TUPELO, Miss. — The Apache helicopter is one of the most dangerous aircraft in the world, and only one woman in Mississippi is licensed to fly the aircraft for the U.S. Army.
Out of the 14,000 Apache helicopter pilots in the U.S. Army, 3 percent are women, according to the Pentagon. One of those women is Chief Warrant Officer 2 Jessi McCormick, who is based at the National Guard Army Aviation Base in Tupelo.
“Set your mind to something. Accomplish your goal. Don’t let anyone tell you no,” McCormick said.
McCormick said she wants to be a role model for girls who may want to follow in her footsteps. She said the fact that she’s the only female Apache pilot in Mississippi is not lost on her.
“My mom and dad, oh my gosh, they are the most proud people I’ve ever met,” McCormick said.
The Olive Branch native said her motivation comes from her family, especially her younger sister, Jamie, who served in the Navy, Marine Corps and is currently in college, all while raising her own family.
“If she can handle all of that like Superwoman, then I can fly a helicopter,” a laughing McCormick said.
McCormick’s military career began in the Marine Corps in 2002, where she said she spent four years as a military police officer. She was deployed to Iraq twice before leaving the Marines and attending Northwest Community College, where she played softball.
“I really, really missed that sense of camaraderie that I had in the Marine Corps, so I pursued getting back into the military,” she said.
McCormick said she joined the Army National Guard in 2008, where a deployment to Afghanistan gave her the desire to fly.
“One day, after a mission, I came home and I asked my First Sgt., ‘Hey, how do I get to flight school?’ The next day, she had me set up,” McCormick said.
After two years of classes and training, McCormick said it was all worth it when she was told she was going to become an attack pilot.
“I sat on my flight board and talked to my peers from the unit,” McCormick said. “They called afterward and said, ‘Hey, she sounds like she’s going to be a gunslinger, so she’ll fly Apache.’”
The AH-64 Apache is 58-feet long, weighs about 12,000 pounds and can fly at speeds of up to 171 mph.
“I still can’t believe the Army pays me to fly that,” McCormick said. “We have the ability to shoot hellfire missiles. We have the capability to shoot rockets, and different kinds of them, and we have the 30-mm chain gun.”
McCormick said her combat experience on the ground makes her passionate about her role in the air.
“It was always a great feeling, that gunship above us that had our back, and I can’t wait to be the other person on the end of that. That security blanket for those guys on the ground,” McCormick said.
McCormick said she hasn’t faced many challenges being a female Apache pilot, but she hopes to inspire other young women to join and advance in the military.
“Work, work, work -- you have to work hard for it and don’t let anything stop you. Just go,” she said.
Both of McCormick’s grandfathers served in the military, along with many of her cousins and uncles. She’s the only one who has ever become a pilot.