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380AEW Article

Hard work and dedication; female fighter pilot makes deployment debut with 494th FS

  • Published
  • By Tech. Sgt. Michelle Y. Alvarez
  • 380th Air Expeditionary Wing

Success is not defined by gender. It is a culmination of hard work, dedication and in the story of Air Force Capt. Miranda Bray, 494th Fighter Squadron pilot, the seemingly endless number of hours allocated to training in order to be exactly who and what she wanted to be.

Bray joins the ranks of Jeannie Leavitt, Christine Mau, and Kim Campbell, amongst select others, as part of the three percent of female U.S. fighter pilots, according to Air Force Personnel Center statistics. 

Regardless of gender, the Air Force requires a fighter pilot to maintain high standards of physical fitness, extraordinary skill, mission tactics, and the ability to excel as a leader.

As a United States Air Force Academy graduate, Bray is no stranger to sacrifice and hard work. 

She first decided she wanted to be a pilot while she was still a cadet at USAFA. After watching many of her friends and classmates become pilots and love it, she realized that was the path she also wanted to take. 

As soon as she began flying, she favored the more aggressive tactics she was learning in fighter jets, and she knew that not only did she want to be a pilot, she wanted to be a fighter pilot. After that, she spent almost three years doing various forms of pilot training before ever making it to her first operational assignment. During that time, she trained on everything from a Cessna DA20 to a T-38 Talon, eventually being assigned to the F-15E Strike Eagle. Upon being selected as an F-15E Strike Eagle pilot she began Fighter Fundamentals, a training program designed to teach her how to use her aircraft as a weapons system and not just a means of transportation. 

“There’s a lot of training sorties and grade sheets along the way, but it was all worth it for that first flight without a grade sheet and being able to enjoy the craft that you have finally reached,” Bray said.

She shared that the most challenging part of being a female fighter pilot can actually be the issues posed by uniforms that were designed for men. 

“We do fly really long sorties and luckily there are think tanks and groups that are working really hard to bridge the gap,” she said.

The Air Force is studying and making uniform changes to accommodate the growing number of female pilots. Some of these changes include modifications to the flight suits but also include the development of in-flight bladder relief systems, specifically designed to allow female aviators the ability to hydrate properly without concern about relieving themselves during flight.

“I appreciate the Air Force making a huge push in making it easier for women to fly,” she said.

Along with other members of her squadron, Bray is deployed from the 494th Expeditionary Fighter Squadron to Al Dhafra Air Base as part of an agile combat employment movement to provide more flexible air power across the U.S. Central Command area of responsibility and support the ongoing Afghanistan retrograde operations.

“We want to display to our partners and our allies our capability to pick up and move with a smaller contingent,” Bray said. “What this means, is we take a handful of our jets from our primary squadron and a small group of maintainers to an alternate location where they operate and keep the jets healthy without all of the same means and tools that they would normally have.”

Bray said their maintenance team has risen to the challenge. “Our maintenance teams are absolutely crushing the work that they are doing out here and keeping our jets healthy while we are out here flying sorties,” she said.

While deployed to Al Dhafra Air Base, Bray describes a typical fly day as showing up three hours early for a combat mission in order to complete all necessary flight briefings and routes for the day, followed by an hour of ground operations before takeoff. A standard flight will run more than seven hours after which she will do a debrief with maintenance to address any issues that may have come up during flight. After such a long day, the flight crew will typically have dinner together before closing out their day.

While it may seem like a high tempo to maintain, Bray said, “Being able to be close to the mission and having something exciting to look forward to every day makes it all worth it.”

“Working with a team of absolute professionals who I can call my family, this community is really special in that we go through unique challenges together and we all support one another to an extreme amount,” she explained. “It doesn’t feel like a huge sacrifice when we get to show up and do something that we love every day.”

With more than  200 sorties and 400 flight hours under her belt, Bray is proof that gender doesn’t define success. 

To all the little girls watching, “If it’s something that you really want to do, it just takes a lot of hard work and dedication,” Bray said. “This community is so welcoming, and it is the best career I could have ever pursued. We are all excited to be close to the mission, supporting the U.S. Air Force.”