HomeNews

News Search

Meet Air Force Reserve’s first female F-35 pilot

Col. Gina "Torch" Sabric, commander of the 419th Fighter Wing at Hill Air Force Base, Utah, and the Air Force Reserve's first female F-35 pilot

Col. Gina "Torch" Sabric, commander of the 419th Fighter Wing at Hill Air Force Base, Utah, and the Air Force Reserve's first female F-35 pilot. (U.S. Air Force photo/Todd Cromar)

Col. Gina "Torch" Sabric, commander of the 419th Fighter Wing at Hill Air Force Base, Utah, and the Air Force Reserve's first female F-35 pilot

Col. Gina "Torch" Sabric, commander of the 419th Fighter Wing at Hill Air Force Base, Utah, and the Air Force Reserve's first female F-35 pilot. (U.S. Air Force photo/Todd Cromar)

Col. Gina "Torch" Sabric, commander of the 419th Fighter Wing at Hill Air Force Base, Utah, and the Air Force Reserve's first female F-35 pilot

Col. Gina "Torch" Sabric, commander of the 419th Fighter Wing at Hill Air Force Base, Utah, and the Air Force Reserve's first female F-35 pilot. (U.S. Air Force photo/Todd Cromar)

Col. Gina "Torch" Sabric, commander of the 419th Fighter Wing at Hill Air Force Base, Utah, and the Air Force Reserve's first female F-35 pilot

Col. Gina "Torch" Sabric, commander of the 419th Fighter Wing at Hill Air Force Base, Utah, and the Air Force Reserve's first female F-35 pilot. (U.S. Air Force photo/Todd Cromar)

Col. Gina "Torch" Sabric, commander of the 419th Fighter Wing at Hill Air Force Base, Utah, and the Air Force Reserve's first female F-35 pilot

Col. Gina "Torch" Sabric, commander of the 419th Fighter Wing at Hill Air Force Base, Utah, and the Air Force Reserve's first female F-35 pilot. (U.S. Air Force photo/Todd Cromar)

Before she climbed into the world’s most advanced fighter jet to become the Air Force Reserve’s first female F-35 pilot, Col. Gina “Torch” Sabric had already flown 10 airframes and racked up 22 years of flying experience.

 

“My family can tell you I’ve wanted to be a fighter pilot forever,” said Sabric, the first female commander of the 419th Fighter Wing at Hill Air Force Base, Utah. “I’ve always been fascinated with air and space.”

 

Service is in her DNA. Growing up in Tobyhanna, Pennsylvania, her mother was a nurse and her father a police officer, and she had several uncles who served in the Air Force. But it was a trip to a local airshow that turned her aviation dream into a tangible goal.

 

“My dad was a private pilot, so he took me to an airshow when I was a little girl, and I remember looking up at those airplanes and being amazed,” Sabric said. “Ever since then, I knew I was going to be a pilot.”

 

Twice in her teens she went to U.S. Space Camp in Huntsville, Alabama. A few years later, she had followed in her dad’s footsteps, earning a private pilot’s license while studying aerospace engineering at Penn State. By 1995, Sabric was ready to join the Air Force and had no doubts she’d be wearing a flight suit.

 

“If you really want something, you work your hardest to get it.”

 

Sabric proved herself as the top graduate from navigator training, launching her career first as an F-15E Strike Eagle weapons system officer and later as a distinguished graduate from pilot training into the F-16 Fighting Falcon. Add to that the MQ-9 Reaper, a remotely piloted aircraft, and the T-38 Talon, which she flew as “red air,” or simulated enemy against F-22 Raptors. Most recently, she flew special operations missions in the C-146A Wolfhound out of Duke Field, Florida.

 

“I don’t have the typical flying career,” Sabric said of the multiple airframes she’s flown. “I’ve had the opportunity to bounce around with different aircraft and mission sets. I think it’s made me a better pilot because I’ve had the opportunity to experience so much outside the fighter world.”

 

Her career is different in other ways, too. Sabric said she’s grown accustomed to answering questions about being a woman in the fighter world – one that, until 1993 when Jeannie Leavitt became the Air Force’s first female fighter pilot, was dominated by men.

 

“In the nineties, women were just getting into fighters,” Sabric said. “Back then, you were either the only girl in pilot training, or just one of two. But once you prove yourself in the cockpit, gender doesn’t matter anymore. A fighter pilot is a fighter pilot and everyone has to do the same job.”

 

Sabric said a lot has changed in the past 20 years. She doesn’t feel like “the token girl” in the squadron. She has more than 2,500 flying hours, including time in combat, and has deployed numerous times in support of Operations Allied Force, Enduring Freedom, Iraqi Freedom, and Noble Eagle.

 

“It’s great to know that today there are little girls, like me, who look up and see fighter jets and say, ‘I can do that.’”

 

Sabric said she loves talking to school groups and touting some of the ways both men and women can serve in the Air Force Reserve.

