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F-16 Pilot Sharon Preszler to Present at Museum Speaker Series

Sharon “Betty” Preszler, who was part of the initial cadre of female fighter pilots to serve with the U.S. Air Force and was the first woman to fly and instruct in the F-16, will present about her career and experiences in the cockpit of the Fighting Falcon on Thursday, November 18, at 7 p.m. as part of the EAA Aviation Museum Aviation Adventure Speaker Series.

Entering the Air Force in 1986, Sharon was a navigator for a number of years, earning her private pilot certificate during that time period, before convincing her superiors to send her Air Force pilot training in 1991.

“I absolutely loved [flight training],” Sharon said. “It helped that I was a navigator before because I was familiar with talking on the radio and traffic patterns and those kinds of things. I was the only captain in the group of 20, so there was 19 second lieutenants and me. It was the same time the Air Force started banking pilots. They had too many people in the pipeline for the number of airplanes they had. … I did well in training and I was probably third or so in our class.”

After completing training in 1992, Sharon was assigned to the C-21, the military version of the Learjet, out of Andrews Air Force Base. Around the same time, Congress moved to end combat exclusion for women, which opened up the door for women to serve as fighter pilots. Shortly thereafter, Sharon was asked if she’d like to fly the F-16.

“I was super excited [about the opportunity],” Sharon said. “I ended up at the Pentagon for a press conference — there was three of us that were introduced as the first women to fly fighters in the Air Force. It took about another six months and went started training to do that. So I was only at my C-21 assignment for about a year.”

f 16 pilot sharon preszler to present at museum speaker series Airplane GEEK F-16 Pilot Sharon Preszler to Present at Museum Speaker Series

Sharon trained to fly the F-16 at Luke Air Force Base and then went overseas to Spangdahlem Air Base in Germany in 1994 for her first combat F-16 assignment, where she was deployed and flew sorties over Iraq as part of Operation Northern Watch. In training for the F-16, Sharon explained that the actual flying portion of the training wasn’t too bad — dealing with some of the outside noise and pressure was more of a challenge.

“The flying wasn’t the hardest part. The hardest part was there was a lot of people that didn’t think women should fly fighters,” she said. “There were parts during the training where I thought I wasn’t going to finish. Partially, I put too much pressure on myself. It was an interesting time, I will say.”

Sharon said that some of the negative reaction to the change in policy came from both the outside media and her fellow male fighter pilots.

“Some of it was the media, which thought we were taking things too far and that we shouldn’t have women fighting our wars for us, that kind of thing,” she said. “Part of it was from fighter pilots who thought it would mess up their squadron environment, that I wasn’t going to be dependable. All those things that come with being the first person to do something. If you look back at the WASPs or the Tuskegee Airmen, everyone doubted them and they put up with a bunch of grief. We got to do the same until we proved ourselves.”

f 16 pilot sharon preszler to present at museum speaker series 1 Airplane GEEK F-16 Pilot Sharon Preszler to Present at Museum Speaker Series

As far as the airplane itself, Sharon said she enjoyed flying the F-16 immensely.

“I absolutely loved flying it,” she said. “I liked pulling gs, I always did. I was the kid that would ride the same roller coaster 10 times in a row. It is an amazing airplane to get the opportunity to fly. You have to be careful, you have to pay attention to what you’re doing or you can get yourself in trouble quickly with the gs. But if you’re ready for them and you use them the way they’re supposed to be used to maneuver that airplane, it’s just amazing what it can do. … I just loved it.”

Following her assignment in Germany, Sharon returned to Luke AFB as an F-16 instructor. Sharon served with the Air Force for the next decade or so in a few different roles, including with North American Aerospace Defense Command after 9/11, and retired in 2006 with the rank of lieutenant colonel.

Thursday’s event is free for EAA members and youths 18 and under, and just $5 for non-members.

f 16 pilot sharon preszler to present at museum speaker series 2 Airplane GEEK F-16 Pilot Sharon Preszler to Present at Museum Speaker Series


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