By Robert Fox, 82nd Training Wing Public Affairs
/ Published November 03, 2006
SHEPPARD AIR FORCE BASE --
The only lofty goal Cadet Ulrike Flender has is one that would catapult her into the sky as a pilot.
As the German student prepares to graduate from Euro-NATO Joint Jet Pilot Training program tonight, she'll complete a goal that wasn't on her radar until now. She'll be the first female fighter pilot for the German Air Force.
"I didn't want to be the first," Cadet Flender said. "I just want to fly."
She still has three months of introduction to fighter fundamental training and a trip to Holloman Air Force Base, N.M., to learn to fly the Tornado. After completing that training, she'll go to Buechel Air Force Base, Germany, home of the 33rd Fighter/Bomber Wing,
This "first" is a major step the people in Germany can't ignore.
"For the German armed forces, it is a great thing," said Lt. Col. Hans Jeitmer, the news editor for the German armed forces media center. "I think there is also much interest for the normal press. Everybody is interested in how she is feeling, being the first."
He said until 2001 when the German constitution changed, women could not serve in the German military in a combat field. Basically, women could be medical staff and musicians he said.
Cadet Flender said when she was growing up she wanted to be an astronaut. At fourteen, she said she realized how unrealistic that was and set her sights on becoming a fighter pilot.
She said being the first woman to do so has brought her a good deal of attention and maybe made her something of a role model.
She stopped smiling for a moment.
"Hmmm, usually I don't think about it," she said, smiling again. "I just want to fly and if they're interested, yeah sure."
Airman 1st Class Nico Pestel said he and the others in the media must strike a careful balance.
"It is difficult to tell the story about quite an important thing, which is quite a highlight for the German Air Force, and make it clear that this is the future - in the future this is going to be normal," he said.
Colonel Jeitmer said he filmed and interviewed Cadet Flender for three years, since before she was selected as a pilot trainee. He said he is planning to make a documentary film about her.
"It's fun for me to accompany her during her career, because I've known her since she was an airman and now she is a cadet," he said. "I think she can be very proud of all the things she has done."