- Associated Press - Sunday, January 3, 2016

MINOT AIR FORCE BASE, N.D. (AP) - Capt. Christin Mastracchio learned she had been accepted into test pilot school when her squadron commander at Minot Air Force Base announced it during a gathering with members of her squadron shortly before Thanksgiving.

“I did the interview in September and we found out right before Thanksgiving the results of the test pilot school board,” said Christin, a B-52 aircraft commander at Minot AFB.

“My commander (Lt. Col. Jeremy Holmes of the 69th Bomb Squadron) just made it so wonderful for me,” she said. During the gathering, Christin said, Holmes told the group that “Sparta,” her call sign, would be leaving because she is going to test pilot school.

“He had just found out that hour before roll call,” she said. “I just was floored, I really was so surprised to find out that way and in front of everyone. It was just really special and all my buddies congratulating me,” she told the Minot Daily News (https://bit.ly/1YLPq0h ).

U.S. Air Force Test Pilot School at Edwards AFB, California, is where the Air Force’s top pilots, navigators and engineers learn how to conduct flight tests and generate the data needed to carry out test missions.

Test pilot school is another step closer for Christin to fulfilling her dream to become an astronaut.

“When I was just 3 years old I had a tricycle that was shaped like a space shuttle and I had a Cabbage Patch astronaut baby,” she said.

Growing up in Houston, home of the NASA Johnson Space Center, Christin said she was inspired by the space program.

“Seeing everyone’s parents work for NASA, it just seemed like something you could go for and try to do,” she said. “I must have gone to see the moon rocks at Johnson Space Center at least a hundred times.”

Christin’s father, Terry Hart, worked in the petrochemical business. Her mother, Cathleen, an architect, has her own architectural firm.

From kindergarten through fifth grade Christin and her family lived in Orange County, California, then moved back to Houston.

“We would go to Edwards Air Force Base and go to air shows,” she said. There she’d see B-2 Stealth bombers.

“I think my parents (now of San Antonio) did a great job exposing me to aviation,” she said.

She said her older brothers, Ryan, now a mechanized infantry officer in the Army, and her younger brother, Jonathan, now a stockbroker in Dallas, inspired her as well.

Her husband, David Mastracchio, a gathering system technician for WPX Energy in the North Dakota oil field, also is from Houston.

“The reason he moved to Houston as a little kid was so his dad (Rick Mastracchio) could become an astronaut,” Christin said.

Rick Mastracchio currently is a management astronaut. He has been on four missions. He flew on the space shuttle three times and also lived in space for six months on the International Space Station.

Christin’s husband also had a NASA job at one time.

“Before we got married he had the world’s coolest job. He was the scuba diver for NASA (in Houston) helping the astronauts practice their space walks underwater,” she said.

When it was time for Christin to go to college she wanted to major in astro-engineering and also be a college cheerleader

“The Air Force Academy was the only place that had it all,” she said.

She graduated from the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colorado in 2008.

After graduation she continued her training. “My very first job as a brand new lieutenant in the Air Force was to go to MIT for grad school,” she said.

The Air Force held her pilot’s slot while she was getting her master’s degree in aero/astro-engineering. From there she went to Sheppard AFB (Texas) for Euro-NATO Joint Jet Pilot Training, the world’s only multi-nationally manned and managed flying training program chartered to produce combat pilots for NATO.

Then she was assigned to the B-52 Stratofortress.

“My husband and I couldn’t believe it. We were just like ‘Oh my gosh. You’re going to fly that massive aircraft with eight engines,’” she said.

She learned to fly the B-52 at Barksdale AFB in Louisiana. Minot AFB is her first operational assignment. She arrived here in October 2012. She’s one of three women at the Minot base who are B-52 pilots.

“This entire time I’ve been building the credentials that the test pilots need,” she said.

She was one of about 27 pilots selected as finalist to go to Edwards AFB for a week.

“It was like a tryout where they wanted to see me fly three different aircrafts, some that I’d never flown before in my life,” she said. T

Returning to Minot AFB, Christin continued to fly the B-52 and wait for the results.

“It was so nerve-racking not knowing whether I got in or not because I’ve been working my whole life for this,” she said.

Christin will be at Minot AFB for about six more months. She will start test pilot school at Edwards AFB in the Mohave Desert July 5, 2016. The school lasts one year.

“After that my job in the Air Force will be as a test pilot for the Air Force. I hope to fly as a test pilot for the Air Force with the bomber we’ll be developing. Northrop Grumman will be doing the long-range strike bomber. I would like to help, I really would,” she said.

She also will be applying to NASA and also through the Air Force to be an astronaut.

“Right as I’m graduating from test pilot school in the summer of 2017 NASA will announce their astronaut candidates to go to NASA,” she said.

___

Information from: Minot Daily News, https://www.minotdailynews.com

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