 

“When you take off the helmet and the long hair comes out, that’s a good thing for girls to see,” Sabric said. “I remember when I was a lieutenant, we brought a group of Girl Scouts to the F-15E simulator. That was really eye-opening to me because it was a moment when I realized how far we’ve come. We were able to show these girls what opportunities were open to them that weren’t just a few years earlier.”

 

Still, there’s only a small number of women fighter pilots in the Air Force, and only three others – all active duty – in the F-35 community.

 

Sabric said the birth of her son, Tyler, in 2011 was the deciding factor in leaving active duty for the Air Force Reserve, as it offered more flexibility in how and where she served.

 

“The Reserve provides an opportunity to serve either part time or full time when it works for you and your family,” she said. “It’s unique because everyone is here by choice. About two-thirds of our Airmen serve part time, and they do a phenomenal job of balancing work – both military and civilian – and family, because they want to serve in some capacity.”

 

Earlier this year, the Reserve brought Sabric, a single mom, to Hill AFB in Northern Utah, where less than three years earlier the 419th FW and its active duty counterpart, the 388th FW, received the Air Force’s first operational F-35A Lightning II. Since then, the two wings have flown the F-35 in a “Total Force” partnership, launching more than 9,000 sorties and logging nearly 15,000 hours in the jet.

 

“When I was told I got this job, a huge smile came across my face and I thought, ‘Wow, I just got the golden ticket,’” Sabric said. “It’s an amazing opportunity to be a fighter pilot and fly the latest fifth-generation aircraft at an operational wing. It doesn’t get any better.”

 

Sabric became fully qualified in the F-35 in August, having finished two months of training at Eglin AFB, Florida, and additional flying hours at Hill.

 

“I’m still new in the airplane,” Sabric said. “Every sortie you learn something new, so as I continue to fly I’ll continue to learn. What the F-35 brings to the fight now, it’s lightyears beyond fourth-gen aircraft.”

 

Aside from the stealth technology that keeps the F-35 virtually invisible to radar, Sabric said the most impressive aspect of the jet is its “sensor fusion” – the vast wealth of information it collects and sends that can be shared with other aircraft, giving pilots a bigger picture of the battlespace.

 

“Learning the F-35 is a challenge, and it’s a lot of new information to process and interpret,” Sabric said. But her diverse flying experience prepared her to make yet another switch. “Luckily, it’s still stick and rudder, and flying is flying.”

 

Sabric looks forward to helping the F-35 reach full operational capability at Hill. By 2019, the base will be home to 78 jets and four fighter squadrons capable of worldwide deployment. It’s a responsibility and privilege she couldn’t have imagined as a girl growing up in Tobyhanna.

 

“Sitting in this seat for the 419th, surrounded by these beautiful mountains, flying the premier fighter of the Air Force – I could not be happier to be where I am right now.”

