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'Many years in the making' | Lockheed Martin's first female F-35 test pilot will soon be flying over the Carolinas

Monessa "Siren" Balzhiser plans to test the new block of F-16 fighter planes from the production line in Greenville, South Carolina.

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — In June of 2021, Monessa "Siren" Balzhiser became the first female test pilot for Lockheed Martin, flying both the F-35 and F-16 aircraft.

She said, "To be the first, it's always an honor to be the first at anything you do. I didn't know that I would be the first in the defense industry, by my leader actually told me that. So it was very humbling. And one that I didn't really realize how impactful it can be until I actually started getting into the job. And representing Lockheed Martin in a flight suit. 

"In the Air Force, my previous background, I was only in the F-16," Balzhiser said. "I've had 16 years in it, so it's familiar." 

She told WCNC Charlotte's Jane Monreal what's exciting about the F-35, is that Lockheed pilots are the first ones to fly it. 

"I'm still amazed at what our company has been able to build with the capability of the F-35 and what it can do, not only for the United States but a lot of the other partners around the world," said Balzhiser. "To get into either one of the jets, it's exciting."

Balzhiser said she was originally interested in becoming an astronaut when she was a sophomore in high school.

"[My high school counselors] told me, pretty much to be an astronaut, you gotta go be a fighter pilot, which is not completely true. But at the time, you know, that's the research that they had done," said Balzhiser. "And so the best shot at being a fighter pilot was to go to a service academy... Unfortunately, the space program was dying down at the time when I had to make that decision of trying to be an astronaut or, remaining a fighter pilot."

The Fort Worth-based pilot said she has the opportunity to fly in other airports around the world, including Greece and hopefully, soon, Greenville, South Carolina.

"The F-16 was here in Fort Worth, Texas, and it was moved over to Greenville, South Carolina to revive the F-16 for a lot of our foreign military partners that have purchased the newest block that we have coming out," said Balzhiser. "So hopefully, you'll see that jet or that aircraft fly. It's been many years in the making, since we've moved the production line."

The first-generation Filipina is married and said her biggest role is mom to her little girl.  

As far as being a role model to other kids, she said, "The art of possibility is there, especially when they see it when they see a person or female minority in a flight suit." She added, "It's not out of the realm of something that someone can do. I think that's the most important thing I can do as a Lockheed Martin ambassador and a female pilot."

How Balzhiser got her call sign, "Siren," she explained was from doing something admittedly "stupid."

"You don't get to name yourself. Your fellow fighter pilots in your squadron or your unit determine that name for you. And that generally happens when you're young in the group," said Balzhiser. "It actually has something to do with me setting off fire sirens. As a young lieutenant in the Air Force, I emptied out a building of about 1500 people into a blizzard at Hill Air Force Base back in 2007. So luckily for me, I was able to keep mine cause I love it. It's grown on me."

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To see Lockheed Martin's economic impact on North Carolina and South Carolina, click here.

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