Major Kristin Wolfe -- U.S. Air Force Fighter Pilot
Story by Maureen Stratton, photos contributed
Tom Cruise has nothing on Major Kristin Wolfe who, for the past 11 years, has been flying fighter jets in her career with the United States Air Force. Unlike the pilots in Hollywood’s Top Gun and Top Gun: Maverick films, Major Wolfe, whose aviator call sign is “BEO”, can attest to the hard work, discipline, training, and sheer prowess it takes to become a top fighter pilot in the nation’s military. Established in 1947, The U.S. Air Force is also the largest air force in the world.
Having spent many summers growing up in Greensboro visiting her grandparents, Sandy and Dick Wolfe of Cherokee Point, Major Wolfe readily claims to be a “military brat” growing up on a series of military bases while her father, Jon Wolfe, served as an Air Force colonel flying F-15 Eagle fighter jets. Moving both overseas and around the U.S., Wolfe was often center stage with both her sister and brother at bases and functions of the Air Force. She got to see the aircraft up close, hear through her father the first-hand stories of pilots and their adventures, and experienced both the rigors and rewards of military life.
Wolfe did not initially aspire to join the military when began studying at The University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa. She later joined the ROTC her sophomore year and graduated in 2011 with a degree in engineering. After graduation, she was commissioned in the Air Force and sent to Laughlin Air Force Base in Del Rio, the largest pilot training base in the Air Force. She aspired to be a fighter pilot just like her dad, and was soon put on that track of rigorous military training. Her aircraft – the F-22 Raptor, an airborne fighting machine with enough thrust to cruise at supersonic speed, enough capacity to carry eight missiles as its payload, and enough firepower to wreak havoc from above enemy lines.
Grandmother Sandy Wolfe credits the Major’s father with instilling the excitement of the military in her at a young age. “Her Father, my son Jon, had an active Air Force career for over 30 years,” she explained. “Like Kristin, he was a fighter pilot and I think its uncanny his daughter followed him all these years later. Jon got the impetus to fly from our good friends who flew for Delta. One day, they took him into the simulator and Jon was hooked from there on.”
Sandy and her husband, Dick, raised their two sons in Stone Mountain before retiring to Greensboro in 1997 on the lake. A teacher by profession, Sandy was proud of the emerging interest her two sons had in aviation and specifically, the military. Both sons, Jon and Douglas, graduated from Auburn University and obtained graduate degrees in space engineering. Then both were commissioned into the Air Force and both became fighter pilots. Obviously, Kristin followed the family lead.
Major Wolfe credits the military with her career advancements as a woman. “The military is strictly looking at academics, training and abilities,” she noted. “Yes, as a female, I was in the minority, but the military strictly looks at how you perform your job. After graduating, I become a Second Lieutenant, received my pilot wings and selected the F-22 Raptor.”
It was this aircraft that Major Wolfe flew behind enemy lines in the Middle East conflict in 2015. She was the only female piolets in a squadron of 25 at the time. “It took me eight months of training to become combat ready,” she recalled. “It was exciting to be able to use real world experience and fly the aircraft as it was intended. As of member of the armed services, we are responsible for security by protecting our interests and safety of the country. And now, there have been other female fighter pilots.”
After several years, the Major was selected to lead a demonstration team throughout the United States. Her new aircraft was an F-35A Lightning II, an aircraft expected to serve as the basis for NATO and U.S.-allied air power until late into this century.
As a public relations effort on behalf the Air Force, the team flies in select air shows to showcase careers in military flight and demonstrate the Lightning’s prodigious abilities. “People always seem amazed that there are female fighter pilots,” she shared. “They light up and they thank us for our service. The perception that only men are in combat in these aircrafts is really outdated. There are exceptional and qualified female fighter pilots throughout the military.”
Major Wolfe currently serves as Commander of the 12-member demonstration team. Sandy said she was especially proud when her granddaughter led a five-member team in the flyover during the National Anthem performance at the Super Bowl Sunday on Feb. 13 of this year. A first-of-its-kind event, the Heritage Flight Flyover at Super Bowl LVI included five different aircraft representing the military branch’s 75 years of service – the F-35A Lightning II, a P-51 Mustang, an A-10C Thunderbolt II, an F-16 Fighting Falcon, and an F-22A Raptor.
Major Wolfe said she expects to eventually retire from the military, but with 11 years to go before completing a 20-year service record, that day is still a long way away.
As Helen Reddy sang in her famous 1971 award-winning ballad, “I am woman, hear my roar,” Major Wolfe continues to roar at Mach speed, high above in the skies while entertaining the crowds below.
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From the Sept-Oct 2022 issue of Lakelife magazine.