"Fly Like a Girl"
Hello! My name is Melaine Valentin; I'm 29 years old, I am from Huntington Beach, California, and I am the luckiest woman in the world.
I have the privilege of being a fighter pilot in the United States Air Force, AND I am able to live out my childhood dream of being an artist. My path to becoming a pilot was not a conventional one, though.
I didn't grow up dreaming of flying; in fact, I grew up dreaming of being an artist. I had never even been on an airplane until I visited the United State Air Force Academy's "Summer Seminar" program during my junior year of high school.
A year later, I found myself at the academy full-time as a 4-degree cadet in the class of 2016. So many programs are available to cadets at the academy, and I took advantage of a few: soaring, powered flight, and parachuting – while always finding time to draw or paint murals in my free time. Unfortunately, I got airsick in both the gliding and powered flight programs, so after completing both, I decided that flying wasn't in my future.
Flash forward to my 2-degree year, I was working at the Pentagon on a Cadet Summer Research Program and a Colonel I was shadowing asked me casually, “what job do you want to do after graduation” - He was a prior enlisted Army guy turned A-10 pilot. I meekly answered that "I'm not sure, probably finance or acquisitions; being a pilot looks hard." I honestly didn't believe that I had the necessary skill sets needed to be a pilot.
His response changed the path my life was on– he said, "Grow up! Anything worth doing in life is difficult." So I did. I went to undergraduate Pilot Training (UPT) at Laughlin AFB in Texas initially flying the T-6 Texan II, and later tracked to the T-38 Talon. Although I was still airsick early in the T-6, that all but disappeared by the end of the program.
Upon graduation, I remained at Laughlin AFB as a T-38 First Assignment Instructor Pilot, where I instructed students on essential aviation skill sets in a fighter-type aircraft. It was during this time that I really fell in love with aviation, and found that my lifelong passion for artwork could also be put to work. I began making commissions for aviation artwork and designing patches, most notably the "Fly Like a Girl" Patch! After instructing for 3.6 years, I moved to Holloman AFB in New Mexico, where I learned to fly the F-16.
Now, I am a wingman in the Fabulous Flying Fiends at Osan AB in South Korea – Harrumph! My dream of pursuing art and my passion for flying are now in full swing! During the day I fly, and in my free time I illustrate all of the incredible aspects of my job for people all over the world!
All that is to say, no one's journey looks the same! Some people grow up wanting to be a pilot from the moment they start talking, and some people find out they want to be a pilot after they have already started down their path. Still, others don't even know an aviation career exists – which is why representation is so important, and I'm so passionate about the "Fly Like a Girl" patch.
You can't dream of being something that you don't know exists, so putting a tangible picture into a young girl's hand is an incredibly powerful thing. And it's especially powerful when that representation has the same hair, skin, or eyes as them - when they can see themselves in the patch. Sometimes all it takes is knowing that someone like you did it; they conquered the thing that seems so scary – and you can too. This patch gets the conversation started – and hopefully, it never stops!
Lots of people ask me what my message to young girls is, and I'd say it's a simple one - don't let someone else tell you that you can't do something. You can decide what you want to be and how you want to be it. So chase your dreams no matter how big – It will always be worth it!