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US Navy announces its first Black female fighter pilot

Lt. j.g. Madeline Swegle stands in front of a T-45 Goshawk after completing the Tactical Air (Strike) aviator syllabus. (U.S. Navy photo/Released)
July 13, 2020

The U.S. Navy’s first Black female fighter pilot is set to receive her Wings of Gold this month after completing Tactical Air (Strike) aviator training.

The U.S. Navy’s Chief of Naval Training (CNATRA) congratulated Lt. j.g. Madeline Swegle in a Friday tweet, noting her accomplishment after completing her training.

“BZ to Lt. j.g. Madeline Swegle on completing the Tactical Air (Strike) aviator syllabus. Swegle is the @USNavy’s first known Black female TACAIR pilot and will receive her Wings of Gold later this month. HOOYAH! @FlyNavy @NASKPAO #ForgedByTheSea #CNATRA #CNATRAgrads ,” the Naval Air Training account tweeted.

Military.com reported Swegle’s accomplishment as the first in 110 years of naval aviation history. The outlet reported she is now qualified to fighter jets such as the F/A-18E/F Super Hornet, EA-18G Growler electronic warfare variant of the Super Hornet and the F-35C Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter.

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The Navy told Military.com that Swegle, of Burke Va., is assigned to VT-21 Redhawks of training squadron, stationed at Naval Air Station Kingsville, Texas.

Prior to her fighter training, Swegle graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy.

“Just my best friend making history,” Twitter user @paigealissa tweeted with additional pictures of Swegle after completing her training.

Both Black people and women remain a small percentage of the aviation community. According to 2018 Navy personnel data provided to Military.com in 2018, only 1.9 percent of pilots for the F/A-18 Hornet, EA-18 Growler, E-2 Hawkeye and C-2 Greyhound were Black.

The Pensacola News Journal reported in 2018 that less than seven percent of all pilots across the U.S. military were female.

In 1973, Rosemary Mariner was one of the first eight women in the Navy selected to fly military aircraft. Mariner later certified to fly the A-4C Skyhawk and the A-7E Corsair II. She became the first woman to fly fighter jets the following year.

Brenda Robinson became the first Black female graduate of the Navy’s Aviation Officer Candidacy School in 1980. She was certified to fly the C-1A carrier onboard delivery aircraft, performing carrier landings.

The U.S. Air Force trained the first Black female fighter pilot, Shawna Rochelle Kimbrell, in 1999. She was trained to fly the F-16 Fighting Falcon and flew combat missions during Operation Northern Watch, enforcing a no-fly zone over Iraq in 2001.