Dreaming big earns German pilot distinction in her own right
By Dan Hawkins, 82nd Training Wing Public Affairs
/ Published March 28, 2012
SHEPPARD AIR FORCE BASE, Texas --
Becoming a fighter pilot is tough, no matter what gender you are. Add in the history-making nature of trying to become one of your country's first female fighter pilots, the pressure can get ramped up in a hurry.
For 1st Lt. Nicola Baumann, an instructor pilot assigned to Sheppard's 459th Flying Training Squadron and only the second female to become a fighter pilot in the history of the German Air Force, it isn't about gender, but about living out your dream.
From the tender age of three when she flew on a plane for the first time, Baumann knew a career including flying was in her future.
Initially a flight path to Lufthansa, Germany's largest airline, seemed like the clear choice.
"I always thought if I was going to be a pilot, it would be for Lufthansa because the German Air Force wasn't open to women at that time," Baumann said. "Becoming a fighter pilot seemed like too big a dream."
The problem was there was just one requirement she could not meet in her quest to becoming a pilot for the commercial airlines.
"I had my mind set on Lufthansa until I was 15 or 16 and I realized I had stopped growing and I was only five foot, three inches, which is just too short for their personnel or company regulations," Baumann said. "So I gave up on it for awhile."
After letting the initial disappointment of not meeting the height requirement wear off, she ran into another pilot, who told her she could still fly and just needed to look around for different opportunities.
"I looked into all kinds of options and found out the German Air Force had just opened up to women and their (height) regulation was five feet three inches," Baumann said. "So I applied and it worked out."
With flying in the family DNA (her mom flew hang gliders and younger sister Nena is a pilot with Lufthansa), she still didn't tell her parents she applied for the military.
"I applied first without telling anyone," said Baumann. "I was afraid of my (parents) reaction because my mom despised the thought of me in the military."
In Germany, an individual initially applies to join the Air Force in a particular job position. Before actually joining the service, the individual knows whether or not they will receive the desired job and can decline entry into active duty if they do not.
Although her dad was surprised at her acceptance, Baumann, just 20 years old at the time and fresh out of high school, got ready for the long training road standing in front of anyone's pursuit of a fighter pilot career.
In 2004, Baumann officially entered the German Air Force, attending the GAF Academy, a one-year school focusing on officer training.
She then spent a year in academics to prepare her for pilot training. Courses like English training, Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape and other technical training set her up for the 53 weeks of training at the Euro-NATO Joint Jet Pilot Training program at Sheppard and where she ultimately earned her wings.
At the end of the training cycle, Baumann landed in the 322nd Squadron in Bavaria, flying Tornados with Capt. Ulruie Flender, Germany's first female fighter pilot. Flender graduated pilot training about 10 months ahead of Baumann, also at ENJJPT.
"It was really neat," Baumann said. "We did a cross-country flight with the first two female WSO's (Weapons Systems Officers)...it gave us a real sense of satisfaction."
Being a fully-qualified fighter pilot has nothing to do with gender; rather, it is proved by how well a pilot can actually fly.
"The guys I fly with have never had an issue with me being female," Baumann said. "If you perform well and can fly, you are accepted. If you don't, you will have a hard time whether you are a woman or a man."
Getting the chance to be an instructor pilot at ENJJPT has been rewarding for her.
"I really like it," Baumann said. "I remember my own training very well, so I try to sympathize with the students. It's really nice when they get that glimpse of understanding."
Baumann isn't too caught up in the historical context in which she serves.
"I was always happy and proud to be a fighter pilot," Baumann said. "I never looked at much in the historical sense...if we had opened the forces ten or twenty years earlier, I would have just been one of many."
Getting the chance to fly the next generation of fighters in Europe would be ideal for Baumann, but just being able to fly as a profession is the bottom line.
"I always wanted to be a pilot, not a feminist or somebody who paves the way," Baumann said. "I just wanted to fly airplanes."