In a country that has a culture notorious for being dominated by men, one intrepid aviator is flying into uncharted territory for her countrywomen by becoming the nation’s first fighter pilot. On Friday, First Lieutenant Misa Matsushima officially began her job with the Japan Air Self Defense Force. Matsushima, 26, graduated from the National Defense Academy in 2014 and earned her pilot’s license the following year. Her new job flying fighter jets is the culmination of a lifelong dream inspired by a certain ’80s movie that glamorized American fighter pilots training for air combat.
“I have admired fighter jet pilots ever since I saw Top Gun when I was in primary school,” Matsushima said at a press conference before beginning her new high-flying job. She’s well aware of the significance her career ascension holds for other women in Japan. “I want to continue to work hard to carry out my duties, not just for myself but also for women who want to follow this path in the future,” she said. Matsushima will be stationed at the 5th air wing at Nyutabaru base in the southern prefecture of Miyazaki where she’s expected to train for between six months and a year learning how to fly the F-15 fighter jet.
The Japan Air Self Defense Force announced her appointment in a tweet on Thursday and also revealed the branch of the military will be “opening up all the occupations, including the [fighter jet ]operator, to women.”
— 防衛省 航空自衛隊 (@JASDF_PAO) August 23, 2018
The Japan Air Self Defense Force began accepting women into its ranks in 1993 and most positions were open to them. However, flying fighter jets and reconnoissance aircraft has long been reserved just for men — until the police was overturned in 2015. The move is part of a broader initiative to increase the number of female personnel across Japan’s armed forces and achieve greater gender equality. Of the total service members in Japan’s armed forces, only about 6.1%, according to CNN, are women. In the U.S., 16 percent of military personnel are women.
“As the first female (fighter) pilot, I will open the way. I would like work hard to meet people’s expectations and show my gratitude to people who have been supporting me,” she told reporters. “I want to become a full-fledged pilot, no different from men, as soon as possible.”
And she wants to have the impact on others that Top Gun had on her as a kid. “I hope to be the one to inspire more people to become a pilot,” she added.