Meet the Navy’s first-ever Black female fighter pilot

AP Images | U.S. Navy

In 1910, history was made when the Navy designated the first naval aviator. Now, more than a century later, another historic event has occurred as the Navy’s first known Black female strike aviator has received the flight officer insignia known as the Wings of Gold.

In a post on Twitter, Naval Air Training — which is the official Twitter profile for the Chief of Naval Air Training (CNATRA) — congratulated Madeline Swegle as she completed her training ahead of the Wings of Gold ceremony.

“BZ to Lt. j.g. Madeline Swegle on completing the Tactical Air (Strike) aviator syllabus,” they tweeted. “Swegle is the @USNavy’s first known Black female TACAIR pilot and will receive her Wings of Gold later this month. HOOYAH!”

BZ is an abbreviation for “Bravo Zulu,” which means “well done.”

“Congratulations to USNA Class of 2017 grad, Lt.j.g. Madeline Swegle,” commented the U.S. Naval Academy, retweeting the post, “who will become the first known African American female Navy jet pilot when she receives her Wings of Gold in Kingsville, Texas, later this month!”

Swegle, of Burke, Virginia, graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy in 2017 and is assigned to the Redhawks of Training Squadron 21 in Kingsville. She completed the undergraduate Tactical Air (Strike) pilot training syllabus and received her Wings of Gold during a ceremony on July 31, 2020.

Black American Women Officers In The Navy

Although Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service (WAVES) became a division of the Navy in 1942, allowing thousands of women to enlist and even commissioning several hundred to supervise, Black women were not permitted to join the Navy until late 1944. At that point, the Navy trained approximately one Black woman for every 36 white women enlisted in WAVES.

After graduating from the Naval Reserve Midshipmen’s School at Northampton, Massachusetts, Harriet Ida Pickens and Frances Wills were commissioned as the first two African American WAVES officers in 1944.

In 1948, Edna Young, a wartime WAVES enlistee, became one of the first women to enter the regular Navy and the first African-American woman to do so.

Seventy-two African American women eventually served through WAVES before it was dissolved in October 1948, after the passing of the Women’s Armed Services Integration Act of June 12, 1948, which authorized the Navy to offer regular commissions to women.

Diversity In The Navy Today

Still, according to the Navy Times, naval aviation is still comprised mainly of white males, with a 2018 investigation revealing that there were only 26 Black pilots out of the 1,404 who flew the F-A/18. In addition, less than 2% of all pilots assigned to jet platforms are Black.

Meanwhile, as of 2018, the Navy had just 765 female pilots, a number that makes up less than 7% of all pilots across the ranks.

It’s exciting to see Swegle breaking multiple glass ceilings, and we wish her luck in her new role.

Good News, News

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About the Author
Tricia Goss
Tricia Goss is a Texas-based writer and editor with nearly two decades of experience. She is passionate about helping readers improve their skills, gain knowledge and attain more happiness in life. When she’s not working, Tricia enjoys traveling with her husband and their dog, especially to visit their five grandchildren.

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