considering active duty, Flannery said she learned about the opportunities in the Air National Guard. Being selected by Vermont to fly the F-35 was “icing on the cake,” she explained.

Flannery said she was excited to be part of the 134th, a squadron that she said has a strong reputation in the fighter community and a history back to World War II.

“The heritage here goes back so many decades and it’s so important that we retain that heritage,” said Flannery. “It’s great to be in the Green Mountain Boys.”

The 134th Fighter Squadron (134th FS), nicknamed the Green Mountain Boys, is a unit of the Vermont Air National Guard 158th Fighter Wing located at Burlington Air National Guard Base, Burlington, Vermont. From 1986 to 2019, the 134th FS were equipped with the F-16C/D Fighting Falcon Block 30. The last F-16s departed Burlington on Apr. 6, 2019 in preparation for the Lockheed Martin F-35A Lightning II which arrived on Sep. 19 of the same year. Since becoming an F-35A unit, the Green Mountain Boys are tasked with carrying out the Suppression of Enemy Air Defenses (SEAD).

Photo credit: Master Sgt. Ryan Campbell / U.S. Air Force

F-35A print
This print is available in multiple sizes from AircraftProfilePrints.com – CLICK HERE TO GET YOURS. F-35A Lightning II 56th OG, 61st FS, LF/12-5050 / 2014

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Dario Leone

Dario Leone

Dario Leone is an aviation, defense and military writer. He is the Founder and Editor of “The Aviation Geek Club” one of the world’s most read military aviation blogs. His writing has appeared in The National Interest and other news media. He has reported from Europe and flown Super Puma and Cougar helicopters with the Swiss Air Force.

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