Social Media

Facebook Twitter
What's your favorite jet on display here at the museum? Feel free to share your photos here! #avgeek
Can you guess which cockpit is photographed here? The answer will be posted on Friday. #avgeek #airhistory #aviation
In commemoration of the Centennial of World War I, here is an entry from Capt Edward V. Rickenbacker's diary from on this day in 1918. Click here for more on this diary--> http://bit.ly/2HUDGTz and here for other #WWI featured artifacts--> http://bit.ly/2yGUbl3 We moved in great shape. The entire group was out in 3 hours but the plane we are now at…Gee it’s terrible. Had my first trip over the lines today in the SPAD and not quite as well pleased with same as I expected to be.
Check out info on the Boeing Bird of Prey and feel free to share photos from your visit. http://bit.ly/2MK4ffN The Boeing Company
In commemoration of the Centennial of World War I, here is an entry from Capt Edward V. Rickenbacker's diary from on this day in 1918. Click here for more on this diary--> http://bit.ly/2HUDGTz and here for other #WWI featured artifacts--> http://bit.ly/2yGUbl3 Was out on patrol this morning. Met 6 enemy planes. Had a combat without results. Have the SPAD in shape now and expect to go out tomorrow with a patrol. Just received news that we are moving tomorrow. Certainly we are leaving the finest home we have yet had.
Are you visiting the museum today and what is your favorite gallery? Feel free to share your photos here! #avgeek #aviation #airhistory
In commemoration of the Centennial of World War I, here is an entry from Capt Edward V. Rickenbacker's diary from on this day in 1918. Click here for more on this diary--> http://bit.ly/2HUDGTz and here for other #WWI featured artifacts--> http://bit.ly/2yGUbl3 Lt. Meissner and Lt. Coolidge brought down an enemy plane today. Lt. [William W.] Chalmers has failed to return. Up to a late hour.
Are you visiting the museum today? Feel free to share your photos here! #avgeek #aviation #airhistory
This is the cockpit of the Fairchild C-119J Flying Boxcar on display in the fourth building. Congrats to all who guessed correctly! --> http://bit.ly/2LAQuzH
In commemoration of the Centennial of World War I, here is an entry from Capt Edward V. Rickenbacker's diary from on this day in 1918. Click here for more on this diary--> http://bit.ly/2HUDGTz and here for other #WWI featured artifacts--> http://bit.ly/2yGUbl3 Arrived here OK with new plane. Heard the 95th Squadron lost 2 men today, certainly hard luck.
Are you visiting the museum today? Feel free to share your photos here! #avgeek #airhistory #F22
In commemoration of the Centennial of World War I, here is an entry from Capt Edward V. Rickenbacker's diary from on this day in 1918. Click here for more on this diary--> http://bit.ly/2HUDGTz and here for other #WWI featured artifacts--> http://bit.ly/2yGUbl3 Arranged for a 230 [horsepower] SPAD which I will fly out tomorrow. Had a trial trip today. It certainly is a most wonderful Buss.
Happy Independence Day and thank you to all of our service members, past and present! If you are at the museum today, be sure to share your photos here. #IndependenceDay
In commemoration of the Centennial of World War I, here is an entry from Capt Edward V. Rickenbacker's diary from on this day in 1918. Click here for more on this diary--> http://bit.ly/2HUDGTz and here for other #WWI featured artifacts--> http://bit.ly/2yGUbl3 Big day. We left for Paris. Most of the boys had a big time. I spent a peaceful afternoon and returning then went to bed.
Interview with Vincent J. "Bill" Purple-WWII B-17 Pilot from his visit to see the Memphis Belle. For the full interview visit our YouTube channel here: https://youtu.be/t4TOv_QsjPQ
Check out this 360 view near the Lockheed Martin F-22A Raptor. View more 360 views at the link: http://www.nationalmuseum.af.mil/Visit/Virtual-Tour/
Check out this 360 view near the Republic F-84E Thunderjet in the Korean War Gallery. Restoration Specialist Chad Vanhook painted the Four Queens artwork and most recently he painted the right side of the Memphis Belle nose art. Check out more 360 views here: http://www.nationalmuseum.af.mil/Visit/Virtual-Tour/
In commemoration of the Centennial of World War I, here is an entry from Capt Edward V. Rickenbacker's diary from on this day in 1918. Click here for more on this diary--> http://bit.ly/2HUDGTz and here for other #WWI featured artifacts--> http://bit.ly/2yGUbl3 The 27th Squadron lost 2 more today. One of my hometown – [Lt. Walter B.] Wanamaker was his name. I must call on his family when returning home.
Independence Day is fast approaching, and we would love to hear how the museum has influenced you or your family members over the years. Please share comments about how the museum motivated you to join the Air Force, pursue an engineering career, support the military or any other ways your visits have inspired you.
Freedom sounds coming your way tomorrow afternoon! https://t.co/2JVqbg20mI
Meet Staff Sgt. Kannon Thompson: family man, handyman, outdoorsman, Airman. Also: @MarForRes vet, @WeberStateU alum… https://t.co/HQeXSdFi8L
Lt. Col. TJ Eaton, 419 FW reservist, accepted an award from @RepChrisStewart during a #VeteransDay program Nov. 9 a… https://t.co/gGZDSJRXi9
Our Airmen represented the @usairforce and @AirForceReserve in the community surrounding @HAFB during #VeteransDayhttps://t.co/ZOPsATSHnS
We’re getting an early start on #VeteransDay this year 🇺🇸 Tech. Sgt. Phil Pinillos and Airman Brianne Chapman talke… https://t.co/BLgIcPXOCS
🍔🥞🍳🍕🍗 Bring your appetite to Layton’s @goldencorral tonight 5-9 p.m. as our first sergeants serve guests and collec… https://t.co/2vKW70pZXh
We stand with our friends in the @UTNationalGuard and are grateful for Maj. Taylor’s service to our nation https://t.co/YCNtpm60wz
Reminder: Reservists can nominate their supportive employers now through the end of the year! https://t.co/VoipCgJIvV
ICYMI: We recently wrapped up an #F35 combat exercise with the @388fw at @HAFB https://t.co/gxPAXrhbVP
Know what’s spooky? A flying machine that scours the skies at 50,000 feet, swoops in at 1,200 mph, and strikes with… https://t.co/pt1T2aq9eU
The 419th has maintained a continuous flying mission @HAFB for 63 years, with more than half of that in the #F16 fr… https://t.co/MnsIJBf6y1
Col. Gina Sabric is the @AirForceReserve’s first female #F35 pilot, but her focus is on “setting the playbook” for… https://t.co/9cF0t6kw6X
RT @DepSecDef: The #F35 is our future. The standards of performance we set today and the improvements we make will ensure its lethality and…
RT @AirForceReserve: HOW TO BECOME A #PILOT: 1. Meet the initial requirements (below) 2. Read this STEP-BY-STEP GUIDE: https://t.co/NPWRX…
RT @388fw: We flew our 10,000th operational @thef35 sortie yesterday in the @388fw and @419fw - all thanks to our pilots and maintainers. #…
RT @GenDaveGoldfein: Thanks to the men & women of @HAFB for hosting @DepSecDef & I yesterday, showing us around the F-35, & doing tremendou…
RT @AirForceReserve: Cut back on the hours & keep the #military benefits. Maintain your rank & retirement while gaining the advantage of ti…