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First husband-and-wife duo to fly B-2 stealth bombers retire after making history

Posted at 10:22 AM, Nov 02, 2018
and last updated 2018-11-02 12:22:06-04

BOISE, Idaho — The B-2 stealth bomber is able to fly into enemy territory undetected, making it one of the most feared aircraft in the world. Lt Col. Jennifer Avery was the first woman to fly it.

“Honestly, I never thought I would be a pilot… I was very kind of insecure in high school,” Avery said.

But she overcame that insecurity and earned her Air Force wings in 1997. Then she heard there was a search for B-2 pilots.

“I decided to throw my name in the hat,” she said, adding that she didn’t intend to blaze a trail for women. “I just applied because it intrigued me.”

She got the job, but there was a problem. It meant she’d have to leave her boyfriend John, who was also an Air Force pilot, and move to the B-2 base in Missouri.

“It’s obviously an incredible airplane. But that had a significant role in the decision process,” he said.

So they both became B-2 pilots and eventually, husband and wife. It was another first in Air Force history, but it also meant they could never be in the same plane.

“You’re not allowed to fly together if you are married,” Jennifer said.

She went on to fly a mission in Operation Iraqi Freedom. She is still the only woman to fly a B-2 in combat. When asked why more women don’t go after these jobs, she said there could be “a perception problem.”

“That they think they won’t be accepted,” Jennifer said.

The couple went on to fly B-2s for the Air National Guard until they both retired from the military in September, giving them more time to focus on the ultimate mission: Their two children.

“I have ultimate respect for her because I know that she’s an incredible pilot, but I know that she’s an even better mother,” John said.

They’ll always have that connection to that exclusive club in the sky.

Information below written by Mrs. Brye Steeves, 509th Bomb Wing Public Affairs / September 14, 2018

Growing up in Miami, Florida, Jennifer said she was “shy and maybe even a little insecure – uncertain of myself.” After high school, she headed to Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta. She carried with her a childhood memory of visiting an Air Force base in Charleston, South Carolina. “I’ll never forget my Uncle Bill taking me into a flight simulator. That stuck with me, even to this day. I thought flying was incredible.”

Jennifer graduated in 1995 with a bachelor’s of science degree in biology and, as a member of the Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC), received a commission in the U.S. Air Force as a second lieutenant.

“I knew exactly what I wanted to do next,” she said.

Jennifer earned her pilot wings in June of 1997, which eventually took her to Ellsworth AFB, South Dakota, to fly the B-1 Lancer – and begin making history.

She was the first female B-1 pilot to go to combat, flying four sorties over Kosovo in support of Operation Allied Force in 1999. Not long after, Jennifer applied to fly the B-2 Spirit, based at Whiteman AFB, Missouri.

“I was drawn to the challenge of flying this unique aircraft that has a mission so vital to deterrence and global safety,” she said of the $2.2 billion stealth bomber that is capable of both nuclear and conventional missions. “To be one of the few pilots to fly this aircraft that is the backbone of nuclear security was an amazing prospect.”

She was accepted into the program and began training shortly thereafter. Her first flight in the B-2 was on Feb. 12, 2002, making her the first woman to fly the B-2 stealth bomber. Now, 16 years later, seven other women have become B-2 pilots and others are now in training.

In March 2003, she would do again what no other woman before her had accomplished.

Jennifer flew a mission in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom, becoming the first woman to fly the B-2 in combat. Today, she is still the only woman to have flown the B-2 combat.

“Jen is a trailblazer,” Kennish said. “Her career has been nothing short of spectacular. And the same can certainly be said for John, who chased Jen from South Dakota all the way to Missouri.”

John grew up in Great Falls, Montana, where he watched F-16 fighter jets from a nearby base fly overhead.

“I really wanted to fly,” John said. “And I joined the Air Force because I wanted to fly cool planes. I knew being a military pilot, I would be serving my country and have a pretty incredible day-to-day job at the same time.”

He completed an economics degree at Carleton College, Minnesota, and later was commissioned as a second lieutenant through the U.S. Air Force Officer Training School (OTS) in 1999. He earned his pilot wings in 2000, and soon was stationed at Ellsworth AFB, South Dakota, to fly the B-1.

Jennifer was already there and remembers wondering, “Who’s the new pilot?”
The first time John saw her, he remembers wondering why she was late to the parachute safety class they were both taking. And, that he wanted to meet her.

John and Jennifer began dating, though it was less than six months later that she left South Dakota for her next assignment to fly the B-2 Stealth bomber. It wasn’t long after that John also applied and was accepted to fly the B-2 – something he said he would not have pursued if it weren’t for Jennifer.

“I wanted to fly the B-2 because that was the plane my future wife was going to fly,” John said. “That, and it’s without a doubt the world’s most elite aircraft. As a pilot, there’s nothing more rewarding. Knowing your job is to protect our country, while deterring enemies really is an amazing job to have.”