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JET GIRL by Caroline Johnson


My Life in War, Peace, and the Cockpit of the Navy's Most Lethal Aircraft, the F/A-18 Super Hornet

by Caroline Johnson with Hof Williams

Pub Date: Nov. 5th, 2019
ISBN: 978-1-250-13929-0
Publisher: St. Martin's

A former Navy jet pilot looks back on her training and career with a mixture of affection and dismay.

Johnson's first book alternates between chapters on her training in the Naval Academy and in flight school and those on her deployment on the aircraft carrier USS George H.W. Bush in the Middle East in 2014. Her story begins in 2005, when she entered the academy as a freshman, transforming from “a somewhat privileged Colorado debutante with doting parents” into “property of the United States Navy.” Perhaps surprisingly, she looks back on her years of strenuous training with more gratitude and enthusiasm than those of her deployments. Although she clearly relished the thrill of flying jets and even of killing “terrorists,” an experience she likens to “playing the most important video game of my life,” she found flying extremely hard on her body and resented the constant low-level—and intermittent higher-level—sexism of life on a ship with very few women. The most intriguing segments of the book deal with the nitty-gritty details of Navy life, from the complications of female urination during a jet flight to the mental and physical challenges of SERE (survival, evasion, resistance, escape) school to the supportive relationships among the few women aboard the carrier. (The author's female solidarity does not extend to the “chickenhawks” and “homecoming queens” married to other officers and allegedly jealous of the time Johnson spent with them.) Less fascinating are the passages that deal with Johnson's romantic relationship with the emotionally distant Marine she nicknames “the Minotaur” due to his “chiseled upper body and skinny legs.” It's not clear why the book moves around in time so frequently, since the jumps can cause confusion for readers and the segments don't shape themselves into a narrative arc.

A realistic look at a difficult, dangerous profession.