Year of Award


Document Type


Degree Type

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Degree Name

Counselor Education and Supervision

Department or School/College

Phyllis J. Washington College of Education

Committee Chair

Kirsten W. Murray

Commitee Members

Veronica Johnson, Sara Polanchek, John Sommers-Flanagan, Hillary Wandler


critical mass, fighter pilot, institutional betrayal, moral injury, pregnancy discrimination, sexual assault


University of Montana


Little is known about the female fighter pilot experience. As the Department of Defense recognizes the increased warfighting capability of a diverse force, it is important to understand the unique experiences of this rare group. This study uses a qualitative Phenomenology to investigate and describe the experiences of female fighter pilots in the United States Air Force. Several important findings emerged from the study including: the impact of the population’s minority status on their experience; the pervasiveness and impact of systemic sexism, institutional betrayal, sexual assault, ambivalent sexism, and pregnancy discrimination; details of utilized resiliency skills; the prevalence of burnout; descriptions of moral injury; and the impact of family on career progression and decision-making. The current study concluded that the previously mentioned findings were the most challenging aspects of the female fighter pilot experience, and that the easiest aspects of their experience was the safe and effective performance of the mission and their job. Recommendations include the achievement of critical mass through continued diversity efforts; resolution of sexism at the systemic level including altering the engineering standards of future fighter aircraft to accommodate the anthropometric specifications of the general recruitment population instead of the current military pilot population, the engineering and purchase of safe and effective flight and combat gear to fit all members of the recruitment population, and the implementation of policies that limit the inevitable career consequences of pregnancy.



© Copyright 2021 Alissa Christine Engel