Col. Nicole Malachowski, USAF (Ret.)

First woman Thunderbird pilot, fighter squadron commander, combat veteran, White House fellow and adviser, and indomitable spirit

Col. Nicole Malachowski, USAF (Ret.)

First woman Thunderbird pilot, fighter squadron commander, combat veteran, White House fellow and adviser, and indomitable spirit

“Failure is the price of entry for achieving something great.”
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“Failure is the price of entry for achieving something great.”
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Talking Points
  • Flying lessons: What’s it take to fly 500mph and 36” apart? Breathtaking video.
  • Cruel twist: Career-ending tick bite left her with 5 chronic illnesses and unable to fly.
  • Change happens: Harness headwinds with a new attitude – “fly loose in turbulence.”
  • Pioneering Aviator: it’s not easy being the first at anything; Nicole’s story inspires.
  • Big impact: Those who book Nicole bring her back 2, 3, or 4 more times.
Nicole’s Story

Col. Nicole Malachowski, USAF (Ret.) defies stereotypes. Yes, she was a jet fighter pilot, but if you think you know her based on that, you’d be wrong. A leader, a combat veteran, the first woman pilot on the Thunderbirds Air Demonstration Squadron, a White House Fellow, and an inductee into the Women in Aviation International Pioneer Hall of Fame, Nicole’s distinguished 21-year Air Force career exceeded her wildest dreams. But the dream came to an end when a devastating tick-borne illness left her unable to speak or walk for ten months. An indomitable spirit, Nicole fought back against overwhelming odds and prevailed.

Drawing on stories from her career and personal life, Nicole inspires audiences to rethink the challenges they face every day. She urges them to go beyond resilience and become resurgent. Nicole’s empowers people with three key beliefs: failure and risk is the price of entry for achieving something great; sometimes you need to yield to overcome; and her personal mantra – “nobody wants to lead a scripted life.”

Nicole brings her experience to the stage and holds audiences spellbound with an easygoing authenticity of someone who’s achieved greatness. She’s been a member and leader of exceptional teams. She has faced overwhelming challenges and adversity and has come out on top.

While other high school students were practicing for their driver’s license, Nicole was accumulating flight time. She was sixteen years old when she took her first solo flight and from that point on there was no stopping her. While in high school, she joined the Civil Air Patrol and participated in Air Force Junior ROTC. Nicole’s professional story began when she earned her commission from the United States Air Force Academy in 1996. Following graduation, she attended Undergraduate Pilot Training (UPT) at Columbus AFB, MS and began her career as a pilot. Competitively selected to fly combat aircraft, she was among the first group of women to fly modern fighter aircraft. As a career pilot, she served in combat as an F-15E Flight Commander, Evaluator, Instructor Pilot and Flight Lead. Over her 21-year career, Nicole achieved the rating of Command Pilot with over 2,300 flight hours in six different Air Force aircraft. She was also selected to fly as Thunderbird #3 with the USAF Air Demonstration Squadron – the first woman to fly on any Department of Defense military jet demonstration team. Colonel Malachowski has 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, Nicole was a White House Fellow, class of 2008-2009, where she served on the Presidential Transition Support Team (PTST) while assigned to the U.S. General Services Administration. The White House Fellows Foundation and Association awarded Nicole the 2019 IMPACT Award for demonstrating both remarkable achievement and transformational contributions in her field, as well as a sustained commitment to the White House Fellows program. Nicole also served two high-level staff assignments at the Pentagon – one in the Office of the Secretary of Defense (OSD P&R) as well as the Secretary of the Air Force Office of International Affairs (SAF/IA). She also served as 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 to include employment, education, mental health, veterans’ homelessness and more.

Nicole’s operational F-15E assignments include two tours of duty at RAF Lakenheath, United Kingdom as well as one operational assignment to Seymour Johnson AFB, NC. She has also served alongside the United States Army 2nd Infantry Division, Camp Red Cloud, Republic of Korea, as an Air Liaison Officer. During her second assignment to Seymour Johnson AFB, NC, she had the honor of commanding the 333rd Fighter Squadron, leading an elite cadre of F-15E Instructors in the training of the next generation of combat aviators. Further, she was responsible for resources totaling over $1.1B and the execution of a $119M annual flying hour program.

Nicole earned a Master of Arts, with honors, in National Security Policy from American Military University and a second Master of Arts, with highest distinction, in National Security and Strategic Studies from the U.S. Naval War College. While there, she earned the Admiral Stephen B. Luce Award as the class honor graduate, the first Air Force officer in the history of the Naval War College to do so. Nicole has been recognized with several honors for her consistent contributions to community service. As Nicole continues to recover from her neurological tick-borne illness, she embraces any opportunity to educate others about her medical journey and gains energy from educating others about 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. In 2019, Nicole was named to the National Women’s Hall of Fame – Jane Fonda, Sonia Sotomayor, Gloria Allred, and six other distinguished women were also named that year.

Colonel Nicole Malachowski, USAF (Ret.) was born in Santa Maria, CA and graduated high school in Las Vegas, NV. She and her husband Paul have twin children; son Garrick and daughter Norah. Paul is a retired Air Force Lieutenant Colonel and former F-15E Evaluator Weapons Systems Officer.

Video Playlists by Topic

Harnessing Headwinds of Change

Pushing the Envelope: Being the Best When It Counts

Breaking Barriers: Conquering Self-Doubt and Cultural Paradigms

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Speech Descriptions

Harnessing Headwinds of Change

In flying, headwinds slow you down. At their worst, they cause you to change your plans and impact the effectiveness of weapons in combat. Headwinds demand that pilots be resilient and resourceful, literally on the fly. “Headwinds are the perfect metaphor for the change impacting organizations and individuals today,” says 21-year Air Force veteran Nicole Malachowski. A former fighter squadron commander and mission-ready pilot in three operational fighter squadrons and the first woman to fly on the Air Force Thunderbirds, Nicole has the perfect message to inspire audiences to think differently about the headwinds of change they face Read More >

Pushing the Envelope: Being the Best When It Counts

What does it take to be the best? The individuals and teams who achieve at the highest levels have one thing in common: they push the envelope and go to the edge of boundaries. They accomplish as much as possible and do it to a standard of excellence. Pushing the envelope is an aviation term for taking an aircraft to the maximum limits of its abilities. In the business world, pushing the envelope means knowing yourself – certainly knowing your limits – all while using every bit of your ability to maximize your performance, be your best and be consistent. Read More >

Breaking Barriers: Conquering Self-Doubt and Cultural Paradigms

Every great accomplishment involves breaking barriers – both culturally and within. Nicole Malachowski is a trailblazer who succeeded in a traditionally male-dominated career field: the world of the fighter pilot. As uncomfortable and risky as stretching the limits of yourself and your surroundings might be, Nicole tells audiences there’s no reason to allow that to dictate your goals and aspirations. She became one of the first women to fly a modern-day fighter aircraft, the very first woman to fly with the Air Force Thunderbird aerial demonstration team, and she was inducted into the Women in Aviation International Pioneer Hall of Fame. Read More >

What People Say About Nicole

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Additional Resources

Biography
Introduction
Testimonials
Hi-Resolution Photos