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US Navy welcomes first-ever Black female fighter pilot after nearly 110 years of naval aviation

Lt. Madeline Swegle graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy in 2017 and is assigned to the Redhawks of Training Squadron 21 in Kingsville.

US Navy welcomes first-ever Black female fighter pilot after nearly 110 years of naval aviation
Cover Image Source: Twitter/Naval Air Training

Lt. Madeline Swegle is on the precipice of a landmark moment in U.S. Navy history. Having successfully completed her tactical air training program, Swegle is now the US Navy's first Black female tactical aircraft pilot. Her history-making accomplishment comes almost 110 years after the beginning of naval aviation when on November 14, 1910, Eugene Burton Ely took off in an aircraft from the cruiser USS Birmingham anchored in the Chesapeake Bay. The Chief of Naval Air Training congratulated Swegle on her achievement via a post on Facebook last week, along with two badass photographs of the newly minted fighter pilot.


[Bravo Zulu] to Lt. j.g. Madeline Swegle on completing the Tactical Air (Strike) aviator syllabus with VT-21 Redhawks at NAS Kingsville, Texas. Swegle is the U.S. Navy's first known Black female TACAIR pilot and will receive her Wings of Gold later this month. HOOYAH! the post reads. According to CNN, one of the images shared online shows Swegle exiting a T-45C Goshawk training aircraft after completing her final flight of the undergraduate Tactical Air (Strike) pilot training syllabus at the Naval Air Station in Kingsville, Texas, on July 7.


Rear Adm. Paula Dunn, the Navy's vice chief of information, Sen. Elizabeth Warren, and tennis legend Billie Jean King were also among those to congratulate Swegle for her historic achievement. Very proud of LTJG Swegle. Go forth and kick butt, tweeted Dunn while Warren wrote: Congratulations, LTJG Swegle! You make the U.S. Navy and our country stronger. Meanwhile, King praised Swegle's accomplishment as yet another example of why representation matters. Congratulations to LTJG Madeline Swegle who has become the U.S. Navy's 1st Black female fighter pilot. Her accomplishment comes more than 45 years after Rosemary Mariner became the 1st woman in the Navy to fly tactical jets in 1974. #RepresentationMatters, she tweeted.


According to the U.S. military newspaper Stars and Stripes, completion of the tactical air training program sets Swegle on the path to fly F/A-18E/F Super Hornets, EA-18G Growlers or F-35C Joint Strike Fighters. The Virginia native reportedly graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy in 2017 and is assigned to the Redhawks of Training Squadron 21 in Kingsville. Swegle made history as the U.S. Navy's first Black female fighter pilot more than 45 years after Rosemary Mariner in 1974 became the first woman to fly a tactical fighter jet.



Meanwhile, Brenda Robinson became the first African-American woman to earn her wings of gold and become a Navy flight instructor, evaluator, and VIP transport pilot, in the 1980s. The Navy has long been criticized for the lack of diversity in its aviation programs with a 2018 investigation discovering that Black pilots were incredibly rare in the service, especially in fighter units. The investigation came after two Black male pilots—one a sailor and one a Marine—claimed they'd been kicked out of the tactical air training program due to racial bias.



It found that only 1.9% of all pilots assigned to the F/A-18 Hornet, EA-18 Growler, E-2 Hawkeye and C-2 Greyhound were Black. Of 1,404 Hornet pilots, just 33 were female and 26 were Black. Almost two years later, in June this year, the Navy announced a special task force called "Task Force One Navy" to address the issues of "racism, sexism and other destructive biases and their impact on naval readiness." Adm. Mike Gilday, the Chief of Naval Operations, said in a statement at the time: "As a Navy -- uniform and civilian, active and reserve - we cannot tolerate discrimination or racism of any kind. We must work to identify and eliminate individual and systemic racism within our force."


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