Meet the Pioneering Pilot Who Flies the Air Force's Most Advanced Fighter Jet
With more than 800 hours of in-flight experience and a deployment to the Middle East under her wings, Captain Kristin Wolfe, also known by her call sign “Beo” Wolfe, is the first female commander of the F-35A Lightning II Demonstration Team.
For the next year, she will lead a 13-member squad in the U.S. Air Force’s most advanced fighter jet at air shows across the country. The team performs daring flips, rolls, and loops at low altitudes and speeds of up to 728 mph. And even though the group’s schedule has been unpredictable due to the COVID-19 restrictions, Wolfe, 31, has still found time for her most important mission: teaching the next generation of pilots that the sky is, in fact, not the limit. “I met a 3-year-old at Fort Worth at our air show last weekend, and she was like, ‘Women can be pilots?’ ” Wolfe says. “Her mom responded, ‘Yeah, you can fly if you want to!’ That mindset shift is what it’s all about.”
Gender Studies: It is not lost on Wolfe that she is among only a few women at her home base in Utah. “I’ve thought, ‘Am I good enough to do this? Am I better than the guys?’” says Wolfe, who studied chemical engineering at the University of Alabama before joining the Air Force ROTC and learning to fly. But the more she practiced, the more confident she became, even if it meant working out her nerves in a $78 million piece of heavy-duty machinery that is capable of reaching speeds of up to Mach 1.6 (about 433 mph faster than the speed of sound). “Airplanes don’t care if you’re female or male,” she says. “It’s about how well you can fly with the stick and throttle.”
Refueling with the Fam: When Wolfe isn’t airborne, she can be found hiking, skiing, or hanging out with her 4-year-old rescue pup, Rylee. She also likes to cook virtually with her tight-knit family, including her two younger siblings, her mom, and her dad (who was also an Air Force pilot). “We’ll do silly Zoom calls and all make the same recipe,” she says. “It’s a fun way to keep up with each other.”
For the Thrill: “I’m definitely an adrenaline seeker,” Wolfe says. “My mom and I love going to amusement parks and trying to stay on roller coasters six or seven times in a row.” Flying with the demo team certainly satisfies the pilot’s adventurous side. She recalls out-of-this-world moments, like when she flew ultra-close to the Matterhorn in the Swiss Alps on her way home from a fighter-pilot competition last summer. “That was one of the most badass things I’ve gotten to do,” she says. “The views you get and the places you get to fly to [as a military pilot] are unreal.” Wolfe says she plans to continue flying, even after her time in the Air Force is up. “I’ll probably still be in aviation, either as a hobby or as a profession,” she says. “Because you still get to travel the world, and it’s just so exciting.”
For more stories like this, pick up the January 2020 issue of InStyle, available on newsstands, on Amazon, and for digital download now.