Title: Jet Girl: My Life in War, Peace and the Cockpit of the Navy’s Most Lethal Aircraft: the F/A-18 Super Hornet
Author: Caroline Johnson with Hof Williams
Published: 5 November, 2019
Publisher: St. Martin’s Press
I received a copy of Jet Girl from Netgalley in exchange for a fair and honest review. All thoughts and opinions are my own.
A fresh, unique insider’s view of what it’s like to be a woman aviator in today’s US Navy—from pedicures to parachutes, friendship to firefights.
Caroline Johnson was an unlikely aviation candidate. A tall blonde debutante from Colorado, she could have just as easily gone into fashion or filmmaking, and yet she went on to become an F/A-18 Super Hornet Weapons System Officer. She was one of the first women to fly a combat mission over Iraq since 2011, and one of the first women to drop bombs on ISIS.
Jet Girl tells the remarkable story of the women fighting at the forefront in a military system that allows them to reach the highest peaks, and yet is in many respects still a fraternity. Johnson offers an insider’s view on the fascinating, thrilling, dangerous and, at times, glamorous world of being a naval aviator.
This is a coming-of age story about a young college-aged woman who draws strength from a tight knit group of friends, called the Jet Girls, and struggles with all the ordinary problems of life: love, work, catty housewives, father figures, make-up, wardrobe, not to mention being put into harm’s way daily with terrorist groups such as ISIS and world powers such as Russia and Iran.
Some of the most memorable parts of the book are about real life in training, in the air and in combat—how do you deal with having to pee in a cockpit the size of a bumper car going 600 miles an hour?
Not just a memoir, this book also aims to change the conversation and to inspire and attract the next generation of men and women who are tempted to explore a life of adventure and service.
I’ve had a long-standing fascination with military aircraft, and in particularly, fighter jets, which has in turn extended to an interest in the people who fly them and the mentality that it takes to be a military pilot. I don’t naturally gravitate towards biographies or memoirs – especially not when I don’t even know anything about the subject – but Jet Girl caught my eye and I ended up requesting it out of sheer curiosity.
Caroline Johnson is a fascinating woman – she made the decision to join the U.S. Navy, go through pilot training and flew F/A-18 Super Hornets in the Middle East. I have absolutely nothing in common with her, but reading her path from her first day at the naval academy to the day she dropped bombs on ISIS terrorists in Iraq to the days when she questioned her place in the Navy were so vividly retold that it felt like I was there.
Told through a series of almost-vignettes, moving backwards and forwards in time to weave her story, the format took a few chapters to get used to but once that happened I was deeply invested. It’s clear the Johnson had some fantastic experiences… and also some disappointing, and even devastating ones, during her time as a pilot.
She shares tiny details that I never would have even thought of, from decorating the room she shared with the other female pilots (Jet Girls) on the carrier they called home, to how women go to the toilet in the cockpit – which she could have been in for anywhere between 2-8 hours at a time – and the continued isolation of women in the military. She talks about shore leave, her mentors (good and bad), the rigorous training she underwent to become the best the Navy had to offer, and the mental strain that military personnel are under constantly.
I did find that the ending seemed a little abrupt, but it did leave off on a definite point for discussion – how does the Navy support and encourage the change in mentality to wards women in the military. That conversation wasn’t really unpacked (mostly because it was the most recent part of Johnson’s story and, likely, is still in progress) but besides that the rest of the book was just fascinating.
I’m very glad that I finally read Jet Girl.