In late July of 2020, the US Navy celebrated a “Wings of Gold” ceremony for its very first black female fighter pilot, and history was made.
The young woman, Lt. j.g. Madeline Swegle, recently became the first-ever black female US Naval Officer to qualify as a tactical pilot. Given the years of gender bias within the military, along with systemic racism, this feat is a gigantic milestone – not only for Madeline but for females everywhere.
When the U.S. Navy made the official announcement, the incredible, history-making news began to spread like wildfire. After almost 110 years of naval aviation, there is finally a black, female in the tactical aircraft cockpit.
The U.S. Navy took to Twitter to share the amazing news.
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 pic.twitter.com/FKSlURWQhJ
— Naval Air Training (@CNATRA) July 9, 2020
“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!” was the caption shared.
According to the Navy Times, Swegle first graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy in 2017 and was then assigned to the Redhawks of Training Squadron (VT) 21 at Naval Air Station Kingsville in Texas.
Aviation has always been something that Swegle was fascinated by.
“My parents raised me and they told me that I can be whatever I wanted to be,” she said, as she remembers going as a child to see the Blue Angels, who are among the Navy’s most skilled pilots. “They were just so cool I loved them. I love fast planes.”
Training to become a tactical pilot for the U.S. military is no easy feat. In fact, Swegle recalls that training could be quite overwhelming and grueling. But, nonetheless, exciting.
“It was crazy to be in such a higher performance aircraft,” she said. “I was really excited on the takeoff, like feeling the exhilaration and getting thrown back in the seat a little bit.”
Swegle’s success certainly didn’t come overnight. Just like any skill – it took dedication, commitment, and perseverance.
“It took a lot of fighting the aircraft to figure out how it was going to perform,” she explained. “Looking back it’s amazing to think about where I started and I had never been in an airplane before so, it’s just one step at a time. It’s really cool to think of all of the things that I’ve done now which I’d never thought that I’d be able to do.”
As for her future, it’s most certainly bright. Her next move will most likely be working with cutting-edge Navy tactical planes like the F/A-18E/F Super Hornet and F-35C Lighting II Joint Strike Fighter.
Vice Chief of Information Rear Adm. Paula Dunn also took to Twitter to congratulate Swegle on her incredible accomplishment.
Very proud of LTJG Swegle. Go forth and kick butt. https://t.co/Fmleo7Ajd3
— RDML Paula Dunn (@ViceCHINFO) July 9, 2020
Matthew Maher, commanding officer of training, spoke about Swegle’s achievement as well.
“To show up here at this level, you need to be a top performer and then you have to continue to perform while you’re here. These are the best pilots in the world that are trained here, the very best,” he said. “She, just like all of her fellow Wingees, are at that standard of excellence and they’re going to go out and make all of us very proud.”
Madeline Swegle has paved the path for the next generation of military women and she has become an icon in both the black community and aviation community as well.
Learn more about her amazing journey in the interview and video below.
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