As one of only a handful of women who have earned the Distinguished Flying Cross, Melissa “SHOCK” May, a career Air Force F-16 pilot, was also in the first wave of women to fly fighter aircraft straight from Undergraduate Pilot Training. Her Air Force career got its start because her outstanding abilities as a competitive swimmer. Melissa was recruited to swim on the US Air Force Academy (USAFA) Intercollegiate team, which ultimately culminated in her induction into the USAFA Athletic Hall of Fame. Until her junior year at USAFA, the Combat Exclusion Law was in effect and women were not allowed to fly Air Force fighter aircraft, so the plan of becoming a fighter pilot was not even on the table.
Upon graduation, she went on to pilot training in Del Rio, TX and she learned then that a fighter was a possibility, but she would have to finish high enough among her peers to earn one. Melissa graduated first in her class and earned the Distinguished Graduate Award, the Flying Training award and the Air Education and Training Commander’s Award. After pilot training she went on to fly the F-16 and her assignments included bases in Korea, Japan, Italy, and two assignments as an Instructor Pilot at the F-16 schoolhouse in Arizona. She also returned to the US Air Force Academy as a Commander of a Cadet Squadron.
Melissa earned her combat time in Iraq in Operations Southern Watch and Iraqi Freedom, and in Libya in Operations Unified Protector and Odyssey Dawn. Her Distinguished Flying Cross was awarded during a night mission over Baghdad where her flight of 4 was under heavy fire from anti-aircraft artillery and guided missiles. The weather was extremely poor and her flight was tasked to bomb missile sites that were actively targeting them. At her side that night was one of the youngest wingman in the squadron.
SHOCK was also a founding member of the Chick Fighter Pilot Association, a group she and a few fellow F-16 pilots started when they realized the importance of female friendship and mentorship in a male-dominated career.
SHOCK served in the Air Force for 20 years and upon retirement, she joined a major airline where she now flies Boeing 737’s based out of Denver. Her husband of 21 years, also a retired Air Force F-16 pilot, flies at a major airline as well. They have two children and they are striving for a balance of work and maximum family time. If she’s not flying the friendly skies and bouncing around a new city or country, you can find her on the golf course, a hiking trail, mountain biking, or snowboarding in the winter.