Kim Campbell joined the Civil Air Patrol as a cadet at age 13 and made her first solo flight in a civilian aircraft over San Jose at age 16. She graduated with a Bachelor of Science degree from the United States Air Force Academy in 1997 where she was the cadet wing commander, as was her father during his time at the academy, the first time that a father and daughter both served as cadet wing commander. Also, like her father before her, she "maxed" the rigorous PFT (Physical Fitness Test), one of only a handful of cadets to achieve a perfect score in the Academy's history. She holds a degree in International Security Studies from the University of Reading, United Kingdom, and a Masters in Business Administration from Imperial College London, United Kingdom, which she undertook while on a Marshall Scholarship.
Her A-10 aircraft received a catastrophic hit from AAA (Anti-Aircraft Artillery) when she was flying a combat mission in support of American ground forces over Baghdad on April 7, 2003. "We did our job with the guys there on the ground, and as we were on our way out is when I felt the jet get hit. It was pretty obvious — it was loud... I lost all hydraulics instantaneously, and the jet rolled left and pointed toward the ground, which was an uncomfortable feeling over Baghdad. It didn't respond to any of my control inputs."
She tried several procedures to get the aircraft under control, none of which worked; last, she put the plane into manual reversion, meaning she was flying the aircraft without hydraulics. The aircraft immediately responded. "The jet started climbing away from the ground, which was a good feeling because there was no way I wanted to eject over Baghdad." With some technical advice from her flight leader, Lieutenant Colonel Turner, she flew the injured plane for an hour back to the air base. "The jet was performing exceptionally well. I had no doubt in my mind I was going to land that airplane." Landing was tricky: "When you lose all the hydraulics, you don't have speed brakes, you don't have brakes, and you don't have steering." For this action in aerial combat she was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross.
On the ground it was discovered that her A-10 had sustained damage to one engine and to the redundant hydraulic systems, disabling the flight controls, landing gear and brakes, and horizontal stabilizer. A detailed inspection revealed hundreds of holes in the airframe and that large sections of the stabilizer and hydraulic controls were missing.