News: Fulfilling a lifelong dream of flight
Story by Airman 1st Class Shelby Orozco
WHITEMAN AIR FORCE BASE, Mo. - For Capt. Nicola Polidor, 393rd Bomb Squadron training flight commander, and Capt. Jennie Swiechowicz, 393rd BS B-2 pilot, their dreams of flying started at a young age.
“I always wanted to be an astronaut,” Polidor said. “It was my childhood dream, and I knew I wanted to fly Air Force planes on the way to doing that.”
Swiechowicz agrees, saying it looked exciting to her.
“The planes looked like a never-ending roller coaster,” Swiechowicz said.
Both pilots started their careers flying other aircraft before transitioning to the B-2 Spirit here at Whiteman Air Force Base.
“When I graduated pilot training, I was assigned the B-52 Stratofortress,” Polidor said. “It has a very similar mission to the B-2; it’s a heavy, long-range bomber that does both nuclear and conventional missions, just like the B-2. It seemed like a logical progression in my career.”
Swiechowicz started her career as pilot for an E-3 Airborne Early Warning and Control (AWACS) Sentry.
“Although I loved working with the AWACS crew and having 200 to 300 people in the squadron, I was looking for a challenge,” Swiechowicz said. “The B-2 is the only airplane of its kind in the world, so the B-2 was that challenge.”
Being female in a mainly male-dominated Air Force has not affected the two pilots; rather, they have viewed the demographic difference as a way to grow within their careers.
“I’ve always noticed that the population of women was small,” Polidor said. “I was one of two or three females in my pilot training class of 40. I’m aware of my surroundings, but I have no problems working with males. They’re great at their jobs and are a pleasure to work with.”
Swiechowicz adds that the three different aircraft communities -- heavies, fighters and bombers—all have different demographic characteristics and relationship balances.
“I’ve been in all three for a little bit at a time,” Swiechowicz said. “Women have been around longer in the heavy community so they aren’t so much of a rarity; there’s no setback just for being a female.”
Being a B-2 pilot offers unique opportunities, said Swiechowicz.
“My office changes every day,” Swiechowicz said. “I can be behind a desk doing paperwork and then I can go out and fly and see something different. Whether it’s the jet I’m flying that day or the person I am talking to on the radio, it’s always changing.”
Both women have plenty of advice to officer to young airmen looking to become a pilot.
“There are a lot of different options to become a pilot,” Polidor said. “You can go to the Air Force Academy, you can go through ROTC, you could even be enlisted and work towards your bachelor’s degree and then go to Officer Training School. It takes a lot of hard work; you need the desire and the drive to fly. I think drive and the love for flying are necessities to make it as a pilot in the long haul.”
The captains also have much to offer airmen looking to excel in any military career, flying or not.
“You just have to work hard and know your regulations inside and out, especially when it comes to your job,” Swiechowicz said. “Don’t expect any advances just because you’re a woman, or because you went to college, or something like that. Strive to always know the right answer. Stick to your guns.”
Along with knowing their jobs airmen have to be well-rounded, said Polidor.
“There are so many different facets of working in the military,” Polidor said. “You need a combination of leadership and inspiration; you have to be able to answer, ‘What are we really here for?’ I think if you focus solely on flying, then you lose out on the rest of what being in the military means. It really works out for you if you have a combination of all of those assets.”
Outside of being pilots, both captains are married to military members, a relationship they both agree is special.
“My husband is also a pilot, and ever since the Air Force Academy we’ve been able to go home at the end of the day and relate on every minute detail of our days, whereas I don’t think many other relationships are able to do [that],” said Polidor. “It’s nice having someone I can talk to on a detailed level.”
Even though the women share a special bond with their military husbands, the joint-spouse relationship presents its share of difficulties.
“The hardest thing for me right now is wanting to have a family,” Swiechowicz said. “We’re both flying planes that theoretically will never be on the same base. That’s our biggest challenge right now. We have to make decisions like who stays in, does someone get out, or do we both stay in and try to raise kids where somebody lives hours away? We only see each other about once a month. It’s a challenge.”
At the end of the day, the pilots are pleased to be working pieces of one of the Air Force’s best aircraft.
“If anything happens in the world, the B-2 is going to be involved,” Polidor said. “We are very much involved in current operations throughout the world, which is very exciting and it’s nice to be a part of that.”