All mom Strike Eagle flight shows women’s strength Image ID 221114 F XN600 1180 CREDIT US Air Force AND Senior Airman Kylie Barrow
F-15E Strike Eagle fighter pilots assigned to the 4th Fighter Wing pose with their children at Seymour Johnson Air Force Base, North Carolina in November 2022 (Picture: US Air Force / Senior Airman Kylie Barrow).
Women

'Just because you're a mom doesn't mean you can't fly', says the pilot embracing motherhood

All mom Strike Eagle flight shows women’s strength Image ID 221114 F XN600 1180 CREDIT US Air Force AND Senior Airman Kylie Barrow
F-15E Strike Eagle fighter pilots assigned to the 4th Fighter Wing pose with their children at Seymour Johnson Air Force Base, North Carolina in November 2022 (Picture: US Air Force / Senior Airman Kylie Barrow).

A US Air Force fast jet pilot and mother is keen to encourage other female pilots who wish to start a family to stop worrying about the effects it might have on their career and go for it. 

To prove that being a mother doesn't have to prevent you from having a career in the sky, Major Tiffany McElroy asked four other F-15E Strike Eagle pilot mothers to join her for her final flight, before she leaves the flying world for a few years to teach Undergraduate Combat Systems Officers.

Major McElroy, a former 333rd Fighter Squadron instructor weapons systems officer, says she didn't know any other fighter pilot mothers when she joined the US Air Force. 

She said: "After going through almost three years of training to become qualified in the jet, I understand why.

"You put your entire heart into the upgrades and you work 12 hours a day, easily. 

"Once you are qualified, you look forward to the trips and combat missions and most of us spend more time at a hotel than in our own beds, which makes having a family more difficult."

American women have been flying as Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASPs) since the Second World War and as US Air Force fighter jet pilots since 1993.

Major Tiffany McElroy, 333rd Fighter Squadron instructor weapons systems officer, poses with her husband and daughter at Seymour Johnson Air Force Base, North Carolina, November 2022 CREDIT US Air Force AND Senior Airman Kylie Barrow
Major Tiffany McElroy poses with her husband and daughter at Seymour Johnson Air Force Base, North Carolina (Picture: US Air Force / Senior Airman Kylie Barrow).

Up until the 1970s, US armed forces women would be discharged when they became mothers. 

US Air Force Captain Susan Struck paved the way for female pilots to enjoy both being a mother and serving their country. 

With the help of Ruth Bader Ginsburg, the Supreme Court's feminist icon, Capt Struck sued the Secretary of Defense after she was discharged for refusing to have an abortion in 1970 to continue her career. 

USAF pilots assigned to the 4th Fighter Wing, along with family and friends, pose for a group photo after Maj McElroy completed her final flight at Seymour Johnson Air Force Base, North Carolina in November 2022 CREDIT US Air Force AND Senior Airman Kylie Barrow
USAF pilots assigned to the 4th Fighter Wing, along with family and friends, pose for a group photo after Maj McElroy completed her final flight at Seymour Johnson Air Force Base, North Carolina (Picture: US Air Force/ Senior Airman Kylie Barrow).

Fifty years later, life for those wishing to become a mother and serve their country in the US Air Force is incredibly different. 

Major McElroy and her husband, who serves as a Wake County Sheriff, met in 2018 and have a 16-month-old baby girl. 

Although they had been trying to conceive, Major McElroy said nothing prepared her for the rollercoaster of feelings she felt after discovering she was pregnant.

The pilot was concerned her pregnancy might affect her flying career. 

She said: "At first I was so excited, but my excitement turned into pure terror. 

"I immediately started to think how this would affect the flying schedule and how I just became the squadron's worst asset, that I wouldn't be able to fly or do the mission and all my training just went down the toilet." 

Major Tiffany McElroy, 333rd Fighter Squadron instructor weapons systems officer, hugs her daughter after completing her final flight Image ID 221114-F-XN600-1099 CREDIT US Air Force AND Senior Airman Kylie Barrow
Maj McElroy hugs her daughter after completing her final flight (Picture: US Air Force / Senior Airman Kylie Barrow).

However, she need not have worried as her squadron leadership made it clear they were happy for her. 

Maj McElroy said she did not feel any sense of inferiority during her non-flying months leading up to childbirth and her unit supported her by showing up with pre-cooked meals after she gave birth. 

However, like many new mothers, Maj McElroy found returning to work after maternity leave difficult. 

An Airman assigned to the 4th Fighter Wing marshals an F-15E Strike Eagle into a hangar after taking part in a fini-flight at Seymour Johnson Air Force Base, North Carolina in November 2022 Image ID 221114-F-XN600-1039 CREDIT US Air Force AND Senior Airman Kylie Barrow
An airman assigned to the 4th Fighter Wing marshals an F-15E Strike Eagle into a hangar at Seymour Johnson Air Force Base, North Carolina (Picture: US Air Force / Senior Airman Kylie Barrow).

Suddenly being without your child is incredibly difficult to cope with emotionally but there were also practical implications. 

She said: "I had to request longer and more breaks to breastfeed between classes, briefs, flying, and debriefs. 

"At first, I was nervous to ask but then realized it's all a normal part of raising a human and when I came to terms with that, not only was I comfortable with it but also felt like an advocate for future moms-to-be." 

USAF pilots assigned to the 4th Fighter Wing, along with their friends and families, wait on the flightline for Maj McElroy CREDIT US Air Force AND Senior Airman Kylie Barrow
USAF pilots assigned to the 4th Fighter Wing, along with their friends and families, wait on the flightline for Maj McElroy (Picture: US Air Force / Senior Airman Kylie Barrow).

Like many other female fast fighter pilots, Maj McElroy has proved that women "can fly, fight, win – and be moms". 

The pilot, who is hoping to have another child, will continue to fly as an instructor in the T-1 at Naval Air Station Pensacola.  

She said: "There is never a perfect time to become a mom, so embrace your journey and know that you have a support community out there. 

"Just because you're a mom doesn’t mean you can't fly."