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Military & Veterans' Issues

New Naval Aviator Did Not Intend To Be A 'Courageous Trailblazer' When She Earned Her Wings Of Gold

Madeline Swegle made history when she became U.S. Navy’s first Black female tactical jet pilot, and on Friday, her friends and colleagues celebrated her achievement.

"Maddy" Swegle, a lieutenant j.g., or junior grade, completed the Tactical Air (Strike) aviator syllabus earlier this month.

Once a naval aviator completes the tactical syllabus, they typically move into the FA-18 Super Hornet or the F-35 Lightning. The aircraft used in Swegle’s training — the T-45C — is a two-seat, single engine fighter jet, with a maximum speed of 625 miles per hour.

Swegle’s training took place in the VT-21 program at Kingsville Naval Air Station, and she received her Wings of Gold there.

But being first wasn't the Virginia native's goal.

“I don’t think a goal in my life is to necessarily be the first in anything," she admitted. "That was never something that I set out to do. It's just something I was interested in, and I found out later.”

But one of her commanders, Matthew Maher, suggested Swegle was being modest.

“To show up here at this level, you need to be a top performer," he explained, "and then you have to continue to perform while you’re here. These are the best pilots in the world who are trained here. The very best.”

Maher was not alone in his assessment.

“Lt. j.g. Swegle has proven to be a courageous trailblazer,” said Vice Adm. DeWolfe “Bullet” Miller III, commander of Naval Air Forces. “She has joined a select group of people who earned Wings of Gold and answered the call to defend our nation from the air. The diversity of that group -- with differences in background, skill and thought -- makes us a stronger fighting force.”

The Navy explained in a statement that Swegle followed in the footsteps of the first Black female naval aviator, Brenda E. Robinson, who earned her Wings of Gold in 1980 at Naval Air Station -- Corpus Christi.

Robinson flew multi-engine aircraft. The Navy reported that 15 Black female naval aviators currently serve in the U.S. Navy — four pilots and 11 naval flight officers. The pilots fly either multi-engine aircraft or helicopters. There are currently 10 Black female student naval aviators in various stages of flight training, the Navy added.

It explained that the current TACAIR fighter aircraft inventory includes the F/A-18 Super Hornet, EA-18G Growler and the F-35C Lightning II.

Jerry Clayton can be reached at Jerry@tpr.org or on Twitter at @JerryClayton.

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