Switzerland’s first and only female fighter pilot is the best example of how one can achieve anything with talent and dedication. In this interview with Pilatus apprentice Véronique Geiser, Fanny Chollet talks about how she hopes it will one day be normal to see women flying fighter jets and shares her experience of flying the Pilatus PC-7 and PC-21 jets. Pilatus Aircraft Ltd
A Dream Come True
It is rainy and gloomy on this early evening at the airfield in Emmen. But for Véronique Geiser, an apprentice plant and equipment builder in her final year at Pilatus, this is no reason to mope! On the contrary: the excitement and anticipation are written all over her face when her dearest wish – to meet her role model – comes true. After completing all the formalities on arrival at the Emmen military airbase, we head for the new “Aviation Systems Centre Emmen” building where Fanny Chollet, unmistakable in her bright orange flying suit, welcomes us with a friendly smile. We take a seat in a small training room and start the interview. Thanks to Fanny’s friendliness, Véronique’s nervousness soon disappears.
Fascination for Jet Fighters
Fanny Chollet grew up in a family where several members were professional pilots. Her grandfather, father and cousins all work(ed) in the aviation business. Fanny’s desire to become a military pilot herself first developed during high school. Although Véronique has chosen a different career path with her apprenticeship as a plant and equipment builder at Pilatus, the two women still share a keen interest in technology and the military, as well as a fascination for fighter jets. Véronique naturally wants to know which skills are most important to become a fighter jet pilot. Besides the immense responsibility which obviously goes with the job, a high degree of flexibility and the ability to grasp things quickly are also very important. Only very few candidates actually make it into the cockpit of a fighter jet, says Chollet.
Competent Young Talent – Regardless of Gender
Although Fanny Chollet is Switzerland’s first and only female fighter jet pilot, she has never perceived any differences with her professional colleagues. The media are the ones who turn it into an issue, she says. In time, she very much hopes it will be completely normal to see women sitting in air force figher jets. She firmly rejects any special status. “I haven’t done anything more than my colleagues”, she says. Nevertheless, the fact that a woman is now also flying fighter jets in Switzerland sends an important signal to all who may be interested in a similar career. In other countries, women started flying fighter jets decades ago. She encourages Véronique to pursue this path with confidence. Applying to SPAHIR is an excellent first step in any aviation career. “Embrace the challenge, do the pre-flying course via the SPHAIR training platform and see how you get on. It’s the perfect introduction to aviation, whether for a civilian or military career”.
Training With Pilatus Aircraft
Fanny Chollet remembers the year-long courses on the PC-7 and PC-21 propeller trainers before graduating to the F/A-18 fighter jet. The steps between the three aircraft were big, she says, and she had to get used to entirely new conditions and physical stress very quickly. The move from the PC-7 to the PC-21 was especially difficult, she tells us. She had to adapt to completely different exercises and the system was far more complex as a whole. The PC-21 was the ideal basis for upgrading to the F/A-18. Chollet was able to transfer a lot of the experience gained on the single-engine turboprop trainer. The entire radar system and the display controls are very similar in both aircraft. From Chollet’s point of view the only real, but major, difference is the speed. The F/A-18 demands much faster reactions, the performance is incredible. “I really appreciated my training on the Pilatus aircraft. Every day, we pilots experience just what our jets have to be capable of doing”, she says. “That’s why it’s so important that we feel safe at all times and can rely on the aircraft”. Perseverance is essential!
Perseverance Is Essesntial
The training is long, and at the same time you have to be able to absorb and implement a lot all at once. “If there’s something we hadn’t mastered completely, there was very little time to catch up. The selection process is tough as nails. But the beauty of my job is that you can get better every day”, says Fanny Chollet. “We analyse our performance after every training session or mission, it’s almost like a second flight. And you’re always learning because the conditions are never the same. Whether it was the PC-7 or the PC-21, both provided me with the perfect foundation for stepping up to the next level”. She still flies regularly with the PC-7 today. Besides her current job with armasuisse, Chollet is also an instructor, and regularly flies with junior pilots. Following this interesting exchange between the two women, Fanny takes us on a tour of the new and multifunctional “Aviation Systems Centre Emmen” building, an impressive armasuisse structure comprising five aircraft boxes and a hangar.
This very likeable female fighter jet pilot concludes with some tips for Véronique: “I would advise you to do everything you can to pursue your dream of becoming a pilot, and you should invest a lot of time and energy as well. Whether there’s a man or a woman in the cockpit – every pilot has certain strengths and certain weaknesses. Commitment is the decisive factor, not gender”. Véronique is visibly impressed by Fanny Chollet’s chosen career path and her outstanding achievements. We are curious to see what Véronique decides to do after her final apprenticeship exams this summer and wish her a big dose of courage and perseverance, and just the right amount of luck!