By Tonya Garner: Freedom Newspapers
Despite the sweat-inducing heat, Maj. Nicole Malachowski appeared calm, cool and collected as she stood on the flight line Thursday afternoon at Cannon Air Force Base and recalled the moment she knew she would one day be a pilot.
Malachowski, 31, said an air show she attended with her parents as a young child left an indelible mark on her.
“I remember the gracefulness of the airplanes,” she said. “I knew I wanted to be up there one day.”
Not only does the Las Vegas, Nev., native fly a plane, the petite brunette now proudly controls a Lockheed Martin F-16 Fighting Falcon in air shows across the country.
“I’m glad it worked out,” Malachowski said, “because I didn’t really have a backup plan.”
Malachowski, 31, is the first female member of the Thunderbirds, the Air Force’s elite demonstration team.
She will take to the skies Saturday as part of an eight-member team that will perform intricate formations and maneuvers at Air Expo at Cannon.
Activated in 1953, the Thunderbird Squadron performs precision aerial maneuvers to exhibit the capabilities of modern high-performance aircraft.
Malachowski said she can appreciate the maneuverability and agility of the technologically advanced premier world fighter. Although she has flown the F-16 only in air shows, Malachowski said it would be intriguing to employ it as a weapon.
With expressive brown eyes that are often drawn to the streamlined red, white and blue jets, an outgoing personality and a huge smile, Malachowski said she enjoys the ambassador role she is afforded through the Thunderbirds.
“I love the Air Force and I like to fly,” she said. “I have the opportunity to motivate young people to be better Americans.”
Malachowski has been enlisted in the Air Force for nine years and has been a Thunderbird for six months, she said.
According to Capt. Angela L. Johnson, Cannon public affairs officer, there are currently 550 female pilots in the U.S. Air Force. Seventy-one are fighter pilots.
Staff Sgt. Troy Romans serves as assistant crew chief for the jet Malachowski pilots. Roman’s duties include cleaning the aircraft and mechanical maintenance. He said he considers the major to be a hero.
“She (Malachowski) inspires younger women,” Romans said, “by showing them they can do it (become pilots), too.”
Humbly shrugging off praise for her accomplishments, Malachowski pointed out 20 percent of the Air Force is women.
“When I fly I just want people to look up and remember, we (USAF) have people in harm’s way,” she said.