Wind Beneath HER Wings
Flying High with the First Female Marine Pilot to Fly the Formidable F-35C Fighter Jet
Buckle up! We’re taking flight with this month’s top gun GoGirl.
Congratulations to First Lieutenant Catherine Stark, the first woman Marine to be assigned to the U. S. Navy’s F-35C fleet replacement squadron. And, apparently, the modest Marine doesn’t think it’s that big of a deal. Well, here at the GoGirl headquarters, we beg to differ.
The Erie, Pennsylvania native was assigned last August at a ceremony in Kingsville, Texas, is the very first female Marine pilot to try to fly the U. S. Navy’s F-35C fleet replacement squadron, which was designed and built by legendary Lockheed Martin. The befittingly named F-35C Lightning II is a fifth-generation fighter jet produced to replace the F-18 in both the Navy and Marine Corps, including the F-22 in the U. S. Air Force. The F-35C is the only fighter jet model specifically designed to take off and land on aircraft carriers. Stark, only 24, graduated from Mercyhurst Prep and is expected to commence training to fly the F-35C Lightning II at the Naval Air Station in Lemoore, California. Anticipating her newest – and Corps – challenge yet, Stark is expected to be deployed following a year of her intense F-35C flight training.
Upon graduating with her degree in aerospace engineering from the U. S. Naval Academy, Stark was immediately commissioned as a Marine officer in 2016. It required 18 months of grueling flight school training before earning her Wings of Gold, the recognizable is proudly worn by accomplished naval aviators. The lady lieutenant spent her first six months of flight school training on the historic Beechraft T-6 Texan II prior to advancing to the aircraft carrier-capable McDonnell Douglas T-45 Goshawk. It’s customary for pilots in training to complete two flights per day, which can be onerous, according to Stark. “I can only compare it to becoming a medical doctor. You’re flying every day and getting evaluated and intensely scrutinized.” The difference between training to fly the T-6 and the T-45 training fighter jets is the pilot isn’t required to have any previous knowledge of weaponry systems, radars, or military tactics, as with the F-35C. “The most enjoyable thing is it’s such an amazing challenge…it’s mental. You have to know your stuff. You have to apply your brain to this job, but it’s also physical…it’s spiritual, too, in a sense that you have to have a bit of feistiness and not give up.”
Up until recently, only pilots who had been successfully flying F-18’s were chosen to train for the F-35C. Now, the Corps are selecting candidates fresh out of flight school to train for the F-35C – no prior fleet experience necessary. Stark and one other classmate were the first two Marines chosen to exclusively train for the F-35C upon completion of flight school. “And, I guess you could tack on that, because I’m a woman, by virtue, I guess I’m the first woman pilot to fly the F-35C for the Marine Corps…I don’t want to downplay it, but I don’t think it’s that big of a deal,” she modestly asserts.
Lieutenant Stark is the fourth of eight siblings and among three enlisted in the United States military. Her brother, Lieutenant Joseph Stark is a Naval Supply Systems Command logistics director for Seal Team 4. Her sister, Zofia Stark also completed the U.S. Naval Academy and is a first lieutenant in the Marine Corps. “She was evaluated by merit, not gender,” her mother Beata Stark says of her accomplished young daughter. “She had to meet the same standards to pass as everyone else. We’re proud. We’re grateful.”
Looks like this Stark is soaring amongst the stars.