Col. Nicole Malachowski, USAF (Ret.)
First Woman Thunderbird Pilot | Combat Veteran | White House Fellow and Advisor
Colonel Nicole Malachowski defies stereotypes. The first woman pilot on the Thunderbirds, a combat veteran, and a White House Fellow, her distinguished 21-year Air Force career exceeded her wildest dreams. But the dream came to a quick end when a devastating tick-borne illness left her struggling to speak or walk for almost nine months. Having faced overwhelming challenges and adversity, Malachowski draws on her storied career and personal experiences to empower audiences to go beyond resilience and become resurgent.
Malachowski was just sixteen years old when she took her first solo flight. While in high school, she joined the Civil Air Patrol and participated in Air Force Junior ROTC. She earned her commission from the United States Air Force Academy in 1996. Over her 21-year Air Force career, Malachowski achieved the rating of Command Pilot with more than 2,300 flight hours in six different Air Force aircraft. She was among the first group of women to fly modern fighter aircraft and was the first women to fly on any Department of Defense military jet demonstration squadron, as part of the USAF Thunderbirds.
As a career pilot, Malachowski served in combat as an F-15E flight commander, evaluator, instructor pilot, and fight lead. She served as a mission-ready fighter pilot in three operational F-15E fighter squadrons and has flown over 188 combat hours, including her proudest moment as a fighter pilot — leading the first fighter formation to provide security for Iraq’s historic democratic elections in 2005.
On the ground, Malachowski was a White House Fellow, class of 2008-2009, where she served on the Presidential Transition Support Team (PTST) while assigned to the US General Services Administration. She was also awarded the 2019 IMPACT Award from the White House Fellows Foundation and Association and, in 2021, was appointed to the President’s Commission on White House Fellowships by President Joe Biden.
Malachowski also served on two high-level staff assignments at the Pentagon, and as the the Executive Director of the White House’s national “Joining Forces” initiative, where she directly advised former First Lady Michelle Obama and Dr. Jill Biden on all topics relating to service members, veterans, and military families.
In recognition of her achievements, Malachowski has been inducted into the National Women’s Hall of Fame and the Women in Aviation International Pioneer Hall of Fame. As she continues to recover from her neurological tick-borne illness, she embraces any opportunity to educate others about her medical journey and this growing epidemic. She is on the Board of Directors at the LivLyme Foundation and is a Patient Advisory Board Member of The Dean Center for Tick Borne Illness.