Editorial note: After our interview with Major Kristin Wolfe, but before this story aired, she was promoted from captain to major. As a result, there are some versions of this story, including audio and video, where we refer to her by the outdated title of captain. We apologize for any confusion.
LAYTON, Utah — Hill Air Force Base is home to dozens of F-35 fighter jets. And if you’ve lived in northern Utah for any stretch of time you’ve probably seen a few of them up in the skies.
Command and control: Maj. Kristin “BEO” Wolfe
Next time when you look up and see one of those stealth fighters, you may be watching Maj. Kristin “BEO” Wolfe at the controls.
She is the pilot and commander of the Air Force’s F-35A Lightning II Demo Team, based at Hill.
“We’ve got about 78 jets here at Hill,” said Wolfe. “It’s pretty cool that I flew a jet last night in training, and I could fly that exact same jet in the demo today that I flew tactically yesterday.”
Wolfe joined the Air Force in college and flew F22s at Langley before coming to Utah. As the commander of the F-35 Demo Team and a pilot, she showcases what the F-35 Lightning II can do in air shows and demonstrations around the country.
The F-35 Demo Team in action
She says it can be strenuous to pull 8 or 9 Gs, but none of that G load is sustained for very long. She says during the course of their 15-minute show they’re in and out of those maneuvers pretty quickly during the demonstration.
“It’s really exciting single ship stuff, so one airplane flying at a given time. We fly for about 15 minutes and then we show off the high-speed performance of the aircraft, so just below supersonic. And we show off slow speed, which is right around 100ish miles an hour,” said Wolfe.
While she is in the air, the ground crew is doing a narration and telling the audience what they are seeing, and how it can relate to combat. And they have a soundtrack for the maneuvers.
Inspiring future female fighter pilots
“BEO” is Wolfe’s call sign. She may be one of only a handful of female fighter pilots in the US; as of January 2020, the Air Force said women make up 21% of all Air Force members, and of that, 806 are pilots.
But BEO said the jet doesn’t care if the pilot is a man or a woman.
“You’ll be walking by a family and the parent says to the little girl, ‘Hey, she was flying that airplane.’ The girl looks over and says, ‘Girls can fly planes?’ And you’re like, yeah, totally, that’s why we’re here,” said Wolfe.
Fun F-35 facts
Here’s some fun stuff she can share about the plane: The stick actually only moves about an inch and a half in each direction, and it’s all an input to the computer. And there are six external cameras, which are infrared to see differences in heat. The pilot can put the cameras’ video into their visor and see what they are seeing.
So you can see through the plane essentially with the bottom camera.
“But I always tell people, technically, there’s no reason to be looking through your body when you’re going 600 miles an hour straight, so we use that obviously for missile warning primarily, and then as a backup night vision,” said Wolfe.
The F-35 Demo Team lists the calendar of their demonstrations and shows on their website and social media channels.
But you can’t ask for a ride. These jets just have one spot, for the pilot. And Major Wolfe is happy to show you all the tricks from your safe seat on the ground.
I have an idea for a future in-depth report. How do I tell you about it?
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