Sharon "Betty" Preszler
Leadership; Courage; Service Before Self; Organizational Transformation; Resiliency; Planning for Success; Safety First; Strategic vs. Tactical Planning; Confidence
I was overjoyed when I was hand-picked as one member of the initial cadre of women fighter pilots in the United Stated Air Force. I was the first woman to fly the F-16, the first woman to fly the F-16 in combat, and the first woman to instruct in the F-16. Being the first at anything is, shall we say, a rare experience, but one that I loved and would do again in a heartbeat.
My pioneering role in the F-16 was definitely unconventional and gave me a unique perspective in organizational culture, transformational leadership, and building high-performance teams. During my 20+ years of service in the United States Air Force, I initially served as a navigator, then as a pilot I flew Lear Jets and F-16s. I accumulated over 1300 hours in the F-16 – which included receiving an award for safely recovering a disabled jet, and having to eject during an aircraft emergency. My last assignment was in North American Aerospace Defense command, writing our homeland defense and response plans after the terrorist attacks on 9/11 – plans that are still in use today.
My service in the Air Force taught me how to be successful even in hostile, unwelcoming environments. I learned what it takes to positively transform an unwilling or reluctant organizational culture without sacrificing standards, performance, or safety. Throughout my career, I had to be a compelling leader: composed, decisive, and effective in both daily operations and in crises. The years of flying also taught me how to balance my life: while meeting the demanding operational tempo of combat operations, instructing, and leading in a fighter squadron, I had to organize and prioritize my efforts to allow time to do what was important to me and my family. Even today, one of my passions is empowering others and giving them the tools to overcome challenges and achieve success. I broke conventions and broke barriers, and in the process built a path for the women behind me to pursue their dreams of becoming fighter pilots. By sharing my experiences, I want to inspire others and pass along my “lessons learned” so that they too feel equipped achieve their dreams, no matter the barriers.
Sharon “Betty” Preszler was hand-picked as one member of the initial cadre of women fighter pilots in the United Stated Air Force. She was the first woman to fly the F-16 (a single seat, single engine fighter), the first woman to fly combat missions and instruct in the F-16. Betty has over 1300 hours in the F-16, including over 50 combat hours in Iraq and one ejection, due to electrical failure. In her 20+ years of service in the US Air Force she was also a navigator, piloted a Lear Jet, and spent time in North American Aerospace Defense Command writing our homeland defense plans after the terrorist attacks on 9/11, plans that are still in use today.
After retiring from the Air Force, Betty went to work for Southwest Airlines, where she has flown over 8,000 hours in a Boeing-737. When she isn’t flying, Betty is traveling or scuba diving with her husband and son, volunteering at a local animal shelter, or hanging out at home with her two dogs.