Navy Lt. j.g. Madeline Swegle is making history by becoming the first known Black female tactical air pilot in the U.S. Navy’s history.
The news was announced in a July 9 tweet sent out by the Naval Air Training Command who congratulated Swegle on completing her Tactical Air (Strike) pilot training syllabus. According to the Navy Times, Swegle, who graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy in 2017, will now be able to fly aircrafts like the F/A-18E/F Super Hornet, the F-35C Joint Strike Fighter and the EA-18G Growler.
News of Swegle’s accomplishment comes 40 years after Lt. Cmdr. Brenda Robinson made history in 1980 as the first Black female graduate from Aviation Officer Candidate School, reports the Navy Times. In 1981, she made history again by becoming the first Black woman certified for C-1A carrier onboard delivery carrier landings. And later in her career, according to Women in Aviation International, Robinson went on to become the first Black female flight instructor, evaluator and VIP transport pilot in the Navy.
Swegle’s accomplishment also comes 19 years after Capt. Vernice “FlyGirl” Armour became the first Black female pilot in the Marine Corps in 2001, and the first Black female combat pilot in the entire U.S. military, according to Military.com.
With the Navy’s aviation department being composed of mostly white men, Swegle’s history-making achievement breaks both gender and racial glass ceilings. According to a 2018 investigation of racial bias in the training of naval aviators, Military.com found that of the 1,404 pilots who flew F/A-18 Hornets, just 26 were Black. The investigation also found that there were just 33 female Hornet pilots in the Navy, and all but one were White.
On June 30, the Navy announced that it was creating a task force to “address the issues of racism, sexism and other destructive biases and their impact on naval readiness.”
“We are at a critical inflection point for our Nation and our Navy and I want to ensure that we are fully responding to this moment as we work to facilitate enduring change,” said Navy’s Chief of Personnel Vice Adm. John Nowell Jr. in a press statement. “We must use the momentum created by these events as a catalyst for positive change. We need to have a deeper inclusion and diversity conversation in our Navy and amongst our own teams.”
Later this month, the Navy says that Swegle will receive her “wings of gold” for completing her training. In addition to receiving congratulatory messages from other Navy members, Swegle also received congratulations tweets from many prominent figures including Sen. Elizabeth Warren.