'A courageous trailblazer': The US Navy's first Black female fighter pilot has earned her 'Wings of Gold'

rpickrell@businessinsider.com (Ryan Pickrell)
·3 min read
Lt. j.g. Madeline "Maddy" Swegle poses for a photograph in front of a U.S. Navy T-45 Goshawk training aircraft during undergraduate Tactical Air (Strike) pilot training syllabus at Naval Air Station Kingsville, Texas
Lt. j.g. Madeline "Maddy" Swegle poses for a photograph in front of a U.S. Navy T-45 Goshawk training aircraft during undergraduate Tactical Air (Strike) pilot training syllabus at Naval Air Station Kingsville, Texas

U.S. Navy photo by Austin Rooney

  • Lt. j.g. Madeline Swegle has earned her wings and become the US Navy's first Black female fighter pilot.

  • "Very proud of LTJG Swegle," the Vice Chief of Information Rear Adm. Paula Dunn wrote on Twitter. "Go forth and kick butt."

  • Swegle completed the final flight of the Tactical Air (Strike) training program in early July and officially received her "Wings of Gold" last Friday.

  • Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.

The US Navy's first known Black female fighter pilot has received her "Wings of Gold," the service announced last Friday.

The Chief of Naval Air Training congratulated the officer after she completed training early last month, writing on Twitter: "BZ to Lt. j.g. Madeline Swegle on completing the Tactical Air (Strike) aviator syllabus."

BZ is short for "Bravo Zulu," a naval term meaning "Well done."

Others in the Navy also praised Swegle. "Very proud of LTJG Swegle," Vice Chief of Information Rear Adm. Paula Dunn said. "Go forth and kick butt."

Lt. j.g. Madeline G. Swegle, the U.S. Navy's first Black female tactical jet aviator, stands in front of a T-45C Goshawk jet trainer aircraft on the Training Air Wing 2 flight line at Naval Air Station Kingsville, Texas, July 17, 2020
Lt. j.g. Madeline G. Swegle, the U.S. Navy's first Black female tactical jet aviator, stands in front of a T-45C Goshawk jet trainer aircraft on the Training Air Wing 2 flight line at Naval Air Station Kingsville, Texas, July 17, 2020

U.S. Navy photo by Lt. Michelle Tucker

Swegle completed her initial flight screening and aviation preflight indoctrination at Naval Air Station Pensacola in Florida before completing primary flight training at Naval Air Station Corpus Christi in Texas. The trailblazing aviator then joined the "Redhawks" of Training Squadron (VT) 21 under Training Air Wing 2 at Naval Air Station Kingsville in Texas for intermediate and advanced TACAIR training.

She completed her final TACAIR training flight in a T-45C Goshawk trainer aircraft on July 7.

It is unclear where Swegle will go next, but as a graduate of the TACAIR training program she will move on from training aircraft to Navy tactical planes, like the F/A-18E/F Super Hornet and F-35C Lighting II Joint Strike Fighter.

LTJG Madeline Swegle
LTJG Madeline Swegle, the first Black female tactical fighter pilot

U.S. Navy photo by Anne Owens

"I'm excited to have this opportunity to work harder and fly high performance jet aircraft in the fleet," Swegle said in a statement. "It would've been nice to see someone who looked like me in this role; I never intended to be the first. I hope it's encouraging to other people."

Swegle, a 2017 US Naval Academy graduate, follows in the footsteps of other remarkable women in the armed forces, such as the late Capt. Rosemary Mariner, an aviation pioneer who became one of the first female Navy pilots to fly Navy tactical aircraft in 1974, and Lt. Cmdr. Brenda Robinson, who became the Navy's first Black female pilot in 1980.

Swegle's historic accomplishment comes as the Navy takes a hard look at discrimination amid growing nationwide concern about racial injustice and works to, as Navy leaders said in June, "identify and remove racial barriers and improve inclusion within our Navy."

"Lt. j.g. Swegle has proven to be a courageous trailblazer," Commander, Naval Air Forces Vice Adm. DeWolfe "Bullet" Miller III said in a statement last Friday. "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."

Update: This post was first published in July and reported on Swegle's completion of the required training to become the Navy's first Black female fighter pilot. The post has been updated to include her receiving her Wings of Gold at a recent ceremony.

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