January 29, 2024

ASE Distinguished Alumna Jeannie Leavitt set a course for future generations of female fighter pilots, including members of the Marvel Universe.

photo of Jeannie Leavitt flying an aircraft
Photo credit: SSGT Ryan Sanders/U.S. Air Force

At the Pentagon, three women stand on stage, their faces lit by the burst of flash bulbs. Then Chief of Staff of the Air Force Gen. Merrill McPeak gathered them to make an historic announcement: effective immediately, women pilots and navigators will be able to compete for, train in and fly any aircraft in the inventory of the United States Air Force. The date: April 28, 1993.

The women are stoic, fluent and confident in their responses to a barrage of questions: What does it mean for you to fly an F-15E Strike Eagle? Why would you ask for such a thing? How many men are you leapfrogging who are waiting for the very combat training that you are now going to be getting? Will women fighter pilots be asked to refrain from getting pregnant? Can women really be warriors?

If you ask Jeannie Leavitt about this day, she’ll tell you that it isn’t what she wants to be remembered for. She has never cared about being the first female fighter pilot — only doing her best.

“Once we started flying, people began to see we were there because of our abilities and not our gender,” Leavitt told the Associated Press in 2012. “I don’t see it as a ‘first sort of thing.’ I see it as an incredible opportunity.”

Jeannie Leavitt (B.S. ASE, ’90) is the first woman to serve as a fighter pilot in the U.S. Air Force. She was named a 1997 Outstanding Young Alumna and a 2023 Distinguished Alumna by Texas Exes. She blazed a trail for future airwomen. Her drive to try new things has led to many accomplishments — from interning with NASA, to becoming the first woman to command a U.S. Air Force combat fighter wing to consulting on the 2019 film “Captain Marvel.”

Read the full story in the Texas Engineer Magazine.