Twenty years after the first woman took to the skies as Israel’s first combat pilot, Israel’s Air Force will soon have its first female F-35 pilot, sources have told The Jerusalem Post.

She will reportedly fly in the 116th squadron, nicknamed “Lions of the South,” based out of Nevatim in southern Israel.

Israel was the first to use the F-35 in a combat arena in 2018, just months after it declared operational capability and, according to foreign reports, continues to use the jet for a range of missions.

By November the IAF will have 27 F-35i Adir aircraft out of a total of 50 planes set to land in the coming years to make two full squadrons by 2024.

Once she gets her wings, it is expected that she will fly combat missions along with her fellow IAF pilots. 

While there are several female F-35 pilots in the United States Air Force, it is believed that she will be the second woman to fly the advanced 5th generation stealth fighter jet in combat. 

In early June US Air Force Capt. Emily “Banzai” Thompson made history by becoming the first woman to ever fly the F-35A Lightning II in combat out of the Al Dhafra Air Force base in the United Arab Emirates.

“There’s a lot of females who have come before me, and there’s a lot of females already flying combat sorties in other platforms,” Thompson was quoted by an Air Force news release as saying. “So just to be the person who gets that honour, that first, it just meant a lot.”

Last week three women received their wings from IAF Commander Maj.-Gen. Amikam Norkin, joining a growing list of women who have taken to the skies in Israel’s Air Force.

In 1949, Israel’s army became the first in the world to introduce mandatory military service for both men and women, and in 1951 Yael Rom became the first graduate of the prestigious pilots’ course.  But shortly after, women were once again barred from combat positions, including from becoming pilots.

In 1993 South African immigrant Alice Miller successfully sued the military for her right to enlist into the air force.  While she was declared medically unfit for the role of a pilot, her actions shattered the glass ceiling in the IAF and opened up the pilot’s course to women. 

In 2000 Lt. Roni Zuckerman, the granddaughter of two leaders of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising became the first woman to graduate as a combat fighter pilot. 

In 2018 Norkin appointed two women to senior positions, the first woman to command an aviation squadron of “Nachshon” (Gulfstream V) aircraft from Nevatim AFB, and participates in intelligence and aerial reconnaissance missions and another to command the IAF’s operational command and control unit.

“I believe that it is our duty in the Israel Defense Forces to fulfil the inherent potential in women. We are still far from this goal, but I am sure that this process will continue and that we will appoint female commanders and soldiers in a wide variety of positions in the air force and in the IDF in general,” Norkin said at the time.

Earlier that year another woman was appointed Deputy Commander of a combat squadron which flies F-15 fighter jets out of Tel Nof airbase in central Israel. In addition, two other female officers were appointed to serve as deputy commanders of a squadron of UAVs out of Palmachim airbase.

The Jerusalem Post

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