“She was an F-16 instructor at the time, and she responded and laid out some possibilities,” Trimble said. “Just getting that email and talking to someone who was female and who had done it before let me know that it was an option.”
Like most people, Trimble didn’t know then where she would end up, but she had a vision that she couldn’t ignore.
Inspiration From an Early Age
Trimble’s father had been a fighter pilot in Vietnam, and although he’d retired from the Air Force by the time Brittany was born, he continued to fly as a pilot for FedEx. The photos and model airplanes around the house made an impression on the younger Trimble.
Her father hoped she would matriculate to the Air Force Academy, where she applied and was accepted, but she decided that a four-year degree of her choice, along with the Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC), was the route she would take. She wanted to keep her options open.
She attended Tufts University in Boston, starting as an international relations major before switching to a pre-med track and ultimately landing on biopsychology as her major.
She still thought about becoming a pilot, though. Hanging in her dorm room was a picture of a fighter jet, but she wasn’t 100 percent sure she could see herself in the pilot seat. She had no experience flying and described an ROTC flight in a Cessna as “kind of slow.” It was a big commitment, too; once one signs on to be a pilot in the Air Force, there’s an obligation for a minimum of 10 years.
“If you haven’t been immersed in that culture by moving around with the military or by flying airplanes your whole life, how do you know it’s for you? That’s the question I struggled with.”
Eventually, Trimble applied for pilot training and took the test. “When I found out that I got a pilot slot, that’s when I realized that path was going to be the most challenging and also bring me the most joy.” Trimble credits her dad and her ROTC commander for guiding her in her decision. Both sat down with her and talked her through the process, their experiences, and the pros and cons.
“Exposure to different ideas and working professionals helps a lot,” Trimble said about trying to chart a course. She believes talking to people and getting as much information as possible are key steps, as opposed to just searching Google for answers. “If you’re putting yourself out there, if you are trying to experience the things that you will be doing, that will help you.”
Nevertheless, she admits, her decision also took a leap of faith.
Showing Up and Flying
Today, she’s addressed as Captain Trimble, or, when she’s in the cockpit of a fighter jet, by her callsign “Blitz.” She’s been a commissioned officer in the United States Air Force since 2012 and is one of the elite few to be chosen to fly the F-16. “Now I’m part of the community that back then I had starry eyes looking up at.”
How do you go from no experience as a pilot to piloting a jet that can climb to 40,000 feet and exceed the speed of sound?
That’s another interesting story. Of course, there are several years of fundamentals classes, simulation flights, and learning to fly other planes such as the T-6 and the T-38. You train, and you train, and you train. There is a two-seat version of the F-16 used for initial training flights that allows for an experienced pilot to be on board, but as luck would have it, when Trimble took her first F-16 flight, the two-seaters had been taken off line. Her first flight in an F-16 was solo; the instructor was in a separate jet.
“My story is a huge testament to the Air Force’s capability to train pilots,” Trimble said. “They took me, someone who had no basic understanding of flying and no background in general aviation, and got me to the point in about three years where they were trusting me with a multi-million-dollar platform.”
Trimble said she’s never struggled with being one of the few women, or only woman, in a squadron. Since Trimble started at Hutchison in kindergarten, she had plenty of time to build her confidence. “Hutchison allowed me to figure out who I was without a lot of the external pressures of changing who I was to impress someone. It allowed more time for me to figure out who I was in a smaller context. By the time I went to college, I knew exactly who I was.”
What hasn’t Trimble done yet? She hasn’t been deployed to an active combat zone yet, which would allow her to test all of the skills she’s trained on for years. She also must plan a wedding. “That seems more stressful. I’m not qualified to do that.”
Soon, Trimble will be training others to fly F-16 jets. She had been stationed in Japan until this past February, when she moved back to the United States with her fiancé, also an Air Force pilot. This year, she will complete several training courses to become an F-16 basics instructor at Holloman Air Force Base, much like the lieutenant colonel she reached out to only 11 years ago.
The views and opinions expressed by Brittany Trimble are her own and don’t necessarily reflect those of the Air Force.