Nicole Malachowski's interest in aviation began at a central California air show in 1979, when she was only five years old. She joined the Civil Air Patrol and took her first flying lesson at age 12. Nicole attended the US Air Force Academy, from which she was commissioned in 1996. In late 1997 she graduated at the top of her Air Force pilot training class, earning her wings and an F-15E training slot. She served in three operational F-15E squadrons, performing duties as an Instructor Pilot and Flight Commander. She was Flight Lead responsible for providing air cover over Baghdad during the historic Iraqi elections held on January 31, 2005, and has logged 188 flight hours in combat. Nicole was the first woman to be selected and serve as a pilot on a U.S. military flight demonstration team--the Air Force Thunderbirds.