[Updated] United States Air Force Lt. Col. Nicola “Rogue” Polidor makes history in Pasadena on New Year’s Day as the first female pilot ever to fly the B2 Stealth bomber over the opening of the Rose Parade. The 8:03 a.m. B-2 flyover kicks off the Parade and Pasadena’s first day of a new decade.
Polidor told Pasadena Now she and her crew “are honored to conduct these flyovers and we will remember it for the rest of our lives.”
Her career achievements embody the theme of the 2020 Rose Parade, “Power of Hope.”
The B-2 flyover has become a 15-year annual highlight as the Rose Parade steps off. This year’s 8 a.m. “Opening Spectacular” performance featuring Latin Grammy winner Ally Brooke of Fifth Harmony, and Puerto Rican singer-songwriter Farruko, along with 19-time Grammy winner Emilio Estefan and the Chino Hills High School drumline, will be followed by the flyover.
The 509th Bomb Wing, based at Whiteman Air Force Base in Missouri, announced Polidor will be piloting the B-2 with Maj. Justin “Rocky” Spencer.
Chelsea Ecklebe, Chief of Command Information said, the B-2 takes off from Whiteman and flies over Pasadena twice today, once for the parade at 8:03 a.m. and then at 2:04 p.m. for the game.
“We will fly the B-2 for a 13-hour mission in order to conduct the two flyovers,” Ecklebe confirmed.
A California native, Polidor, who goes by the call sign “Rogue,” became an aviator in 2004 a few months after graduating from the U.S. Air Force Academy. In 2011, she became the sixth woman to pilot the B-2 bomber, the world’s most advanced aircraft.
Polidor recalled that she wanted to fly since she was a little girl. When she was 12 years old, her and her mother toured Edwards Air Force Base.
“I was captivated when I saw the SR-71. It was such a unique airplane that represented technology and speed. When the B-2 was designed it was on the cutting edge of technology. It is very exciting to be part of a team that combines that with combat capabilities at the tip of the spear.”
Polidor started taking a serious interest in flying as a teenager, and had hundreds of magazine cutouts taped all over her bedroom walls – not of boy bands or heartthrobs from popular TV shows, but of airplanes!
She had pictures of small, big, commercial, military, all types of aircraft, she recalls.
“The fast, elusive military jets really captivated me,” she said in a profile statement released by her unit.
She actually started flying lessons at 14, and was soon flying a Cessna, taking instructions from a Finnish woman who was an Alaskan bush pilot by trade.
“She had a profound influence on me,” Polidor says. “I’ll never forget being able to solo a Cessna because of her guidance. The fact that she was a female, professional pilot, especially given her generation, was an unspoken, subtle inspiration that I could do anything I wanted.”
Throughout the B-2 bomber’s 30-year history, only 498 pilots have qualified to fly the long-range stealth aircraft. Only 10 of those pilots have been female, from the first, retired Lt. Col. Jennifer “Wonder” Avery, who was the 278th pilot to qualify and the only female to have flown the stealth bomber in combat, to Capt. Lauren Kram, who graduated from Initial Qualification Training in October.
Lt. Col. Polidor is currently Commander of Detachment 5, 29th Training Systems Squadron at Whiteman AFB. Three other women who are B-2 pilots are assigned to the 393rd Bomb Squadron at Whiteman, making this the highest number of female B-2 pilots that have been assigned to Whiteman AFB at one time.
There are several ways to become a B-2 pilot, Polidor pointed out, but generally speaking, it takes about 2 years to qualify in the B-2, including Air Force pilot training, Whiteman T-38 training, and B-2 initial qualification training.
Every B-2 pilot is a graduate of a rigorous six-month training program. The Initial Qualification Training program includes 266 hours of academics, 30 exams, 46 simulator missions and 10 flights in the B-2 Spirit. After graduation, the newly minted stealth pilots continue with Mission Qualification Training, a program designed to train aviators in tactically employing the aircraft.
When she first began flying, Nicky Polidor said she just tried to fit in. Today, she is treated like any other pilot, but she is more aware of workforce dynamics and the role gender plays when it comes to policies, pay and retention.
“I am encouraged to think that society is evolving, and one day soon the reaction to me saying, ‘I fly the B2’ isn’t ‘They let women do that?!’ anymore,” Polidor said.
Aside from the B-2 bomber, Polidor has also flown the DA-20 light aircraft while training at the Air Force Academy, and later the T-37 and T-38 jets. She has also flown the B-52 Stratofortress at the time she was assigned to the 96th Bomb Squadron at Barksdale Air Force Base in Louisiana. Not including her cadet training time, Polidor has accumulated over 1,500 flying hours among these different aircraft types.
Looking towards the future, Polidor said, “I am personally very interested in space flight and working at JPL would be wonderful!”
In 2015, Lt. Col. Polidor was selected as an Olmsted Scholar where she earned a Master of Social Sciences in China and Asia Pacific Studies in Kaohsiung, Taiwan. In her last assignment, she served as Chief of Safety for the 509th Bomb Wing at Whiteman AFB.
When Polidor’s B-2 flies over the Rose Parade and the Rose Bowl Game, a team of officers from the Pasadena Police Department’s Air Operations Unit coordinate with the pilots and the U.S. Air Force ground crew to make sure communications are working and the airspace above the parade and the game is “de-conflicted,” meaning the space is clear from all other aircraft.
“This has been the procedure for several years,” Pasadena Police Lt. Bill Grisafe said. “Additionally, a Temporary Flight Restriction (TFR) has been put into place above both events so as to assist in securing the airspace.”
Speaking during the International Women’s Day celebration on March 8, Nicky Polidor said:
“What I would like to pass on to my daughter is that she can accomplish anything she sets her mind to, much like my mother taught me. My children see both of their parents put on flight suits every day and go to work. I want them to grow up in a world where that is normal and that they can accomplish whatever they strive for.”