U.S. Navy Finally Has First Black Female Fighter Pilot After After 110 Years of Aviation

U.S. Navy Finally Has First Black Female Fighter Pilot After After 110 Years of Aviation
Lt. j.g. Madeline Swegle – Credits: U.S. Navy

The US Navy has its first Black female tactical fighter pilot in its history, according to a Thursday tweet from the Chief of Naval Air Training announcing Lt. j.g. Madeline Swegle will receive her “wings of gold” later in July.

Lt. j.g. Madeline Swegle recently completed the service’s Tactical Air (Strike) training program in the T-45C Goshawk, the Navy announced Friday.

The milestone makes Swegle, a Naval Academy graduate, the first known Black woman who has been certified for the TACAIR mission, and she could go on to fly fighters such as the F/A-18E/F Super Hornet, EA-18G Growler or F-35C Joint Strike Fighter.

The Chief of Naval Air Training (CNATRA) congratulated Swegle on her achievement via Twitter.

“BZ to Lt. j.g. Madeline Swegle on completing the Tactical Air (Strike) aviator syllabus,” read the tweet. “Swegle is the @USNavy’s first known Black female TACAIR pilot and will receive her Wings of Gold later this month. HOOYAH!”

Photos of Swegle celebrating next to a T-45 trainer at Naval Air Station Kingsville, Texas, surfaced earlier this week from Twitter user @paigealissa. “Just my best friend making history,” she wrote.

According to the Navy, Swegle, of Burke, Virginia, is assigned to the Redhawks of Training Squadron (VT) 21 at the Texas base.

The announcement comes more than four decades after women first received their wings in the Navy. Capt. Rosemary B. Mariner, the first woman to command an operational naval aviation squadron, earned her wings in 1974, according to the Naval History and Heritage Command website.

Brenda Robinson, who earned her wings in 1980, became the first African American female graduate from the Navy’s Aviation Officer Candidate School, according to the nonprofit organization Women in Aviation.

A 2018 investigation by Military.com revealed that Black pilots are rare in the service, particularly in fighter units. According to Navy data provided that year, just 1.9% of all pilots assigned to the F/A-18 Hornet, EA-18 Growler, E-2 Hawkeye and C-2 Greyhound were Black.

Women also make up a small percentage of aviators in the service. As of 2018, the Navy had 765 female pilots, less than 7% of all pilots across the ranks, according to the Pensacola News Journal.

Despite early strides, women have still faced barriers. For example, the Pentagon did not lift a decades-long policy that prohibited women from flying in combat until 1993.

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