BA 1995, English | MA 1997, American Studies
Director, USAF Air Superiority, Lockheed Martin Aeronautics Company, Washington, DC
Heather Penney helped create the Purdue Air Race Team, the first collegiate team to race in the Air Race Classic in 1994. It was during her graduate studies that she learned that Congress had opened combat aviation to women. She applied to, and was selected by, the 121st Fighter Squadron to fly the F-16 Viper.
Penney was an F-16C+ pilot in the 121st Fighter Squadron on Andrews AFB, MD for over 10 years. She was party of the first 2-ship to respond over our Nation's Capital on 9/11, and has flown numerous combat air patrols, sat alert, and scrambled in support of Operation Noble Eagle. Penney deployed to a classified location during the initial hostilities of Operation Iraqi Freedom, where she primarily flew at night as a "scud hunter", also providing close air support for special operations forces. She has been the electronic combat pilor, served in squadron weapons and as the squadron readiness officer, served two combat tours, and has assisted and evaluated other Air national Guard units during operational exercises. She has multiple Air Medals and has been recognized as a superior performer during inspections. As a single mother of two young daughters, Major Penney made the difficult decision to leave the demanding life of a fighter pilot to spend more time with her children. Her last flight with the Viper was February 2009, and she continues to fly in the Air National Guard in the 201st Airlift Squadron as an instructor pilot and aircraft commander in the C-38 Gulfstream. She is currently enrolled in the Air Command and Staff College Master's degree program (Master of Operational Military Science).
After leaving the F-16, Penney was selected as the race pilot for the jet racing team "AirRace21". In this position, she gave extensive live television, internet media, and print interviews on behalf of AirRace21 and the Reno Air Racing Association. In the 2010 Reno Air Races, Penney raced the modified L-29 "Raju Grace," an Eastern-Bloc primary military aircraft trainer that had undergone airframe modifications but was still powered by the original engine. Flying between 50' and 350' AGL at over 410 mph, she placed first in her speed grouping of stock-engine racers, and won second place in the Silver. In 2011, while testing and verifying "Raju Grace's" new engine modification at PRS, Penney flew a highly competitive 57 second on the course (over 520mph). Structural failure of a rear engine mount resulted in a nearly catastrophic tail fire, from which Penney safely recovered the aircraft. Penney raced in the 2011 Reno Air Races, and in February 2012 chose to leave the team due to competing priorities. Penney remains supportive of AirRace21, RJI, and the Reno Air Racing Association.
Penney has held the position of Director, USAF, Air Superiority Programs, Aviation Systems, Lockheed Martin Washington Operations since 2006. In this position, Penney maintains close liaison with the F-22 and F-35 Program Office, the Air Force, and Air National Guard, and Congress on all matters relating to the F-22 and F-35 programs. She led the 2006 F-22 Collier Trophy team; is a LEAD (Leadership and Executive Assessment and Development) graduate; and has competed numerous corporate courses including management strategies, capture team, and media training. The current focus of her portfolio is F-35 training for U.S. services and international customers.
Penney has over 2,000 hours in multiple military jets, and vintage traildraggers. She has flown her antique 1941 Taylorcraft aircraft coast-to-coast, and she co-pilots the Collings Foundation B-17, "Nine'O'Nine," for a brief time in the summers. She actively supports numerous charitable organizations and aviation museums; has been a keynote speaker for the USNA Character Capstone Seminar and Clemson University's Leadership Summit; is a Jimmy Doolittle Fellow recipient; a Purdue University Emerging Voice Award recipient; and has been honored by the Red Cross.